Poem of the Week: Break, Break, Break

This week’s poem came to me from the pages of William Harmon’s The Top 500 Poems. It is a favorite anthology of mine, and caught my eye as I wandered through the library a few days back. Like all good collections of poetry, its selections acquaints the reader with a large variety of poets, spanning multiple centuries and poetic styles.

In searching through it, this work from Alfred, Lord Tennyson, with all its imagery and sadness, drew me there to the seaside with him to watch the sea do its work upon the shore. It is deeply moving, and recalls the crippling sensations of grief that can haunt one who looks out at the world as it hurdles on, heedless of their suffering. Harmon comments on its origins: “It is probable that Tennyson’s poem refers to the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, also the subject of the great elegy In Memoriam.” (643)

Break, Break, Break

Break, break, break,
On they 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 this 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 vanished 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.

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