Study Guide

Break, Break, Break Death

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The speaker of "Break, Break, Break" never comes out and says that his friend is dead, but his complaints about wishing to "touch" the "vanish'd hand" and to hear "the voice that is still" make us suspect that he has passed away. The only thing that is described as explicitly "dead" in the poem is time: the speaker says that the time that he spent with his friend is like a "day that is dead" – it will never return.

Questions About Death

  1. Does the speaker seem to be worried about his own future death?
  2. Why doesn't the speaker mention his friend by name, or describe what he was like? Why only the references to the missing parts of him, like his "vanish'd hand" and "voice that is still"?
  3. How many emblems for death can you count in this poem?

Chew on This

The speaker of "Break, Break, Break" seems unable to conceptualize the dead of his friend as an entire individual; rather, he can think of him only in parts – his "vanish'd hand" and "voice that is still."

The speaker sees emblems of death in everything around him: the "cold gray stones" represent grave stones, while the "stately ships" that travel to their "haven under the hill" suggest wooden coffins being born to the cemetery to be buried.

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