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I've been studying a lot of Tennyson, and I recently read The Kraken. The first 12 lines seem relatively straightforward, describing the giant beast that sleeps at the bottom of the sea, but the final three lines are peculiar:

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.

My interpretation of this is that the Kraken will continue sleeping, but will finally rise at the end of the world and die majestically. We could take this at face value, but the reference to "angels" in particular seems to mean that Tennyson is referring to the apocalypse in a religious sense, and therefore the Kraken could represent a religious symbol.

Additionally, I'm reminded of mythological parallels. For instance, the Norse Prose Edda includes Loki's escape from his bonds during Ragnarok and subsequent death in battle. There is also the case of Jörmungandr, who will also rise at Ragnarok. Tennyson's connection to mythology (admittedly, normally Greek and Roman) make me consider that there could be a tie-in here.

Does the rise of the Kraken at the end of the world symbolize anything, and is it at all connected to something religious?


I accepted my answer to the question because I'm relatively satisfied with the interpretation and nobody else has put forth an answer, but I don't think the question is fully complete. I tried following up on the possible connection between these lines and The Book of Revelation, but Tennyson's religious life and beliefs are extremely complicated, and I only wound up with dead ends.

  • 2
    Like Jormungand? – Mithrandir Jan 28 '17 at 19:19
  • @Mithrandir That's an even better connection, yes. – HDE 226868 Jan 28 '17 at 19:20
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    Hm... One final moment of revelation? That does remind me of something... ;) – user8 Jan 28 '17 at 20:44
  • @yannis It could be. Tennyson does, of course, have religious references in quite a few of his other works, and the mention of angels seems suggestive, but I couldn't find anything to support that conclusion. A different explanation seemed much easier to back up. – HDE 226868 Jan 31 '17 at 18:08
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This interpretation is largely based on discussions I had with one of my professors and classmates about The Kraken and Tennyson’s use of symbolism in general. We believe that The Kraken, like other poems of Tennyson's, should be looked at with an idea of the political and social climes of the Victorian age.


Tennyson’s work is often permeated with social and political commentary. We see many patriotic poems (Ode on the death of the duke of Wellington, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and others), especially surrounding his period as Poet Laureate. It may seem easy to criticize him as upholding the political ideas, rigid class system and moral codes of the Victorian era, and in a sense, this is true. Several views that we today might consider backward, for instance, are evident in Locksley Hall, in the narrator’s attitude towards women and non-Europeans - though these do not necessarily correspond with Tennyson’s own opinions.

I’d specifically like to look at Tennyson’s views in revolution. F. J. Sypher’s Politics in the Poetry of Tennyson describes him as one who “praised revolution abroad, but not at home; who desired change, but not too fast”. Take a look at several lines from stanza CXIII of In Memoriam A.H.H. (highlighted by Christopher Ricks in Tennyson):

Should licensed boldness gather force,
Becoming, when the time has birth,
A lever to uplift the earth
And roll it in another course,

With thousand shocks that come and go,
With agonies, with energies,
With overthrowings, and with cries
And undulations to and fro.

While a description of some of the passions and views of his friend (the inspiration for the poem), Arthur Henry Hallam, this also seems to support the idea that Tennyson agreed with revolution “when the time has birth” - in other words, when the time is right. However, this is not necessarily going to be easy, and it will come “with thousand shocks”, and terrible pain for the people involved. We see a more negative protrayal of bloody revolution in Idylls of the King, where revolt and civil war against King Arthur and his rule leads to his death, and the deaths of many in Camelot and the Round Table. Arthur, the spirit of Britain, was crushed by such abrupt change, just as the Victorian upper classes could be crushed by a revolt from below.

Tennyson and the Fabric of Englishness looks at even darker views on revolution and social change coming from the working classes. You Ask Me, Why, Tho' Ill at Ease is forward and direct in criticizing worked organizations and worker rights:

Should banded unions persecute
Opinion, and induce a time
When single thought is civil crime,
And individual freedom mute;

We can consider Tennyson less than enamored with such an idea, and indeed, other works of his dealt with real revolutions in other countries that he felt could threaten Britain.

My fellow students, professor and I chose to interpret The Kraken in the political context, within the larger collection of Tennyson’s works. The Kraken itself may represent the working masses and their dreams of freedom, growing steadily larger under the elite upper-classes. Their revolutionary ideas of social change are in an “ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep”, as they always are during periods of political stability. However, their discontent, stuck in the depths of their minds and hearts, has grown bigger and bigger, until it is a monstrosity.

Eventually, Tennyson feels, this will all burst. The Kraken - the masses - will rise as ”the latter fire” of revolution begins, throwing the country and perhaps the world into turmoil. The death of the creature is also symbolic. It could be an indication of Tennyson hoping that any resulting chaos will be short-lived or will fizzle out, or that another “cycle” of peace (to quote Sypher) will begin.

Anyway, this is simply one interpretation of the poem, a consideration of Tennyson’s views on social and political change as a whole. I hope I’ve convinced anyone reading this that Tennyson did have varying thoughts on revolution and its implications, and that this may well be the underlying meaning of The Kraken. While it can be argued that the poem is an explanation of religion or of our deepest feelings, or that it should simply be taken literally, I think that the idea of sudden political change is also an equally valid stance.

  • Great answer. Out of curiosity, what class is this for? – user111 Jan 31 '17 at 18:06
  • @Hamlet It's called "The Victorian Poets: Eminence and Decadence", and it inspired this question. I was reading in advance, and we ended up have a discussion about it in class yesterday (we've been covering Tennyson has a whole, so he was the focus). – HDE 226868 Jan 31 '17 at 18:07
  • An emphatic +1 for this. – Torisuda Feb 1 '17 at 20:55

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