‘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 efeggfe .
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
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.
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
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.