“The Kraken” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson is a sonnet full of imagery that describes the mythical large mythical octopus-like creature. This poem was first published in “Poems, Chiefly Lyrical” in 1830. Although this poem is referred to as a sonnet, it includes 15 lines. The standard sonnet only has 14. With the rhyme scheme of ABABCDDCEFEAAFE, this poem was modeled after the Petrarchan (Italian) sonnet.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Kraken” draws imagery from the Norse legend of a large sea-monster which prayed upon sailors near the coast of Norway. This large squid-like creature was likely based upon the real-life cuttlefish found in the region and was first written about by Bishop Pontoppidan in “A History of Norway” in 1752. Another influence for this writing was John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, especially with Tennyson’s mention of Leviathans.
“The Kraken” begins by describing where the sea-monster lives before describing its looks. The poem ends with a hint towards the biblical end of times.
This sea creature lives far beneath the ocean floor, so deep, in fact, no human can truly go there. It is, at least for now, sleeping. It has uncountable mucous like membranes excreting from its body. It will lie there until the end of times when angels come to earth, when he will rise from the sea.
Other than this, he turns the story into a biblical end of times tale. He relates these large cuttlefish to leviathans. It dies quickly once it is seen by angels and humans.
This poem can be interpreted through both the lens of time and relating it to ourselves. There’s this large mythical creature. It’s giant, overpowering, and awe inspiring. But all it does is sleep. It still eats while it sleeps, so is it actually really sleeping physically or only mentally? After a slow, pointless life, it dies quickly. Tennyson wrote about the pointlessness of death throughout his literary career.
Title: The Kraken
Theme: A large creature under the sea
Tone: Mythical story-telling
Rhyme scheme: ABABCDDCEFEAAFE
Line-by-line Analysis and Figurative Language
- Below the thunders of the upper deep, – “thunders” is a way to bring us a mental sound effect and help set the tone of the story while “upper deep” gives us an illusion of the sky.
- Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea, – we have another great term used, “abysmal”. How can the sea be abysmal? Well, when it is far below in a dark space which no human has ever gone before.
- His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep / The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee – He’s been sleeping since “ancient” times in a deep place where no sunlight can reach.
- About his shadowy sides; above him swell / Huge sponges of millennial growth and height; – “shadowy sides” is not an exact alliteration, but it fits the bill. It gives us imagery of a large body which casts a shadow. Of course, how can it cast a shadow when it’s far beneath the sea? “Millenial growth and height” helps give us an age estimate. It is at least 1000 years old!
- And far away into the sickly light, / From many a wondrous grot and secret cell – “Grot” is an old word which means something like “cave”. So here he is talking about places deep beneath the sea which are hidden.
- Unnumbered and enormous polypi / Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green. – “Polypi” are mucous membranes. This sea-creature has enormous and uncountable arms moving around.
- There hath he lain for ages, and will lie / Battening upon huge sea worms in his sleep, – He’s been there for ages and will be there, feeding on sea worms while he sleeps.
- Until the latter fire shall heat the deep; – Suddenly the poem turned biblical. The fire refers to Revelations of the Bible. He is doing a comparison of krakens to the biblical Leviathans.
- Then once by man and angels to be seen, / In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die. – He will rise to the surface and be seen by humans and angels only to die.
Poem: “The Kraken” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
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
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
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.
“The Kraken” by Tennyson is a fantastic read. Even though we have all read and seen Krakens in modern media like “Pirates of the Caribbean”, we can still appreciate the beauty this writing offers. During the time of this poems publication, there weren’t too many stories available about such a creature. Imagine what reading about such a sea-monster for the first time would be like.
On the other hand, if we interpret this poem to be talking about humans it comes all too close to hitting home. Too many of us go through the motions of everyday life without actually accomplishing anything. In the end, we will just die. Live and die. That’s all.