Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies (Comprehensive)

Posted: July 21, 2013 in Questions of class-11

Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies William Shakespeare (1564-1616)


Your father’s body is a long way under the sea,
His bones are made of sea animals,
His eyes have now become pearls,
No part of him has disappeared,
But they have been changed by the sea into something strange,
Every hour sea creatures ring his funeral bell,
Listen! Now I can hear them – Ding-dong, bell

Note: This poem occurs in Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, Act I Scene 2. The spirit Ariel sings this song to Ferdinand, Prince of Naples, who mistakenly thinks his father is drowned.
A sea nymph (female spirits of sea waters) is one of the fifty daughters of Nereus and Doris in Greek mythology. They often accompany Poseidon (God of the Sea) and can be friendly and helpful to sailors fighting perilous storms. The most notable of them are Thetis, wife of Peleus, and mother of Achilles; Amphitrite, wife of Poseidon; and Galatea, love of the Cyclops Polyphemus.
Coral: The hard stony skeleton of a Mediterranean coral that has a delicate red or pink color and is used for jewelry
Some poetic devices used in the poem:

1. Onomatopoeia (Gk ‘name-making’): The formation and use of words to imitate sounds. For example: dong, crackle, moo, pop, whiz, whoosh, zoom. It is a figure of speech in which the sounds reflect the sense. It is very common in verse and fairly common in prose and is found in many literatures at all times. As a rule it is deliberately used to achieve a special effect, as in these lines from Eliot’s Dry Salvages:
a. When the train starts, and the passengers are settled
To fruit, periodicals and business letters
(And those who saw them off have left the platform)
Their faces relax from grief into relief,
To the sleepy rhythm of a hundred years
b. I heard an owl’s whoo-hoo
Then a donkey’s hee-haw;
A dove did make roo-coo,
A crow did cry caw-caw.

The whole passage is subtly onomatopoeic; the rhythm of the second line is beautiful skilful evocation of the clickety-click of wheels on rails.

2. Alliteration (L ‘repeating and playing upon the same letter’): A figure of speech in which consonants, especially at the beginning of words, or stressed syllables, are repeated. It is a very old device indeed in English verse and is common in verse generally. Observe this alliteration in Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan: Five miles meandering with the mazy motion. /m/Alliteration is often used in jingles and tongue-twisters. /b/Betty Botter bought some butter, But, she said, the butter’s bitter; If I put it in my batter It will make my batter bitter, But a bit of better butter, That would make my batter better.

3. Assonance: Sometimes called ‘vocalic rhyme’, it consists of the repetition of similar vowel sounds, usually close together, to achieve a particular effect of euphony (the quality of having a pleasant sound). Take Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem Lotos-Eaters which is assonantal. Indeed there is a kind of drowsy sonority: /o/

The Lotos blooms below the barren peak:
The Lotos blows by every winding creek:
All day the wind breathes low with mellower tone
Thro’ every hollow cave and alley lone,
Round and round the spicy downs the yellow Lotos-dust
Is blown.

Write the summary of the poem in one paragraph.
Your father hasn’t died but lies some 30 feet below in the sea. His bones have changed into coral and his eyes into pearl. No body part of his have decayed, but instead transformed into something strange and rich. The sea nymphs who dwell in the sea are keeping constant vigil (watch-nigarani) on the miracle body by ringing his death bell every hour.

Is death meaningful in this poem?
The death described in the lyric is not ordinary; it is the death of Ferdinand, the King of Naples. It is meaningful in the sense that no body parts of the king have decayed, but have undergone tremendous rich change: eyes have changed into pearls; bones have become coral. All body parts have become ageless as they have changed into priceless objects that don’t decay like ordinary mortal’s body parts do. Indeed, Ariel the spirit is trying to ease the pain of Ferdinand who is under the impression that his father has drowned.
William Shakespeare through the song of Spirit Ariel talks about immortality of life. He means to say that life does not die but changes to other forms. So, the death of Ferdinand’s father is meaningful. Death is nothing but just a medium of changing life from one form to another. Life after death is permanent whereas life itself is short-lived (ephemeral).

Significance of Death
Death appears to be glorified in “Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies”. There is a conventional idea that though our soul is immortal, our body is perishable. It decays after death. So, the body is useless and is as cheap as coal, dirt, and water. However, in the given poem death is significant as it challenges our established notion. Shakespeare claims that our body does not perish. Rather it becomes more valuable as shown in the poem. Ferdinand’s sea-sunk father’s bones have changed into corals and his eyes have become pearls. Literally he doesn’t mean our bones always change into corals and our eyes become pearls after death. Rather it has a metaphorical or implied meaning. Shakespeare means that even after our death our body continues to exist in different transformed forms in the nature. Therefore, it is also immortal like our soul. Thus, death is a pleasing event, which immortalizes us thoroughly, i.e. in soul and body both.

Comment on the use of different poetic devices used in Full Fathom Five

Although Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies is a very short poem, it is a rich poem for the study of sound and musical elements. It is written in free verse, has good rhyme in single line and between lines. The rhyme scheme is ababccded. The poem also has a very strong rhythm, and makes good use various figures of speech like alliteration, assonance and onomatopoeia, which enhances the lyrical elements.

The poem title and the repetition of it in the first line – ‘full fathom five thy father lies’ catches the calmness and the mild movement of the sea after the storm (the tempest). The voiceless /f/ sound produces a feel of the gentle flow of the sea and its waves. In the like manner, in ‘suffer a sea change’ the /s/, a sibilant fricative sound, imitates the hissing or whistling quality of the sea waves.. In still another alliterative line, ‘hark! Now I hear them’ the voiceless glottal /h/ sound injects a hint of attention and caution. /h/ glottal fricative sounds breathy too, so it must have been whispered gently or sung a little quieter by Ariel into Ferdinand’s ears. Another poetic device, assonance, is also abundantly used in the poem. They are: ‘five…..lies’ (line 1); ‘pearls…..were’ (line 3)’nymphs….ring’ (line 7). There is pleasing effect achieved by the repetition of rhymed words in various lines i.e., they create a suitable effect of euphony Even the rhyme words are assonantal. For example, lies (line 1) and eyes (line 3) are single rhyme words and so are ‘made’ (line 2) and ‘fade’ (line 4). They add pleasantness to the song. The same is true for other verse lines too.

The double repetition of the onomatopoeic ding-dong towards the end of the poem also has a musical and lulling effect as it is hit slowly and in rhythm. This sounding of the bell is significant in the poem as the nymphs are ringing the bell to guard, honour as well as ease the king into sleep. The nasal sound /Ŋ/ in the onomatopoeia also creates an atmosphere of lingering seriousness and the explosive sound /d/ informs us of the hard and inescapable nature of death. ‘Ding’ suggests a mild treble sound while ‘dong’ implies a harder sound. The alternation of thin, crisp sound ‘ding’ along with the loud sound ‘dong’ has a climactic effect, and thereby heightens the occasion of the death in the poem.

All the above-mentioned poetic devices and rhyme pattern go on to make this poem very readable and hummable.


It seems to be difficult to define ‘life’ and ‘art’. Life is mysterious and art is the imitation (copy) of life. So life and art are interrelated parts. Life creates art and art provides delight to life. Without any interest in art is a dead life, so art and life are inseparable.

Art is related to creation and life is related to experience of happiness, sadness, laughter, tears, joy, certainties and uncertainties. But art brings success in life.

Life is transitory. It changes in different phrases in course of time. A small baby of yesterday becomes a young man today and old tomorrow. Eventually, he disappears from the world resting on the lap of death. Life comes across different sweet and sour events. Life is mixture of tears and smiles. Pain and pleasure are the friends of life. In other words, life is full of emotions, feelings, ideas and sentiments.

Art is the creation of life. It is permanent and immortal. Art makes life beautiful and meaningful. Art makes artist immortal. An artist lives in memory of people all the time after his death. Many literary artists show the relation between art and life. Some say that art is for the sake of life where as some say that art is only for art’s sake. However, life is itself the source of art and art is the source of joy. Art is life and life is art. Without art life seems to be meaningless and unattractive. The different forms of art like music, writing, singing, drawing, acting, dancing etc. make our life fruitful.
Source: Internet
More on Full Fathom Five (other sources)
The poem Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies occurs in Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, Act I, Scene 2. The spirit Ariel sings this song to Ferdinand, Prince of Naples, whom mistakenly thinks his father is drowned. Ariel is telling Ferdinand that your father lies full thirty feet below the surface of the sea. His bones have been changed into piece of coral. His eyes have been transformed into pearls. Every part of his body that was supposed to decay has been changed into something strange and rich, but something belonging to the sea or connected with it. The sea nymphs who live in the sea are ringing his death bell every hour. Death is quite meaningful in this poem. No part of his body has decayed. They have been changed into something valuable and immutable. Coral are made of the bones, and eyes are changed into pearls. In this poem, ‘ding-dong’ makes readers feel that he is listening to the bell.
There lies an alliteration; repetition of an initial first sound in two or more words of a line in this poem. In the first line of the poem “full fathom five thy father lies” the sound ‘f’ has been repeated four times. It reminds us of the flow of the sea. Similarly, “suffer a sea change”, “Hark! now I hear them” are other examples of alliteration. Assonance; the repetition of the vowel sounds in stressed syllables; “five….lies”, “nymphs….ring” are the examples of assonance in this poem. All these rhetorical devices have enhanced the musical quality of the song. In line eight “Ding-dong” imitates the sound of the bell. It is usually the sound of the bell which is run slowly for the death of Ferdinand’s father. The nasal song ‘ng’ produces lingering, vibrant effects and the harsh sound ‘d’ reminds us of ‘death’.
The Images of Full Fathom Five

Q. Comment on the images used in the poem.

In the world of seafaring men, William Shakespeare may not be particularly celebrated. It can’t, however, be said that he didn’t try his hand at a dirge for such sailors in his poem, “Full Fathom Five.” In this poem, the use of concrete images and onomatopoeia brings to life the poem, bringing the reader closer to the bottom of the sea where the poem is set.

On the seafloor, we are told, a corpse of “thy father” lies (l. 1). The poem instantly then begins to paint the setting of his watery grave with images that the reader is then almost able to see. “Of his bones are corals made;/Those are pearls that were his eyes” (ll. 2-3) presents two images in quick succession, as our minds latch on to the idea of vibrantly colored coral and milky pearl. We begin, through these carefully selected images, to see the situation the corpse rests in.

“…doth suffer a sea change/Into something rich and strange.” (ll. 5-6) is a more subtle image, calling on the associations that the reader holds in his or her mind. The word “sea” brings to mind varied input from impressions of the sea- usually above it. This makes the reader think of the tossing waves and changes of the sea, which are then reinforced (in the context below the waves) by the combination with the word “change” directly afterwards, and the explanation that the changes are “rich and strange.” This makes us think of almost supernaturally strange changes, but in a warmer context because of their “rich” ness..

Once we have these images in mind, we are presented with the concept of the sea nymphs ringing bells for the deceased- “hourly ring his knell:/Ding-dong.” (ll. 7-8) How do they ring the bells? With the sound “ding-dong,” the onomatopoeic qualities of which help bring the reader over the shifting waves to the sound of the bell. “Hark! now I hear them-Ding-dong, bell.” Because the poet states that he can “hear them,” he brings us to that other sense beyond images- a world of auditory perception. We are brought again to the sound of the bell, immersed in the image of the sea maidens ringing it for him.

These techniques help to build a concrete and complete mental picture to the mind of the reader. It is the use of these various consciously picked phrases and sounds that makes this an enduring poem and reaffirms Shakespeare to be the skilled poet we otherwise knew him to be.

“The Images of Full Fathom Five.” 123HelpMe.com. 31 Jul 2012

Death Be Not Proud
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
John Donne (1572–1631)
Raj Kumar Gautam, Lecturer, English Department, Arniko HSS, July 21, 2013 (revised)

  1. seema rai says:

    tnx o lodzz. it iz vry hlpful fr us …

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