A Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Kraken by Alfred Lord Tennyson

‘The Kraken‘ by Alfred Lord Tennyson is a fifteen line variant of an Italian or Petrarchan sonnet. The poem can be divided into two sections, that can then be divided further. “The Kraken” is made up of one octave, or set of eight lines, that can be divided into two sets of four lines, and one set seven lines. The poem follows a consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB CDDC EFE AAF. 

The Kraken by Alfred Lord Tennyson

 

Summary

The Kraken” by Alfred Lord Tennyson describes the slumbering bulk of the Kraken, its eventual rise to the surface of the sea, and resulting death. 

The poem begins with the speaker describing how deeply one would have to look in the ocean to find the Kraken. It is in a place no human can truly go. He continues on to state that the Kraken is not the king of this place, but just another feature. This is due to the fact that he has been sleeping an “ancient” sleep. He has become a home for all the creatures of the deep. 

In the final lines of the poem, it is revealed that eventually, the Kraken will wake up, it will bring all its power to man and angels alike, and then die when it reaches the surface. 

 

Analysis of The Kraken

Lines 1-4

Below the thunders of the upper deep,

Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,

His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep

The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee

The poem begins with the speaker describing a potion of the sea that is far from the reach or full understanding of humankind. He is describing a place that is unfathomable to the human eye and can only be described in the grandest of terms. The speaker is laying out the details of the habitat of the kraken and the life it lives. 

The place that the kraken resides in is located, “Below,” or under, the layer of the “upper deep.” The portion of the sea that is accessible to us, that which is referred to as big the “upper” section, is only the beginning. There is much more to come. As the speaker takes the reader deeper down into the ocean he passes the “abysmal sea.” The kraken does not reside anywhere close to the surface, he is “Far, far” beneath all the layers of the ocean. 

Once the speaker has taken his readers down through the ocean, he comes upon the “Kraken.” He is in a deep sleep. This is a state that he has inhabited for an innumerable swath of years. His sleep is “ancient, dreamless” and “uninvaded.” The reader might get the feeling that now that the speaker has taken the narrative to this place that this sleep might be coming to an end. The reader is now invading the Kraken’s realm. 

In the final line of this section, the speaker begins his description of what this place, and the beast within it, are like. 

 

Lines 5- 8 

About his shadowy sides; above him swell

Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;

And far away into the sickly light,

From many a wondrous grot and secret cell

The next four-line provide the reader with a greater understanding of what this world so deep below the ocean is like. The reader has been taken to a place that no human has been, or will ever go again. 

In the realm of the Kraken there is no sun, he is much too deep below the waves for the sun to touch him. The next lines emphasize the extended period of time the beast has been sleeping there. 

He has remained in the same spot for so long that there are millennia of “growth” surrounding him. “Huge sponges” and sea plants of every form “swell” around him. The Kraken is so deep in the ocean that there is only “sickly light” about him. 

It is in the meager lighting that life has made its home. The Kraken has slept for so long in the same place that the creatures of the sea have come to live in his “wonderous grot,” a shortened form of grotto, and within the “Unnumbered” and “secret” parts of his body. His mass has become nothing more than another part of the ocean on, in, and around which others have made their home. 

 

Lines 9-15 

Unnumbered and enormous polypi

Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.

There hath he lain for ages, and will lie

Battening upon huge sea worms in his sleep,

Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;

Then once by man and angels to be seen,

In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

In the final nine lines of the poem, a change is predicted in the realm of the Kraken. 

This section begins with the poet’s speaker further emphasizing the fact that the beast has resided in this same place for an endless number of days. There are “enormous polypi,” or growths, that “Winnow” or cover, his “giant arms.” One might imagine his being covered with a “green” layer of small green growths. 

The speaker continues on to say, “There hath he lain for ages.” Now the narrator goes further, to state that the Kraken will continue to “lie / Battening upon huge sea worms” while he sleeps; at least for a while longer. 

The final three lines of the piece give a hint about what will happen when the time comes for the Kraken to wake up. This will only happen when the “latter fire shall heat the deep,” he will be driven up from the floor of the ocean, either by necessity or by a newly reinvigorated passion. 

He will “once by man” and by the angels, be seen again. The world in its entirety will see the beast and know his greatest. This one act of power and assertion will come crashing down though as “roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.” 

This entire poem can be interpreted as a metaphor for any type of impassioned revolution. The Kraken can be seen as a contingent of people, or a harbored hatred, discontentment or fear that finally reaches its breaking point. This pure, unencumbered emotion will come “roaring” to the surface, but when it reaches the clear air, it dies. Even the best intentions can fall short when they are met with the challenges of reality. 

 

About Alfred Lord Tennyson 

Lord Alfred Tennyson was born in 1809 in Somersby, Lincolnshire, England. He was one of twelve children and had, by the age of twelve, written his first epic poem that consisted of 6,000 lines. 

In 1827 Tennyson left his home to attend Trinity College, Cambridge. It was there he and his brother, Charles, co-published a book of poems titled, Poems by Two Brothers. This book put Tennyson on the radar of other prolific college writers and he made friends with another student, Arthur Hallam. After a brief but intense friendship, Hallam died, leaving a bereft Tennyson to devoted a number of poems to his memory. 

From 1830 to 1832, Tennyson published two more books of poetry. These were not met with outstanding reviews and the poet was greatly disappointed. His naturally shy disposition would keep him from publishing again for another nine years. Tennyson finally met with some success in 1842 after the publication of this book, Poems in two volumes. When Tennyson published In Memoriam, one of the pieces dedicated to his college friend, Hallam, his reputation was solidified throughout Britain. That same year he married Emily Sellwood, with whom he would have two sons. 

Tennyson’s popularity and success allowed him to continue writing full time and purchase a home for his family in the country. Tennyson died in 1892 and remains one of the most popular Victorian poets. 

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
  • Andrew Wood says:

    Isn’t it an ABAB CDDC EFE AAFE rhyme scheme, rather than ABAB CDDC EFE GGFE, as lines 12 and 13, ‘deep’ and ‘sleep’ are repetitions from lines 1 and 3?

    I also wonder if that interpretation at the end is maybe reaching a bit – I don’t feel like Tennyson was writing about anything other than the Kraken itself. But poetry is so much in the eye of the beholder.

    Oh, and lines 9 and 10 read: ‘Unnumbered and enormous polypi/ Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green’

    As in, huge polypi (sea anenomes) winnowing (filtering, extracting nutrients) with THEIR giant arms – NOT the Kraken’s – the slumbering green ocean around them.

    Nowhere does it say ‘His giant arms’. The giant arms belong to the huge sea anemones surrounding the Kraken. I think you have mistaken the word ‘polyp’- an anatomical term for a growth, for ‘polypi’ – an archaic name for sea anemones.

    I think you need to take the time to get such things correct, as people are relying on accurate information for their education. You have completely misinterpreted a section of the poem, and are teaching others to do likewise.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Yeah, you are right about the rhyme scheme – I have amended that. However, Polypi is an archaic word for polyps the word does have two meanings and it wouldn’t be too much of a leap to assume that it was referring to the suction cups on a squids arms. I would have assumed that as a Masters-level lit. student!

      Our writers are freelancers and as such have to balance their research time carefully. As a former freelance writer and somebody who takes pride in their writing, there was always a fine balance between accuracy and paying for food! Oftentimes a quick google search would have to suffice and unfortunately a site such as ours cannot afford to pay our writers masses! Therefore the odd error is inevitable and we are reliant on our better-educated readers to fill in gaps and keep us honest. Therefore, we do appreciate when people highlight inaccuracies, however, if we didn’t churn out content we couldn’t afford to keep doing what we do! (One of the quirks of running a website, unfortunately!)

  • Diane Caldwell says:

    “The Kraken” is one of a few poems I have memorized. It is so evocative of a place in a way no picture could show. Never, in all these years, did I think of it as more that that: a beautifully described world with a little science thrown in.

    Now you’ve gone and made me think. And I thank you for that.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      That’s such a lovely sentiment. There are maybe only one, possibly two poems I can recall by heart! It’s lovely that this poem has touched you in this way and great that we were able to evoke that emotion.

  • Selinah Toteng says:

    i want to inquire about how he felt and the mood that determined him to write such a complex and engulfing story

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      It’s really difficult to say how a poet felt. You can look at their life for context (here is his bio), but you can’t really do anything but guess as to how a person was feeling when they wrote something.

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