The Splendour Falls by Alfred Lord Tennyson

‘The Splendour Falls’ is part of a much longer narrative, blank verse poem known as ‘The Princess’. This poem tells the story of a princess who swears off the world of men and family and founds a women’s university. This particular excerpt is one of several that is usually studied from this piece. ‘The Splendour Falls’ was not added into the poem until the third edition was published in 1850. Tennyson wrote to a friend after the poem’s initial publication saying that he “hate[d]” the entire thing. 

 

Summary of The Splendour Falls

‘The Splendour Falls’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson is a musical poem that depicts a beautiful landscape, the sound of a bugle, and contains a spiritual/religious undertone. 

In the first lines of this poem, the speaker describes the setting, the way the light moves off the landscape. He then brings in the first iteration of the bugle horn. It blows and echoes wildly around the valley. This is something that occurs at the end of the following two stanzas as well. The speaker talks directly to the bugle asking it to continue blowing while also instructing the listener to pay attention and hear it. In the second stanza, the scene is expanded and related to the mysterious world of Elfland. The poem concludes with an allusion to the immortality, or lack thereof, of the human soul.

 

Structure of The Splendour Falls 

The Splendour Falls’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson is a three-stanza excerpt from the longer narrative poem, ‘The Princess’. This expert is song-like, as is much of the poem. It is sometimes known as the “Bugle Song” because of this feature and repetition of the blowing bugles in each stanza. 

The lines of this excerpt follow a consistent rhyme scheme of ABCBDD with examples of internal rhyme within specific lines. It can be seen with “falls” and “walls” in line one and “shakes” and “lakes” in line three of the first stanza. 

 

Literary Devices in The Splendour Falls

Tennyson makes use of several literary devices in ‘The Splendour Falls’. These include apostrophe, alliteration, and enjambment. The first of these, apostrophe,  is an arrangement of words addressing someone, something, or creature, that does not exist, or is not present, in the poem’s immediate setting. The exclamation, “Oh,” is often used at the beginning of the phrase. The person is spoken to as though they can hear and understand the speaker’s words. In this case, the speaker asks the bugle to continue blowing. 

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “long light” and “lakes” in line three of the first stanza as well as the repetition of “dying” at the end of each stanza. Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transition between lines three and four of the second stanza. 

 

Analysis of The Splendour Falls 

Stanza One 

The splendour falls on castle walls

    And snowy summits old in story;

The long light shakes across the lakes,

    And the wild cataract leaps in glory.

Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,

Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

In the first lines of ‘The Splendour Falls,’ the speaker begins by making use of the line that this poem later came to be known by. It describes the “splendour” of the scene. This is likely a reference to the sunlight and how it is cast down along the “castle walls”. All around are “summits” or mountains that are covered in snow. The scene is a beautiful one, suitable for the larger context of the story. The “light” from the first line also touches the lakes. It “shakes,” perhaps due to the movement of the water or the various objects, trees, etc, that it touches on the way down. This creates the second of two perfect internal rhymes. 

There is also a waterfall or a “cataract” to be seen. It is “wild” and it “leaps in glory”. This is a good example of personification. The speaker depicts it as though it is a powerful creature of some kind that chooses to leap in a particular way. 

This leads the reader into the refrain that ends each of the stanzas, although with a few variations. The speaker describes a “bugle,” a kind of horn, that blows and then fades off into the distance. It sets the “wild echoes flying”. The sound moves around in between these mountains, the sunlight, and the lake. The word “dying,” and its repetition three times at the end of each line mimics the effects of the echo. 

 

Stanza Two

O, hark, O, hear! how thin and clear,

    And thinner, clearer, farther going!

O, sweet and far from cliff and scar

    The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!

Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying,

Blow, bugles; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

In the second stanza of the poem, the speaker tries to draw the reader’s attention to the notes of the bugle horn. He uses the phrase “O, hark, O hear” to catch the reader’s ear and direct them to the “thin and clear” noise of the bugle. It’s echoing off the mountains in a magical and seemingly mysterious way. This brings to mind “Elfland,” the home of the elves. A place that is of our world but not. It comes up in various different mythologies and is often considered a kind of magical alternate reality to our own. Perhaps, the speaker is interpreting the valley at this moment to be some kind of borderland or entryway into this other world.

The refrain is brought back up again at the end of the stanza. The poet uses a technique known as apostrophe. He addresses the bugle directly, an inanimate object that can’t hear or respond to him, and tells it to continue blowing. He wants to hear the sound echo around the “purple glens”. The sunlight which was casting down on the mountains previously is now causing the sky to change into various populations, sunset colors. The repetition of the word dying is quite haunting here. In combination with the sunset, it’s a possible reference to decline and death, rather than just the bugle’s echo silencing.

 

Stanza Three 

O love, they die in yon rich sky,

    They faint on hill or field or river;

Our echoes roll from soul to soul,

    And grow forever and forever.

Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,

And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.

In the third stanza of ‘The Splendour Falls,’ the speaker addresses a specific person. He tells his “love“ that “they die“ in the distant sky. The sky is “rich“ with beauty and substance. It is not entirely clear who he is speaking to, what is dying, or what he really sees in the sky. It is likely that he still speaking about the echoing of the bugles, but also referring to something more important such as the death and disappearance of people. This could be interpreted through the use of words like “faint“.

In the final lines, the speaker refers to “our echoes.” This is very likely a metaphor for the bits of human presence, soul, or impact that a human being might leave behind. It echoes through life and through the wider world beyond one’s mortal years. These echoes “grow forever and forever“ and roll from “ soul to soul“. There is a spiritual message in these lines that is connected back to the bugle and its echoing sound.

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