Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Oak -Alfred Lord Tennyson

As I look outside my window I see the sun is shining and the snow sparkling on the ground. I look at the trees that have no leaves and dream of when summer is here. The cold temperatures make me want to hibernate, but this is winter in Wisconsin. I count down the days as Erica and I will be heading to Cabo, Mexico for our honeymoon! (Less than two weeks) Anyways, since I have been thinking about nature, I thought I would share my literary analysis from my Journey Into Literature Class. Of course this is paper was written about a poem that nonetheless was about an Oak Tree. (Go Figure!)


Live thy Life,
Young and old,
Like yon oak,
Bright in spring,
Living gold;

Then; and then
Gold again.

All his leaves
Fall'n at length,
Look, he stands,
Trunk and bough
Naked strength.

Poetry in its literary form is beautiful and magnificent.  The way poets are able to incorporate every word and put it in a specific place to add meaning, is amazing. Poems can be written about feelings, emotions, and nature, and just about anything else a poet wants to write. I have always enjoyed poetry and in particular, enjoyed reading poems about nature.  I love nature, and I think a lot can be expressed through writing poetry about it.  Because I love trees so much, (I even have a tattoo of a tree on my ankle) I was more than happy to see a poem called “The Oak” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in our text Journey into Literature.  This is a great poem and there are many elements that are found throughout the text that have helped me focus on the poem.  Alfred, Lord Tennyson uses figurative language, symbolism, and rhyme to express his view of the Oak tree. With these elements I am able to enjoy the poem and see the comparison of a tree being tied into the development of a human.

I read this poem numerous times, and I found it to be beautiful. The author incorporates figurative language by using a simile to compare the “human development to the oak tree’s seasonal cycle.” (Clugston, 2010). With that said, when reading the poem, I feel Tennyson is relating it to a man that is aging through life.  The oak tree is personified as Tennyson uses “he” to describe the changes that are occurring to the tree. “All his leaves, Fall’n at length, look, he stands trunk and bough…” (as cited from Clugston, 2010). These lines demonstrate the use of “he” and when reading the poem, I felt the tree had possessed human qualities. When looking at the poem it was easier to see that the tree was going through changes, just as a human goes through changes as they age. The author “attributes” the oak, through the seasonal changes that are occurring. (Clugston, 2010) From using spring, to summer, and then to autumn we see the changes occurring. The oak tree in spring is young and bright and as the seasons continue the leaves begin to change color, and eventually fall off.  The oak tree stands with “Naked strength” (as cited from Clugston, 2010).  It is apparent that through the figurative language and using a simile to compare the aging process of the tree to a human, Tennyson has been successful. It is important for the reader to pick up on this aspect as a tree with its natural beauty can be used to describe the human process. We as humans age and with those changes, we can still possess the beauty that makes us who are in our “naked strength.”

Symbols and symbolism are important when reading poetry. Poets use symbols to add to the message or theme. According to our text, and in previous readings, I noticed that a lot of symbols were used. The oak tree itself is a symbol of strength and wisdom, and I feel that this is fitting for the poem. As when people age with time and experience, wisdom is developed. All the seasonal changes also have specific meanings, as spring is a symbol of “birth and new beginnings.” (Clugston, 2010) Summer is a symbol for “maturity”, and autumn is a symbol for “aging.” (Clugston, 2010) With the use of these seasons we can see how the tree ages, almost like how human beings process. When we are first born, there are new beginnings , and as we age we begin to mature. Trees change color of leaves and they fall from the branches. As humans are hair can change color and as we get older, sometimes are hair falls out. As quoted from the poem, “Live thy life, young and old, like yon oak, bright in spring, living gold” (as cited from Clugston, 2010). This is a beautiful line, that tells us to live our lives, whether we are old or young, and like the oak that stands tall and gold. Gold is also the color of perfection and when reading the poem I did notice that Tennyson did not use “winter” in his poem. I found this to be quite interesting, but as the tree stands, “naked in strength”, I can tell that it is winter. I do not really know why Tennyson did not use winter, but found that winter means “death, stagnation, and sleep” (Clugston, 2010). I think Tennyson may be focusing on the positive aspects of the developments of the tree and humans. Again adding the seasonal changes and with the use of symbolisms, helped me to understand the meaning of the poem. Tennyson was able to incorporate the seasonal changes, and I was able to draw out the human aspect from the tree. As time moves on and seasons change so does the aging process. I think Tennyson did an excellent job.

            The form of the poem and the way it was laid out, made it easy to read. For figurative language was apparent with the use of a simile. When reading the poem out loud I found that each line appeared to have 3 beats to each line. I found this to be interesting and enjoyed the flow of the poem. Tennyson also incorporates rhyme into the poem. “Young and old, like yon oak, bright in spring, living gold” (as cited from Clugston, 2010). Old and gold have the similar endings, and had the rhyme to the poem. This poem was easy for me to read, and when I read it to myself, I pictured an old man reading the poem. I think Tennyson did a wonderful job and when I saw the words on the page I noticed a sort of zigzag pattern. I am not sure if it was done on purpose, but to me it appeared that the poem was the trunk of the tree. Again Tennyson was able to create a beautiful masterpiece in his telling of “The Oak.” With the use of figurative language, the rhythm and rhyme he was able to create a poem that was easy for me to read and enjoy.

            “The Oak” written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, is by far one my favorite poems. The poet does a wonderful job incorporating the human development to the growth of an oak tree. By using figurative language, symbolism, and rhyming, the poet was able to create a deeper meaning then just a poem about an oak tree. These specific elements were effective in creating the meaning of the poem, and making it enjoyable to read. As stated earlier poetry is an expression of anything felt by the poet. Specific words, formats, and scenery can all create a message to a particular reader. Nature is a wonderful way to incorporate many themes. The tree was a beautiful way to describe the human development and with all its beauty, we can find that life whether it is a tree or human is worth living.

Clugston, R. W. (2010). Journey into literature. San Diego, California: Bridgepoint Education,

     Inc. Retrieved from: https://content.ashford.edu/books


  1. Many thanks for sharing your analysis of Tennyson's poem ... and the image ...

    I have linked your post to a post on my site ... http://richard-outoftheblue.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/the-oak-tennyson.html

    Cheers Richard Scutter

  2. Tennyson is in fact a creative genius who is able to understand the realities in the world around him. By taking instances from Greek epics, he tries to caricature the ways of the western world.
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  3. I must say Tennyson really did a great job. Thank you for this wonderful literary analysis of yours I've learned the deeper meaning of this masterpiece.