ennyson depicts the apocalyptic end of the world with a sea monster "roaring" (15) to the water's surface in his poem "The Kraken." In modern German the word kraken means octopus, a creature legendary for gargantuan size and fearsome appearance. Historically, legends tell of Octopuses, Nordic beasts, and serpent-like Leviathans, seizing ships and bringing sailors to their deaths on multiple accounts. From literature and history, these creatures can be known as terrifying grim reapers of the sea. The monster in Tennyson's poem, however, in contrast with legends, pursues no violent acts but remains in a "dreamless, uninvaded sleep," (3) until God destines his coming, or consequently "until the latter fire shall heat the deep" (13).
For purposes of separating the Kraken from other sea beasts, Tennyson depicts the Kraken in seclusion "Below the thunders of the upper deep;/ Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea" (1-2). There at extreme depths, "the Kraken sleepeth" in a place where even the "faintest sunlight flee" (4) from "about his shadowy sides" (5). As time passes the sea beast remains in a "wondrous grot," (8) or "secret cell" (8) where "sponges of millennial growth" (6) continually multiply upon his slumbering body.
By the end of the poem Tennyson fully establishes the key difference, besides intensive isolation, between his Kraken and other monsters. Tennyson's beast rises to the "surface," (18) awaking from an "ancient" (3) slumber only to die before an audience of "men and angels" (14). In these climactic moments of the poem, the reader might expect a great outpour of electrifying force, like that of when Ursula surfaces in the story "The Little Mermaid," but uniquely enough, Tennyson describes the coming of the beast sparingly and quietly. The more information Tennyson leaves out, regarding the arrival of the beast adds to built up apprehension of the unknown as mankind does not known when Judgment Day may come. Just as the Kraken creeps up to the water's surface, Judgment Day will creep up on man. Therefore, the fear of the Kraken's coming masks the fear of violent deaths brought on by the other grim reapers of the sea.
1. In 1810, Pierre Denys de Montfort created a pen and wash image of the Kraken, based upon Tennyson's poem. In the image, the giant squid-like creature is wrapping its "giant arms" (10) around a ship in the pursuit of strangling it. Based only on what the monster is doing in the image, why might the image be considered ironic? Also, after reading the poem, how would you have imagined the monster differently?
2. Sea monsters make appearances in all sorts of locations, ranging from literature to movies. What is the infatuation with creatures, like the Kraken in movies? Is there something besides bringing a fantastical element that they bring to the big screen? (The Little Mermaid, The Pirates of the Caribbean, etc). Could they represent God as a monster, or are they just fearsome creatures?
3. Below are quotations regarding Victorian thought, which may help to answer the following questions.
Satan will overcome; virtue will descend from heaven, surrounded by her angels, and reign over the hearts of men. Earth, which is now purgatory, will be made a paradise in the future. (Walter E. Houghton, The Victorian Frame of Mind: 1830-1870. New Haven: Yale UP, 1952).
Victorians were fascinated by the flood of strange new worlds that science was opening to them. Exotic plants and animals poured into London from all corners of the Empire, while revolutionary theories such as the radical idea that humans might be descended from apes drew crowds to heated debates. Men and women of all social classes avidly collected scientific specimens for display in their homes and devoured literature about science and its practitioners. [Bernard Lightman, Victorian Science in Context, 1997].
Were scientists of the Victorian era reluctant to study the Kraken? Were they at all apprehensive? Why? Were there religious pressures?
4. After reading the poem, the opening two lines and the last three stand out to most. Why is this? What technique has Tennyson used in the opening two lines to create an unworldly description of the "abysmal sea" (2)? How is this unworldly description then seen in the last three lines?
5. Could the Kraken ever be classified as fantastic? Could a monster such as the Kraken ever be in the novel like Phantastes? Why or Why not?
Last modified 2 March 2009