The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls
by Alfred Lord Tennyson
The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls Theme of Memory and the Past
"The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls" is partly a description of a beautiful scene in the mountains and the speaker's response to the echoes of a bugle. Listening to those echoes, though, makes the speaker reflect on different kinds of "echoes." What kind of "echo" has the past left on the present? Does ancient mythology leave a kind of "echo" in the modern era? And—perhaps most importantly for our speaker—what kind of an "echo" will we leave behind us when we're gone… gone… gone…? (See what we did there?)
Questions About Memory and the Past
- Why is the building referenced in the first line a "castle," instead of a more modern building, like a bank or a courthouse? And why a "castle," as opposed to a shepherd's hut or a villager's cottage?
- How do you think "Elfland" fits into this question? Is "Elfland" supposed to be part of the past, since it's mythological, or do you think it's a kind of parallel to the speaker's own modern world? Why?
- How old do you imagine the speaker of this poem to be, and why?
- The "echoes" in the poem refer to the literal "echoes" of the bugle in the valley, but by the end, the "echoes" might also be referring to the kind of figurative "echoes" that a person leaves behind, or the kind of "echoes" that history has on the present. At what point in the poem do you think the meaning of the "echoes" starts to change, and why?
Chew on This
Ready for a downer? The various kinds of sound "echoes" in the poem (alliteration, internal rhyme, end rhyme, repetition) help to emphasize the poet's anxiety that all of his poetry is only empty noise and sound, like an echo.
Think the past is over and done? Nope. The "echoes" described in the poem are the literal version of the kind of figurative echoes that the past can have on the present.