- Books, Literature, and Writing
Tennyson’s Excursions into Onomatopoeia
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
Words of majesty and beauty, enabling us to be in the eagle’s presence. I especially revel in the line, “The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls.” Just the way the sea would look from up there. Distance expressed in the imagery itself.
Though this is not what I wish to bring to your notice today. Please read the first line of the poem again.
He clasps the crag with crooked hands.
Clasps, crag and crooked. Hard sounds to mirror that strong grip.
Tennyson’s use of this literary device, called Onomatopoeia, along with his powerful imagery enhances our experience manyfold. Have you read his Come Down, O Maid? The last three lines are perfect examples of onomatopoeia:
Myriads of rivulets hurrying thro’ the lawn,
The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees.
Read it aloud please, for double the pleasure.
In The Lady of Shalott we have light, fluid sounds, especially caused by lots of ‘l’s, that float with us downstream:
Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right
The leaves upon her falling light
Thro’ the noises of the night
She floated down to Camelot:
I wrote this not to reveal the tricks used by the poet, as one would those of a conjurer and kill the innocent enchantment of his audience, not even to advocate the use of this literary device in your pieces, but to find different ways to delight in a master’s art, and extend an invitation to you to take part in the celebrations.
A close friend, a writer, pointed out that my illustrations of Onomatopoeia were wrong. She said that the term Onomatopoeia referred to sound, and only sound – not to images. According to the OED: onomatopoeia is the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named. eg cuckoo, sizzle, crack, clang, clatter.
But I love the Merriam-Webster more. It includes the use of words whose sound suggests the sense in its definition. Fowler’s Modern English Usage and the Britannica are in agreement too. The Britannica gives as one of the examples, Tennyson’s ‘The Brook.’
Remember?I bubble into eddying bays, I babble on the pebbles. Click on link above for the poem and follow the course of the babbling brook.