In his famous poem The Brook, Tennyson is imagining what it would be like to be a brook, or stream, running down the mountainside and across country until it joins a river. He contrasts the relative permanence and enduring nature of a natural feature like a brook, with the impermanence and fleeting nature of human life.
In the poem, Tennyson has the brilliantly original idea of making the brook itself the narrator. Instead of seeing the beauties of nature through the eyes of a human poet, we see the world as the stream itself sees it.
The brook rises in a remote spot in the wooded hills, the ‘haunt of coot and hern’ and then gradually descends through thirty hills, twenty small hills and fifty bridges. It then flows past Philip’s farm, past ‘lawns, glassy plots and hazel covers’ and eventually joins the ‘brimming river’, that is swollen, probably with the spring rains and meltwaters.
On its long journey to the river, and eventually we suppose to the sea, the brook passes many different kinds of terrain, almost like a human journey on which one experiences adventures.
As it rushes down the hills, the brook makes a kind of natural music , or singing, its swirling water chattering and babbling as it dashes against the gravel of the stream bed producing almost musical notes. The brook wanders through land that is cultivated and land that is wild and natural. It encounters fish leaping on its journey.
Tennyson wrote at a time when it was fashionable for Victorian poets to idealize nature and to see nature as perfect and human society as flawed and unnatural. This view came about partly because of the industrial revolution which, in Tennyson’s day, had turned England into a land of ‘Dark, satanic mills’ in Blake’s words.