'The Kraken' by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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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 fins the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battering upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by men and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Majestic Beast of the Deep: A Critique and Analysis of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "The Kraken"

When it comes to the great beasts of mythology, the Kraken stands tall amongst them as a figure of terror and wonder. It is therefore no surprise that one of the great poets of the Victorian era, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, chose to write about this creature in his poem "The Kraken". In this work, Tennyson presents us with a vivid, haunting image of the Kraken, along with musings on its nature and significance. In this critique and analysis, we shall explore the themes, language, and structure of "The Kraken", and attempt to unravel its mysteries.


At its core, "The Kraken" is a contemplation of the nature of existence, and the question of what it means to be alive. The poem presents us with a creature that has lived for thousands of years, yet has remained dormant and immobile for all that time. Tennyson asks us to consider what kind of life this is, and whether it is worth living. The Kraken is described as "ancient", "hoary", and "immortal", yet these words are not entirely positive. There is a sense of weariness and stagnation in the creature's existence, as if it has long outlived its purpose. Tennyson also draws our attention to the Kraken's location – at the "bottom of the sea" – and the fact that it is "lone". These details underscore the creature's isolation and estrangement from the rest of the world.

Another theme that runs through the poem is that of power and control. The Kraken is presented as an immensely powerful creature, capable of causing great destruction. Yet it is also helpless and trapped, unable to move or act. Tennyson seems to be suggesting here that power alone is not enough – true agency and freedom are necessary for a meaningful existence.

Finally, "The Kraken" can be read as a meditation on the sublime. The poem is filled with images of vastness and awe-inspiring beauty, from the "sunken, wavy green" of the sea to the "huge peaks" of the creature's tentacles. Tennyson invites us to contemplate this grandeur, and to feel a sense of wonder and humility in the face of it. The Kraken, in its sheer size and power, embodies the sublime in all its terror and beauty.

Language and Imagery

Tennyson's language in "The Kraken" is rich and evocative, filled with vivid images that linger in the mind. He describes the Kraken's skin as "wrinkled", "wallowing", and "dank", conjuring up a sense of age and decay. The creature's eyes are "yellow", "deep", and "unwinking", suggesting a certain inscrutability and otherness. Tennyson also makes use of repetition throughout the poem, particularly in the opening lines, which repeat the phrase "Below the thunders of the upper deep" three times. This repetition creates a sense of rhythm and momentum, drawing the reader in to the poem's hypnotic spell.

The imagery in "The Kraken" is similarly powerful. Tennyson describes the creature's lair as a "crypt", with "coral strands" hanging like cobwebs. This image of a decaying, forgotten place adds to the sense of the Kraken's isolation and abandonment. The description of the creature's tentacles as "matted" and "huge" is also striking, suggesting a kind of primeval strength.

Perhaps the most memorable image in the poem, however, is that of the Kraken rising from the depths of the sea:

And on its [the Kraken's] back the dull grey mist

Wrapt like a mantle, did around it twist.

This image is both terrifying and awe-inspiring, evoking the creature's immense size and power, as well as the beauty of the mist swirling around it. It is an image that stays with the reader long after the poem has ended.


"The Kraken" is a sonnet, with fourteen lines divided into two stanzas. The first stanza describes the Kraken's location and appearance, while the second speculates on what might happen if the creature were to awaken. This structure mirrors the central theme of the poem – the tension between dormancy and action, between stasis and change.

Tennyson also makes use of some interesting structural choices within the sonnet form. The first line, for example, is broken up into two parts, with the word "Below" on its own line. This creates a sense of emphasis and anticipation, drawing the reader into the poem. Similarly, the final two lines of the second stanza are separated from the rest of the poem by a semicolon. This creates a pause and a sense of finality, as if Tennyson is bringing the poem to a close.


So what are we to make of "The Kraken"? What is Tennyson trying to say with this haunting, enigmatic poem?

One possible interpretation is that the Kraken represents the fear of death – a fear that is both ancient and ubiquitous. The creature is immortal, yet trapped in a kind of living death. It is powerful, yet helpless. It is a symbol of our own mortality, and the fear that we too might one day be reduced to nothing but dust and bones.

Another interpretation is that the Kraken represents the wider natural world, and our place within it. The creature is a reminder of the vastness and grandeur of the sea, and the fact that we are but small, insignificant creatures in the face of such power. Tennyson's language and imagery evoke a sense of wonder and awe, as if he is urging us to contemplate the beauty and majesty of the natural world.

At the same time, however, the Kraken is also a warning. It is a reminder that power alone is not enough to give life meaning. The Kraken may be immense and terrifying, but it is also stagnant and isolated. It is a creature that has outlived its purpose, and is now nothing but a relic of a bygone age. Tennyson seems to be suggesting that true life and vitality come not from power, but from action, from movement, from change.


"The Kraken" is a poem that rewards close reading and analysis. It is a work that is rich in language, imagery, and themes, and that invites us to contemplate some of the deepest questions of existence. Whether we see the Kraken as a symbol of death, a reminder of the sublime beauty of the natural world, or a cautionary tale about the dangers of power without purpose, there is much to ponder in Tennyson's enigmatic masterpiece.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Kraken: A Poetic Masterpiece by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, one of the greatest poets of the Victorian era, is known for his vivid imagery and powerful language. His poem, "The Kraken," is a classic example of his poetic genius. The poem is a haunting and evocative portrayal of a mythical sea monster, the Kraken, and its mysterious existence in the depths of the ocean. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language used in the poem, and how they contribute to its overall impact.

The poem begins with a vivid description of the Kraken's lair, deep in the ocean's abyss. Tennyson's use of imagery is particularly striking in this opening stanza. He describes the Kraken's "ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep" and its "secret cell," which is "far down within the dim, illimitable depths." The use of words like "ancient," "dreamless," and "uninvaded" creates a sense of timelessness and isolation, emphasizing the Kraken's otherworldly existence. The phrase "illimitable depths" suggests the vastness of the ocean and the Kraken's insignificance in comparison to it.

In the second stanza, Tennyson describes the Kraken's physical appearance. He uses powerful language to convey the creature's immense size and strength. The Kraken is described as having "many-armed" and "gigantic" limbs, which are "coiled and twisted" around its body. The use of the word "gigantic" emphasizes the Kraken's size, while the phrase "coiled and twisted" suggests its serpentine nature. Tennyson also describes the Kraken's eyes as "drowsy," which creates a sense of lethargy and inactivity.

The third stanza is perhaps the most evocative in the poem. Tennyson describes the Kraken's potential to wreak havoc on the world if it were to awaken from its slumber. He writes, "And on its back the burdened ocean swells, / Would topple down the years to come." The use of the word "burdened" suggests the weight of the ocean, while the phrase "topple down the years to come" creates a sense of impending doom. Tennyson also describes the Kraken's roar as "like a sea-beast's roar," which emphasizes its animalistic nature.

In the fourth stanza, Tennyson shifts the focus to the Kraken's role in mythology. He describes how sailors have long feared the creature and how it has been the subject of countless legends and tales. He writes, "Below the thunders of the upper deep, / Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea, / His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep / The Kraken sleepeth." The repetition of the phrase "ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep" emphasizes the Kraken's timeless existence, while the use of the word "thunders" creates a sense of danger and foreboding.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most enigmatic. Tennyson writes, "There hath he lain for ages, and will lie / Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep, / Until the latter fire shall heat the deep; / Then once by man and angels to be seen." The use of the word "battening" suggests the Kraken's predatory nature, while the phrase "latter fire" creates a sense of apocalyptic destruction. The final line of the poem, "Then once by man and angels to be seen," is particularly intriguing. It suggests that the Kraken's awakening will be a momentous event, witnessed by both humans and divine beings.

Overall, "The Kraken" is a haunting and evocative poem that showcases Tennyson's mastery of language and imagery. The poem's themes of isolation, timelessness, and impending doom are conveyed through powerful language and vivid imagery. Tennyson's use of repetition and alliteration creates a sense of rhythm and musicality, while his use of metaphor and symbolism adds depth and complexity to the poem. "The Kraken" is a true masterpiece of Victorian poetry and a testament to Tennyson's poetic genius.

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