Thoughts That Arise

Break, break, break,

On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!

And I would that my tongue could utter

The thoughts that arise in me.

O well for the fisherman’s boy,

That he shouts with his sister at play!

O well for the sailor lad,

That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on

To their haven under the hill;

But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,

And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break,

At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!

But the tender grace of a day that is dead

Will never come back to me.

– Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Ever since I first watched “Anne of Green Gables” and heard Megan Follows reciting “The Lady of Shalott,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson has been one of my favorite poets. There were so many poems I wanted to write about this month, but I chose this one a) because it is short enough for me to quote the whole thing, and b) because the imagery is so beautifully striking.

This poem is an elegy written after the death of one of Tennyson’s dear friends. It is full of the melancholy that comes with watching people be happy when you yourself are grieving a terrible loss. The sense of finality in the poem is contrasted with the constant, never-ending breaking of waves.

There is something about the sea that entrances us. It is easy to spend hours simply staring out at the ocean and thinking. The effect this has on one’s mood is fascinating. When I look at the sea, I get wistful, sad, and hopeful, sometimes all at once. What is it about an endless gray expanse of water that creates this effect? I have no idea, but I think Tennyson does a good job capturing it in his poem.

Tennyson’s rhythmic lines “Break, break, break” clearly echo the sound of waves crashing, and his wish to be able to put his thoughts into words expresses the wistfulness that comes with being near the ocean. It is a poem that anyone who has lost a loved one will relate to, and that is why I love it.


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