The Kraken

May 23, 2008

The Kraken

Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge sea-worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

Alfred Tennyson

Who, or what, does the Kraken symbolise? I find myself often drawn back to this poem because its sense of the ominous is so strong and so organic. What is so alien about the Kraken feels so familiar, and what is so tragic about its short-lived foetal awakening feels so exact.

The Kraken lives at the edge of creation, tucked away from the sight and science of man like God’s unfinished or even unwanted work, His one terrible mistake. Its unnaturalness is matched only by its unfathomable scale and untapped potential: we sense horror not just in its thought but also at not knowing where this horror should end. So unfit for reasoned or redeemed life is this monster that, at the end of time, when the world’s corruptibility must expire before Heaven’s dawning, it too must be brought to the fore and be erased forever.

But what is such a creature that should wake at last simply to die? Is the Kraken the very image of life, whose wakefulness we somehow feel we never possess, or is it desire itself? Or is it less a terrifying image than an image for darkness, horror, the unspeakable, death — all those elements we deem so repulsive that they live damned in our mundane unending systems of light?

Gwee Li Sui

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