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The Brook – Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Brook may be read like an ordinary poem that describes the eventful journey of a brook that wishes to join a brimming river miles away but the poet Tennyson conveys a much deeper idea in this poem.

In the first place it tells how different is the life of someone who is determined to the core from those who lead an easygoing life. The life of a determined person is full of hardship and struggles, restlessness and over exertion.

Secondly it is about life itself. Beginning from childhood that is uneventful, enjoyable and full of excitement, life suddenly takes a new turn and moves through struggles till it comes to an end in death.

Beginning – Childhood

  • The brook (childhood of the river) begins its journey most happily, most vibrantly, most cheerfully.
  • It jumps carelessly/recklessly, it chatters loudly, it flows endlessly.
  • It passes fifty bridges, twenty villages and sometimes, towns.

Vibrancy – Adulthood

  • The brook is tireless. It has just an aim in life – the Brimming River.
  • It chatters (gossiping and loose talks), it allows itself to fall into eddying bays (surrounding crisis in life).

Complaints – Mid Age – I am not Wanted!

  • At this age the brook (people) starts complaining.
  • It complains that there are curves in its way, it has to allow ploughed fields to drink its water.
  • It complaints that the thorny plants like willow and mallow hurt it as it flows.

Old Age – Silent at Last

  • The brook ( now an old man) bumps into places he is not supposed to.
  • It lives in a world where trouts and graylings are wandering for lust/food.
  • It (the old man) starts hating a world where it is not wanted.
  • It hates carrying the foamy flakes on it yet it bears with it for the thought of reaching its destination.

Stanza 1 – Birth and Childhood

I come from haunts of coot and hern,
I make a sudden sally
And sparkle out among the fern,
To bicker down a valley.

Paraphrase

I am a little river. I come from the hills where birds like coot and hern live. I am so much excited that I am in great hurry. I let myself fall from great heights. I enjoy falling among fern plants to see myself shine. I do not stop there. I flow down the valley. It is great fun!

Meaning

  • I – The brook
  • Haunts – favorite meeting places
  • Coot and hern – Two water birds
  • Sally – Sudden fall
  • Sparkle – sprinkle; Shine
  • Fern – A bush with thorny stems
  • Bicker – Flow down with a lot of noise
  • Valley – The lower slope of a hill

Questions & Answers

  1. How do you describe the origin of the brook?
    The brook originates from an elevated place, such as a hill or mountain where water birds like coot and hern live.
  2. What does bicker mean?
    Bicker means to flow down with a lot of noises.
  3. Bring out the energetic childhood symbolized in the stanza.
    The poem begins with a description of the energetic origin of the brook. It is happy and excited at the start. It talks very loudly and cares nothing about falling down and sparkling. So young and energetic, the brook thinks little about the consequences of its fall and its decision is a sudden one.
  4. The first line says that…
    1. The brook comes from a valley
    2. The brook comes from a hillside
    3. The brook comes from a rainy area
    4. The brook comes from rain
  5. Sudden sally refers to…
    1. A sudden, hard time in the brook’s life,
    2. A fall,
    3. A sound that the brook creates,
    4. A movement that the brook makes.
  6. Ferns are…
    1. Water birds
    2. Wild plants
    3. Fish
    4. Pebbles
  7. The brook sparkles with…
    1. Its water
    2. Its bubbles
    3. Its pebbles
    4. Its birds
  8. To bicker down a valley is suggestive of…
    1. The brook’s angry mood
    2. The brook’s excited mood,
    3. The brook’s lazy mood,
    4. The brook’s sad mood

Stanza 2 – Adolescence

By thirty hills I hurry down,
Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorpes, a little town,
And half a hundred bridges.

Paraphrase

I love to travel any long distance. There are thirty hills along which I flow down. I flow between the ridges of these hills. There are around twenty villages, a little town and fifty bridges on my way. I don’t care about such a long distance. I like flowing.

Meaning

  • Hurry down – Flow downward
  • Ridge – A watershed; a hilltop
  • Thorpes – Villages

Questions & Answers

  1. How does the poet bring out the extensive distance covered by the brook?
    To reach the brimming river, the brook travels hundreds or thousands of miles. The poet brings out this extensiveness with the help of the checkpoints such as thirty hills, ridges, twenty thorpes, a little town and the fifty bridges.
  2. What are thorpes?
    Thorpes are villages
  3. Bring out the vigorous and untiring adolescence symbolized in the stanza?
    The stanza presents the vigour of adolescence through the description of the brook’s movement. Like the brook, life in adolescence is energetic, not knowing tiredness, not measuring the distance to run and the distance covered. The young man and woman is concerned about the achievements in life like the brook that hurries away.
  4. ‘I’ refers to…
    1. The river
    2. The brook
    3. Coot
    4. Hern
  5. Ridge is the…
    1. Lower part of a hill,
    2. Upper crest of the hill,
    3. Slope of a hill
    4. Bottom of a hill
  6. The distance that the brook has covered in the stanza is approximately…
    1. Less than three kilometers
    2. Less than a hundred kilometers
    3. Around ten kilometers
    4. More than a thousand kilometers
  7. Thorpes are…
    1. Towns
    2. Villages
    3. Rivers
    4. Hills

Stanza 3 – Final Destination

Till last by Philip’s farm I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.

Paraphrase

There is a farmer called Philip. I am overly excited when I pass by his farm because it is here that I have been flowing to. There is a great river. It is overflowing. Its banks are flooded. I am so happy that I flow headlong into this river. It is here that my journey ends.

Questions & Answers

  1. Who is Philip? How is Philip’s farm memorable for the brook?
    Philip is a farmer by whose farm the brook flows and immediately joins the brimming river. Because this farm is very important, the point before the turning point, the brook remembers Philip.
  2. How is the brook different from ‘men?’
    Both men and the brook are in constant struggle with adversities in life but the brook is different from men. While man is not consistent in his struggle, the brook is consistent. It seldom stops lazily,seldom does it wander away, deviate from its track. It always moves until it reached its destination.
  3. Philip is a…
    1. Traveler
    2. Farmer
    3. Landlord
    4. Boatman

Stanza 4 – Going Back to Childhood

I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles.

Meaning

  • Chatter – Speak continuously
  • Sharp and trebles – Shrill voice (of babies and children)
  • Bubble – When the brook falls from a height, it creates a lot of bubbles.
  • Eddying – Whirling
  • Bays – An area of a river or sea surrounded by land on three sides
  • Babble – Speak happily

Questions & Answers

  1. How does the brook chatter?
    The brook is in a hurry. It flows through shallow ruts where there are pebbles all the way. With the flow clashing with these pebbles and lashing the sides and hitting the big rocks on its way, the brook chatters.
  2. Which stage of the human life is presented in this stanza?
    Like the stanzas previously, this stanza describes human adolescence. Chattering and babbling are characteristic of this stage.
  3. What are eddying bays?
    Eddying bays are wider stretches of the brook where the brook falls from all the three directions.
  4. What is the mood of the brook while it is babbling on pebbles?
    The brook feels relaxed and gay at this time.
  5. Eddy is the…
    1. Spiral movement of water
    2. Whirlpool
    3. Waterfall
    4. None
    5. 1 and 2
  6. Bay is…
    1. A body of water surrounded by land
    2. An island
    3. A plateau
    4. A small sea
  7. Babble means…
    1. to complain
    2. to talk happily
    3. to cry
    4. to shout

With many a curve my banks I fret
By many a field and fallow,
And many a fairy foreland set
With willow-weed and mallow.

  1. Why does the brook fret?
    Fret means a frivolous complaint. The brook is disturbed by the numberous curves that it has to take, a constant and inevitable trouble during its journey.
  2. How does the poet elaborate the trials encountered by the brook?
    The brook’s journey is not altogether enjoyable – it encounters constant obstacles and hurdles. The endless curves are what the brook loathes most. Next it complains about the field and fallow where farmers direct the brook to water them. The brook doesn’t like it because while entering the dry fields and ploughed fallow, the brook is lost. The foreland set distracts the brook and slows its pace down while the thorny willow weed stands in its way.
  3. What risk does the brook run while it flows through the fields and fallow?
    The brook runs the risk of getting lost while entering the fields and fallow that farmers direct the brook to. The brook doesn’t like it because while entering the dry fields and ploughed fallow, the brook in the danger of going dry.
  4. What are foreland sets?
    Foreland sets are stretches of land extending to the sea or river.
  5. In this stanza, the poem presents man’s life that begins to complain. What are his complaints? Why does he complain?
    The stanza is a vivid representation of the complaining man/woman. At a point in life, man starts complaining about the hurdles he has to jump in his way. Poverty, love failure, inability to meet his needs, insecurity and more. The curves are curves so one has to bend to pass the curve. There is no use of complaining about the curves. Before becoming mature, people live a life of dreams where there are only straight paths.

I chatter, chatter, as I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.

  1. What is the figure of speech in the first line?
    With the repetition of the word ‘chatter’ the first line is an repetition.

I wind about, and in and out,
With here a blossom sailing,
And here and there a lusty trout,
And here and there a grayling,

  1. What is a blossom? How does a blossom sail?
    A blossom is a flower. In his poetic style, the poet visualizes a flower, say, a water-lily, having got detached from its stem, floats on the water, like a round boat.
  2. Why it the trout said to be lusty?
    The trout is said to be lusty because it is in search of something to eat and its movement reflects happiness.

And here and there a foamy flake
Upon me, as I travel
With many a silvery water-break
Above the golden gravel…

  1. What is a foamy flake?
    Foamy-flake refers to a flake of foam formed by bubbles.
  2. What are the silvery water-break?
    Silvery water-breaks are the bursting bubbles.
  3. What is the golden gravel?
    Golden gravel is the golden sand at the bottom of the brook/river.

And draw them all along, and flow
To join the brimming river
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.

  1. What does the brook draw along with it? OR What does ‘them’ refer to?
    The brook draws the floating foamy flakes along with it. Them refers to the floating flakes of foam.
  2. What does the word brimming signify?
    Brimming signifies the overflowing or content state of the river that is a symbol of perfection.
  3. Which poetic device is used in last two lines?
    The poetic device used here is refrain. Refrain is repetition of a line or more lines in a poem.
  4. What is the golden gravel?

I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
I slide by hazel covers;
I move the sweet forget-me-nots
That grow for happy lovers.

  1. How does the poem describe the brook’s stealthy movements?
  2. What are hazel covers?
  3. For whom do the forget-me-nots grow?

I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeam dance
Against my sandy shallows.

  1. Explain the use of onomatopoeia in the first line?
  2. Bring out the imagery in the second line, ‘skimming swallows.’
  3. How does the brook make the sun beams dance?

I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses;

Meaning

  • Murmur – Speak gently
  • Brambly – Full of thorns
  • Wilderness – Desert
  • Linger – Stay
  • Shingly – Stony
  • Bars – Banks
  • Cresses – Plants with fruits like cabbage

Questions & Answers

  1. This stanza reveals that the brook allows itself some rest on one side and on the other complete rigidity. Explain.
  2. How does the brook’s journey change at night?
  3. What do you understand about the untiring determination of the brook in the above lines?
  4. What are cresses.

And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.

  1. What does the poem portray the end of life in the stanza above?
  2. Why are the last two lines repeated at intervals? What is this poetic device called?

HOTs

  1. Why do you think the poet lets the brook describe its journey rather than describing it himself?
    Although described by a brook, the poem is the poet’s successful journey to become the most loved poet of his time. The purpose served by making the brook describing its journey is that the reader would not develop jealousy toward the poet. If the poet had chosen to write, “other men may come and may go but I go on forever,” the effect and acceptance of the poem would have been different. The brook is symbol of serenity and purity because it is pure at the start although it gets polluted on the way. Unlike human beings, brooks do not deliberately get polluted. Because the symbol of a brook is a more perfect than a human being, the poet chose the brook to narrate the poem.
  2. The poet has used a number of words that indicate the movement of the brook. Describe brooks different movement with its journey.
  3. Why does the brook hurry down? Where is it hurrying to? (2 marks)
  4. How does the poet present an estimated distance covered by the brook to reach the brimming river through this stanza? (2 marks)
  5. The poem symbolically presents human life with its hurdles and struggles. Explain. (4 marks)
  6. What qualities are imperative for joining the brimming river? (4 marks)

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