Study Guide

The Eagle Quotes

  • Man and the Natural World

    He clasps the crag with crooked hands; (line 1)

    The alliteration of words that begin with "cr" or "cl" mimics the sound of hard rocks. The landscape is unforgiving, and from the speaker's perspective, you'd have to have something twisted or "crooked" about you to live there. By calling the eagle's talons "hands," the speaker makes the eagle seem in some way human, although it perches on a cliff that people can't access.

    Close to the sun in lonely lands, (line 2)

    The sky is only "lonely" from a human perspective. The speaker admires the eagle's separation from the busy, social world below.

    Ring'd with the azure world (line 3)

    "Azure" stands for the sky and also the sea. We think the sun must be out, because "azure" is a bright blue and not at all hazy. The eagle is at the center of another, empty world. The ring of blue surrounds it like a religious halo.

    The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls; (line 4)

    The words "wrinkled" and "crawls" seem to personify the ocean, or at least make it seem like a living thing. The speaker tries to see the world from the eagle's perspective, but he still comes up with human comparisons.

    He watches from his mountain walls, (line 5)

    The eagle probably has his nest on the side of the mountain. He surveys his surroundings like the lions on Pride Rock in The Lion King. Come to think of it, Pride Rock is also a "crag."

    And like a thunderbolt he falls. (line 6)

    The eagle falls like a burst of energy in the atmosphere. This comparison is appropriate because Tennyson has been setting up a contrast between the sky and the earth in the poem. The final line brings sky and earth together; or, more accurately, the power of the sky comes down to earth.

  • Strength and Skill

    He clasps the crag (line 1)

    The eagle must hold on tightly to the rock because the cliff is so steep. The word "clasp" could make you think of a hair clasp or the clasp that holds a stack of papers together. The eagle doesn't have to struggle to stay upright.

    he stands (line 3)

    The entire first stanza builds to this anti-climax. Compared to words like "clasps," "ring'd," and "azure," the final word "stands" isn't very exciting. Think of someone standing watch or standing guard.

    The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls (line 4)

    We see a contrast between old ("wrinkled") and young ("crawls") in this line. Everything in the world below is either too old or too young. But the eagle, in Goldilocks terms, is just right. The eagle is a creature in the prime of its strength and vitality.

    He watches from his mountain walls (line 5)

    The eagle continues to "stand watch" over the landscape. The eagle's vision is a kind of skill – it can see things from much farther away than can humans. Still, the poem keeps the eagle's coolest skills in reserve, in order to build suspense.

    And like a thunderbolt he falls (line 6)

    Like a dive-bombing fighter plane, the eagle careens off the crag, and he relies on gravity to build incredible speed. His flight is pure energy. The verb "falls" pairs with "stands" at the end of the first stanza. "Standing" and "falling" are opposite actions.

  • Exploration

    He clasps the crag (line 1)

    A "crag" just sounds like a place you wouldn't reach easily, doesn't it? Maybe if you had amazing rock-climbing skills, but even then, it would be disheartening to see the eagle flap its wings a few times and perch on the ledge above you. The eagle explores the upper reaches of the earth.

    Close to the sun in lonely lands (line 2)

    The eagle is so far above the earth he has almost left the atmosphere. Obviously, the speaker is exaggerating here. The phrase "lonely lands" continues the theme that the crag might as well be Antarctica for all the people who have been there.

    Ring'd with the azure world (line 3)

    The sea and sky are "azure," and these are both places where humans can't live. To us, they are a different "world." The rich blue color of the sky makes the air sound firm and substantial, like you could swim in it.

    The wrinkled sea (line 4)

    If you've ever seen the ocean from an airplane – about a thousand feet up – you know what a "wrinkled sea" looks like. The eagle doesn't exactly "explore" the ocean, but he explores a different perspective on the ocean.

    he falls (line 6)

    At the end of the poem, the explorer returns to our world. Like a whale surfacing to take a breath, the eagle comes back to earth.

  • Men and Masculinity

    He clasps the crag with crooked hands; (line 1)

    The speaker must have a reason for imagining the eagle to be a male. We think he embodies an old-fashioned masculine ideal. The eagle is a type of explorer, and until recently, great explorers were generally thought of as men. The eagle is ruggedly independent and perseveres with the help of his "crooked hands."

    in lonely lands (line 2)

    Tennyson was a sucker for romantic explorer types. In one his most famous poems, he rewrites the Greek myth about how the Greek sailor Ulysses led his crew into danger. In Tennyson's version, Ulysses is a bold and daring adventurer. In this poem, the eagle doesn't mind spending its whole life in solitude, as if it were a character in a John Wayne western. We're thinking, "Of course not, he's an eagle!"

    Ring'd with the azure world, he stands (line 3)

    The eagle is idealized as the center of the world, surrounded by a blue halo. Every guy's dream, right? We're only half-joking.

    He watches from his mountain walls, (line 5)

    The eagle lives alone on a mountain. He spends all day surveying the landscape and protecting his turf. Still think this poem isn't a romantic vision of masculinity?

    And like a thunderbolt he falls. (line 6)

    The coolest thing about the eagle's power is that he never uses it. He even makes flight look effortless.