The brook is a poem written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. In this poem, the brook plays the role of the narrator as it tells the reader about its journey. Here is the summary of the poem.
The brook starts out from the dwelling place of birds such as the coot (a water bird) and the hern (archaic word for heron). It makes a sudden rush as it flows out. The presence of sunlight causes the brook’s water to sparkle as it flows among the fern. It then continues its journey by flowing down a valley. While doing so, the sound of the flowing brook resembles that of people quarrelling. Hence the phrase, ‘bicker down a valley’.
The brook flows down along hills. Sometimes, it also glides between long and narrow hill ranges, called ridges. Thorpes refer to small villages or hamlets. Between two small towns, the brook passes several thorpes and a large number of bridges. The numbers used in this line such as ‘thirty’, ‘twenty’, ‘half a hundred’ should not be taken in the literal sense. These numbers are used to give the impression of ‘several’ or ‘many’ and to maintain the rhythm of the poem.
Finally, the brook passes Philip’s farm and flows into the overflowing river.
The brook further states that men are transient. They come and go over time. But it outlives men and continues forever.
The lines ‘For men may come and men may go, /But I go on for ever.’, are repeated several times in the entire poem.
As the brook flows over stony paths, its water makes a chattering sound. This sound is high pitched, hence the phrase ‘sharps and trebles’ (both, high pitched notes in music).
As water flows past an obstacle, a reverse motion is created that leads to swirling. These are known as eddies. A lot of bubbles are also formed.
As the brook flows over pebbles, the sound it makes is similar to that made while talking rapidly. Hence the phrase, ‘babble on the pebbles’.
The brook does not flow in a straight line. It makes a lot of turns and etches out a path full of curves. ‘Fret’ means ‘fuss’ or ‘worry’. The brook forms so many curves, that it seems as if it is constantly troubling its banks to change shape. The brook continues beside many fields as well as fallow lands. ‘Fairy forelands’ refer to promontories. These are masses of land that overlook the brook. These promontories are home to plants such as willow weed and mallow. The brook passes them on its journey.
As the brook flows, on its way to the overflowing river, it makes a continuous sound. The sound is like that of people talking. Hence, the line ‘I chatter, chatter, as I flow”.
The brook repeats that although men are transient, it goes on forever.
The brook coils and twists on its way to the river. An occasional flower can be seen on its surface. The floating blossom appears to be sailing on the brook. The brook is also home to freshwater fish such as trout and grayling. The trout is a vigorous and energetic fish. Hence Tennyson calls it ‘lusty’.
Due to occasional turbulent flow, flakes of foam are produced, which float on the flowing brook. Waterbreaks are breaks on the brook’s surface caused by unevenness of its bed. These waterbreaks reflect the sun that makes them appear silver. Gravel is usually of a brownish yellow hue. Hence the phrase, ‘golden gravel’.
The brook draws along with it, several floating objects as it flows towards the river. Here the poem’s refrain is repeated.
The brook flows by grassy stretches. It passes by land covered with hazel (a type of shrub). Forget-me-nots are low growing plants with bright blue flowers. They often grow on the banks of streams, sometimes even touching the water surface. Forget-me-not flowers are often a sign of faithfulness and enduring love. Hence they are often associated with lovers. As the brook flows, it gently moves the flowers that touch the water.
The brook uses the words ‘slip’ , ‘slide’ , ‘gloom’ , ‘glance’, to describe its movements.
Swallows often hunt for insects on the water surface. They skim the water surface to capture the insects. The brook glides among these ‘skimming swallows’.
The brook is constantly moving. It also carries with it numerous fish, floating blossoms, etc. Swallows often fly over it. Hence the sunlight that falls on the bed of the brook appears like a net instead of a continuous entity. Sandy shallows refer to the shallow part of the brook that contains a lot of deposited sand and silt. As the brook moves, the ‘netted sunbeam’ falling on the shallow bed appears to dance.
Wilderness refers to a wild and uninhabited region. Brambles are often found in such places. Hence Tennyson refers to such regions as ‘brambly wildernesses’. In quiet nights, as the brook passes over numerous pebbles and uneven land, it makes a certain sound. In the silent wilderness such sounds can be clearly heard. The sound reminds one of murmuring. It is as if the brook is talking to itself.
Shingles are accumulated masses of small pebbles. Elevated regions in a brook made of such an accumulated mass, deposited by flow, are referred as ‘shingly bars’. Shingles are usually found in the slowest moving part of a brook. Hence the brook says that it ‘lingers’ by such places. Cresses, in this case, refer to watercress that often grows on the edges of brooks. As the brook passes these tufts of watercress, its water seems to coalesce among the plants. Hence Tennyson uses the word ‘loiter’ is used.
The brook leaves the wilderness, the ‘shingly bars’ and the watercress behind and flows in graceful curves towards the river.
It ends with the refrain that although the human life is transient, the flow of the brook is perpetual.
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