Study Guide

The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls Quotes

  • Man and the Natural World

    The splendour falls on castle walls
             And snowy summits old in story (1-2)

    The brilliant light of the setting sun ("splendour") falls against the walls of a castle. Shiny! We don't know what castle, exactly, but it almost doesn't matter: it's a castle among mountains that are "old in story," or famous in old tales.

         The long light shakes across the lakes,
               And the wild cataract leaps in glory. (3-4)

    The word "glory" goes well with the word "splendour" from line 1—both describe brilliant, bright light, but both also suggest something almost divine. "Glory," after all, is another word for a halo. Is the speaker suggesting that there is something divine or sacred in nature?

         O sweet and far from cliff and scar
                 The horns of Elfland faintly blowing! (9-10)

    The echoes of the horn make the speaker think of extreme distance—both spatial and historical. He imagines that the horn is actually originating in "Elfland," and not in the real world at all. Somehow, the sound of the horn is traveling across time and across worlds. It makes sense that this amazing, almost divine view of nature should make the speaker think of "Elfland," since, according to Anglo-Saxon mythology, the elves and fairies were very in tune with nature (like the elves of Tolkien's Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings—Tolkien was familiar with the same Anglo-Saxon myths that Tennyson was!).

    Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying (11)

    The echoes are coming from the valley below, and the reddish light of the setting sun makes the trees and rivers in the valley appear almost "purple."

         O love, they die in yon rich sky,
              They faint on hill or field or river (13-14)

    The speaker says that the echoes "die," or fade away, in one of several outdoor, natural spaces. Why do you think he lists the different natural places that the echoes reverberate and then fade? Why not just say that the echoes fade in the sky and leave it at that? What is the effect of this long list? One possible effect is that it forces the reader to imagine each of those places in turn, which helps to re-establish the beautiful view that  the sound of the bugle had temporarily distracted us from.

  • Memory and the Past

    The splendour falls on castle walls
               And snowy summits old in story (1-2)

    The past is first brought up in the poem in the reference to the "castle," which immediately evokes images of fairy tales and medieval history. The second line, which says that the mountains are "old in story," emphasizes and confirms the idea of old tales and legends brought up in the first line.

    Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
    Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying. (5-6)

    The first time we hear the bugle horn in the valley, the echoes seem to be just literal echoes off of the cliff face. But something about hearing the echoes fading and "dying" away seems to make the speaker think about fairy tales again…

       O sweet and far from cliff and scar
             The horns of Elfland faintly blowing! (9-10)

    The speaker imagines that the bugle is actually coming from "Elfland," which is another name for the fairy land of ancient Anglo-Saxon and Norse mythology (like in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings).

         O love, they die in yon rich sky,
              They faint on hill or field or river (13-14)

    The speaker personifies the echoes when he says that they "die" and "faint." But all this talking about "dying" and "fainting" is starting to bum us out… it makes us think about our own mortality!

  • Isolation

    Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying (5)

    When the speaker first hears the bugles, he doesn't say, "Oh, huh—there must be someone else out here today practicing the bugle." Instead, he addresses the bugle directly, as though he wants to pretend that there's not really anyone else out there. Nope, just a bugle playing itself!

    Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying. (6, 12)

    The speaker repeats the same line twice, again addressing the bugle directly (this is called apostrophe—see the "Symbols" section for more on that).

         O love, they die in yon rich sky (13)

    For the first time, we're given a hint that the speaker might not be alone! He addresses someone as "O love." Of course, he might be addressing someone who is absent, and he might be addressing someone who has been at his elbow the whole time—it's hard to say. What do you think?

         Our echoes roll from soul to soul (15)

    This is a nice sentiment for the theme of "Isolation" to close on—we're not so isolated after all! The "echoes" that we leave behind us actually connect us to other people. "Souls" are connected to other "souls" because of "our echoes!"

  • Immortality

    And snowy summits old in story (2)

    The "old stor[ies]" alluded to here suggest a kind of literary "immortality" that the poet himself perhaps aspired to.

         O love, they die in yon rich sky,
               They faint on hill or field or river: (13-14)

    We can't help but wonder, though, if these echoes—which, though they repeat, eventually do "die"—suggest that we may live on in the memories of our loved ones, but only for a time. (After all, they'll die too, right?) Eventually, like the echoes, we will also fade away.

         Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
               And grow for ever and for ever. (15-16)

    The speaker is no longer just thinking about literal echoes from the bugle blast—now he's thinking about the kind of echoes that we leave behind us when we die. These figurative "echoes" touch other people. They "roll from soul to soul," and just keep expanding instead of dying out and fading away like a literal echo. Is the speaker suggesting that our impact, or our "echo," will live on forever?

    And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying. (18)

    The poem's last line suggests that the speaker really wants these echoes to remind him of immortality. He tells them to "answer," but the line ends with them "dying." So, maybe he's not as convinced as he'd like to be about the prospects of our immortality.