Study Guide

The Eagle Setting

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson


A sunny day on a tall seaside cliff near the Pyrenees Mountains in Southern France. There's not a cloud in sight, and the amazing deep blue of the sky seems to find a reflection in the water below. The color "azure" reminds us of our favorite color of crayon from grade school, the mysterious and difficult-to-pronounce "cerulean." The sheer difficulty of pronouncing these words gives them added power.

Aside from blue, we see brown and gray rock. The "crag" of the cliff is a tall, jagged piece of rock sticking out over the ocean. The eagle stands at the very edge of this cliff, clinging to the rock to steady itself against sudden gusts of wind and somehow making it look easy. There are no humans in sight (except maybe our speaker way down below); there aren't even any other birds or animals. The eagle watches over the entire area like the owner of some grand estate.

In the second stanza, the setting shifts to the eagle's viewpoint. He watches the puny waves "crawl" towards the shore, like a thirsty man crawling towards an oasis. The sea looks no more significant than wrinkles on a shirt. Pass an iron over those suckers and the sea would be completely flat. The eagle swivels its head from side to side, up and down. What is it looking for? A moment later, we see a feathered shape drop off the crag and hurtle toward the sea below. It takes us a moment to process this sight, but when we look back at the crag and see that the eagle isn't there, we know what has happened.

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