Study Guide

The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls Themes

  • Man and the Natural World

    The speaker of "Splendour Falls" is alone in the mountains, looking across the valley at sunset and describing the scene. It's gorgeous, but there is something about this particular scene of nature that is especially evocative. It reminds the speaker of fairy tales, of the past, of ancient history and mythology, and eventually of our lives' legacies after death. Woah. That's a lot of power, even for a beautiful valley!

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. What do you think is the purpose of the "wild cataract," or waterfall, in line 4? Why include that detail? What is the effect on your reading?
    2. Why does the speaker repeat the word "wild" twice in two lines (lines 4 and 5)? Is nature dangerous in this poem?
    3. What is the speaker's attitude toward nature? What is his attitude toward man? How can you tell?

    Chew on This

    Put your thinking caps on. In "The Splendour Falls," the grandeur of nature makes the speaker think about major, capital-letter ideas like Philosophy, History, Mythology, and the Future.

    The incredible shrinking speaker—the distance across the valley in "The Splendour Falls" makes the speaker feel suddenly tiny and insignificant in the scope of history.

  • 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

    1. 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?
    2. 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?
    3. How old do you imagine the speaker of this poem to be, and why?
    4. 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.

  • Isolation

    The speaker of "The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls" is walking in the hills above a castle—alone. Does that bum him out? Not one little bit. He watches the sunset, takes in the beautiful scenery, and enjoys the solitude. Suddenly, though, he hears a bugle horn that seems to come out of nowhere. He's not as solitary as he thought he was! But the combination of his apparent isolation, with the reminder of other people (that he can't see), contribute to the kind of deep thinking and reflection that he's able to accomplish here.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. Is the speaker alone, or isn't he? How can you tell?
    2. Why does the speaker address the bugles themselves, instead of the person who is playing it? 
    3. Who is the "love" that the speaker addresses in line 13? Is it someone who is with him, or is he speaking to someone who is absent? How can you tell?
    4. Would it change your reading of the poem if you knew for sure whether the speaker were really by himself? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Although the speaker of "The Splendour Falls" seems to be completely alone, the sound of the bugles reminds him abruptly that solitude is only ever an illusion. Every corner of the earth, even if uninhabited today, is still inhabited by the "echoes" of historical men and women. You can't get away!

    Bugler? What bugler? The speaker of the poem addresses the bugle, instead of the person playing it, in order to sustain the illusion of solitude and of being isolated from other people.

  • Immortality

    The theme of "Immortality" is pretty closely related to "Memory and the Past" in "The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls": both have to do with the ways that "echoes" can affect us. But instead of the "echoes" of the past coming back to haunt us in the present, the speaker realizes at the end of the poem that we create "echoes" of our own that can give us a kind of immortality. That's not so bad, right?

    Questions About Immortality

    1. When the speaker refers to "our echoes" in line 14, whose "echoes" do you think he's referring to? His own and his "love's" (12)? Or does it apply to everyone?
    2. In other words, is the kind of immortality that the speaker describes universal, or does it work only for people who have heard the "bugle" in the valley?
    3. If the mountains are "old in story" (2), does that mean that they have a kind of "immortality"? Why or why not? What different types of "immortality" come up in this poem?
    4. When a poet like Tennyson writes about immortality, we always have to wonder if he was thinking about whether or not future generations would read his poetry. Do you think that Tennyson was making a point about that kind of literary immortality? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Tennyson forever! The reference to fairy tales and mythology through the description of the "castle" (1) and the mention of "Elfland" (10) suggest that literature can offer a kind of "immortality," which suggests that the poet was consciously trying to attain this kind of literary immortality for himself.

    Immorality is like an exclusive club. The "echoes" of line 14 serve as a kind of conduit for immortality, but it is an immortality that is only available for people who understand the deep connection between individuals that the speaker has realized.