Break Break Break by Alfred Lord Tennyson: Summary

The first stanza of the poem Break, Break, Break, by Alfred Lord Tennyson presents the picture of the poet sitting near his friend's grave on the sea-beach as he says “Break Break, Break, On thy cold gray stones, O Sea! And I would that my tongue could utter The thoughts that arise in me”.

Alfred L. Tennyson (1809-1892)

He is full of grief at the death of his friend, Arthur Hallam. He observes the waves striking against the rocks. The poet sees the sea-waves rising, advancing and striking against the rocks. The rock-bound sea-beach is hard and would not melt in response. The poet feels that just as the sea is unable to express its sorrow, he himself is unable to do so. His sorrow is too deep for words. It is overwhelming, and in spite of his desire to give vent to it, he feels tongue-tied. The thoughts, which rise in the poet's heart, cannot find expression in words. Here we note a contrast between the waves which rise and strike against the rocks, and the poet's thoughts which arise and remain unexpressed.

In these four lines, Tennyson reflects on the connection between the sea and himself. The sea breaks up on rocks much as the poet's thoughts seem to break up on his tongue before he can explain how he feels. This connection between the sea and the poet is reinforced by the fact that "Sea" rhymes with "me." In addition, the two lines about the sea and the two lines about the poet have the same three-beat rhythm. Tennyson could have directly stated how he felt by writing something like: "I wish I could tell you how rotten I feel today." By using poetry, however, Tennyson helped his readers both understand and feel how he felt.

Stanza 2. O well …… on the bay! The idea is that there may be gloom in life the world at large, and specially the community of children is not seized with gloom. The merry-go-round of humanity continues uninterrupted. The grief of the poet becomes all the more poignant at the sight of cheerfulness of the fisherman's boy.

Stanza 3. And the stately ships ….. that is still! The poet imagines to be on the sea-shore near the spot where his dead dear friend lies buried. He observes that the life in the place is going on as usual. The fisherman's children and the sailor's boy are in a playful and pleasant mood. The ships coming from abroad are proceeding to their harbour below the hill to rest and pack themselves for further voyage. Thus, the trend of worldly life shows no signs of slackness or sadness. Only the poet is sad because his bosom-friend, Arthur Hallam, is dead, and the poet is deprived of his company and mutual conversation for good.

Stanza 4. Break, break, break ……… come back to me. These lines constitute the fourth stanza of the poem "Break, Break, Break", by Lord Tennyson. The poet is lamenting the death of his friend Arthur Hallam. He is standing near the spot of his friend's burial on the sea-shore. Seeing the waves of the sea beating against the rocks the poet feels that the sea might express its grief by lashing the coastal stones, but he himself would never enjoy the tender beauty of the days when his friend was alive.

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Sharma, K.N. "Break Break Break by Alfred Lord Tennyson: Summary." BachelorandMaster, 13 Sept. 2014,