27 July 2009

Mellifluous Mondays: Sea Monster

"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
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
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,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

Kraken are mythological sea monsters, supposedly big and fierce enough to pull a man o' war to the bottom of the ocean. The legend seems to have begun in twelfth-century Norway and was probably based on real sightings of giant squid, or perhaps abnormally large octopi. Wherever Kraken came from, they're pretty sweet (and more than slightly terrifying). I like sea monsters.

Tennyson liked melancholy metaphors. I'm thinking that in this poem, the Kraken represents either man's subconscious fears and superstition, or the ugly truth about the world's evil nature. We drown it out but at the Last Judgment, where all things are revealed, it will come to light for everyone to see.
Tennyson was confused, like most Victorians . . . clinging to some Judeo-Christian framework, but doubting so much that his Christianity wasn't worth the name.

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