Updated June 11, 2022
Often regarded as the representative of his age, Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) is one of the most prolific poets of the Victorian Age. He was appointed as the Poet Laureate after Wordsworth in 1850. Alfred Tennyson has written many remarkable poems such as as ‘In Memoria’ (1850), ‘Ulysses’ (1842), ‘Idylls of the King’ (1859), and numerous short lyrics such as ‘Break, Break’, ‘The Splendour Falls’, ‘Crossing the Bar’ and Others.
Alfred Tennyson is regarded highly for his lyrical qualities and phrases. His poetical quality and body of work have placed him among the greatest English poets of all times. The most of all, Tennyson is best identified as a true representative of the Victorian Era.
Short Biography of Lord Alfred Tennyson
Alfred Tennyson, the son of a clergyman, was born at Somersby, Licolnshire in England. He went for schooling at Louth. After his schooling, he then proceeded to Cambridge (1828). At Cambridge, he made two closest friends, Arthur Hallam and William Henry Brookfield. He was a wholly conventional person at the university.
In 1829, he was awarded the Chancellor’s Gold Medal for one of his first piece ‘Timbuctoo’. He left Cambridge without taking a degree; but before doing so he published a small volume of mediocre verse. And, during the next twenty years Tennyson passed a placid life.
He lost his closest friend Henry Hellam in a heart stroke. He was living chiefly with his parents, and writing much of poetry. Tennyson enjoyed the short pleasurable existence- to the Lake District, to Stratford-on-Avon and other places- varied his peaceful life, and all the while his fame as a poet was making headway.
In 1844 Alfred lost most of his small means in an unlucky investment in stocks, but not a moment too soon (1845) he received a government pension. He was appointed to the position of Poet Laureate (1850), after the death of Wordsworth. He was married to Emily Sellwood, and took a house, Faringford, in the Isle of Wight, which was his home for the next twenty years.
In his later years recognition and applause came increasingly upon him, and Alfred was regarded as the greatest poet of his day. In 1884 he was created a baron, sat in the House of Lords, and for a time took himself rather seriously as a politician. He died at Aldworth, near Haslemere, in Surrey, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
The Poetry of Lord Alfred Tennyson
When he was seventeen years old, he published his first volume with his elder brother Charles “Poems by Two Brothers” (1827). The volume contains the boyish rhymes. However, in the light of his later work we can already discern a little of the Tennysonian metrical aptitude & descriptive power.
In 1829, he was rewarded Chancellor’s Gold Medal for his poem ‘Timbuctoo (1829)’. While he was an undergraduate, his Poems, Chiefly Lyrical (1830) was published. Though the poems are immature, but pieces like Isabel and Madeline provide the pictorial effect and the sumptuous imagery of his maturer style effectively.
His another volume of poems was published “Poems” (1833). It contains such notable poems as “The Lady of Shalott”, “Oenone”, The “Lotos- Eaters”, and “The Palace of Art”,. In these poems, we can see the Tennysonian technique approaching perfection.
Then in 1842 he produced two volumes of poetry that set him once and for all among the greater poets of his day. The first volume consists mainly of revised selection from the volumes of 1830 and 1832, the second is entirely new. The new poems include “Morte d’Arthur”, and contains Ulysses, Locksley Hall, and several other poems.
The later stages of Alfred’s career are marked chiefly by much longer poems. “The Princess” (1847) is a Serio-comic attempt to handle the theme that was then known as “the new woman”. The poem is in blank verse, but have beautiful lyrics. The humour is heavy, but many of the descriptions are as rich and wonderful as any tennyson ever attempted.
In Memoriam (1850) caused a great stir when it first appeared. It is a very long series of meditations upon the death of Arthur Henry Hallam, Tennyson’s college friend. Tennyson contemplated over the subject for years; and upon this elegiac theme he imposed numerous meditations on life and death. He made aware how these subjects were affected by the new theories of the day (Evolution of Human Beings). The result was the most deeply emotional, and probably the greatest poetry he ever produced.
Maud and Other Poems (1855) was received with amazement by the public. The chief poem is called a ‘Mono-Dramna’. It consists of a series of lyrics which reflect the love and hatred, the hope and despair, of a lover who slays his mistress’s brother.
In 1859, 1869 and 1889 Tennyson issued a series of Idylls of the King, which had considered and attempted a great theme ‘King Arthur and the Round Table’. Among the Shorter Poems, Locksley Hall Sixty Years After (1886) and The Death of Oenone (1892) are sad echoes of the sumptuous imaginings of the years preceding (1842).
Characteristics of Alfred Tennyson Poetry
Choice of Subject
Tennyson’s earliest talents, as seen in the Volumes of 1830, 1833, and 1842 , led him to the lyric and legendary narrative as his principal themes. And these he handled with a skill and artistry which he rarely surpassed. After 1842 volume, he showed the ethical interest which was to be the mainspring of his later works.
For the rest, with notable exceptions such as “Ulysses” and “In Memoriam”, Tennyson’s poems are best when he reverts to the lyric or narrative themes which was were his original inspiration.
No one can deny the great care and skill shown in Tennyson work. His method of producing poetry was slowly to evolve the lines in his mind, commit them to paper and to revise them till they were as near perfection as he could make them. Consequently we have a high level of poetical artistry.
No one excels Tennyson in the deft application of sound to sense and in the subtle and pervading employment of alliteration and vowel-music. His excellent craftsmanship is also apparent in his handling of English metres, in which he is a tireless experimenter.
In this respect Tennyson follows the example of Keats. Nearly all Tennyson’s poems, even the simplest, abound in ornate description of natural and other scenes. His method is to seize upon appropriate details, dress them in expressive and musical phrases, and thus throw a glistening image before the reader’s eye.
Show the Sense of Responsibility-
For his entire lifetime, Tennyson “was a voice, the voice of whole people”. As a representative of his age, Tennyson’s poetry covered all the major issues of the Victorian era such as: the concerns of Industrial revolution, modernization, poverty, war, conflict between science and religion and other social issues. Thus, the poet’s work thus reflects everything that the Victorian society was experiencing at that time.
Grief and Melancholia
The most notable themes of Tennyson’s poetry are grief and melancholia due to loss of loved ones. T.S. Eliot described Tennyson as ‘the saddest of all English poets’, whose technical mastery of verse and language provided a “surface” to his poetry’s “depths, to the abyss of sorrow”.
In poems like “Ulysses’ and ‘Tithonus’, Tennyson explores old age, coming death and weariness of life. In ‘The Two Voices’, the poet describes a dilemma on whether to commit suicide due to extreme grief or not. But Tennyson also finds a source of hope in his grief. He ends his poems with an optimistic belief that God does have a plan for human beings.
Tennyson’s “In Memoriam’ remains his masterpiece. The poem was written over a course of seventeen years after unfortunate death of his closest friends, Arthur Henry Hallam. The poem is composed of 133 cantos written in a b b a Stanza of Iambic tetrameter.
This poetic style later came to be known as the ‘Memoriam Stanza’. The poem reflects on Tennyson extreme grief, doubt and hopelessness along with raising questions about life, death and afterlife.
Apart from showcasing Tennyson’s personal grief, ‘In Memoriam’ also discusses the effects of new scientific discoveries of the age that redefined the story of human evolution. The poet ends this long narrative elegy with acceptance of God’s will and hope for the future.
Tennyson’s lyrical quality is somewhat uneven. The slightest of his pieces, like The Splendour Falls, are musical and attractive; but on the whole his nature was too self-conscious and perhaps his life too regular and prosperous, to provide a background for the true lyrical intensity of emotion.
Lord Alfred Tennyson as True Victorian Poet
Lord Alfred Tennyson was regarded as the true representative of the Victorian Age. He was most accomplished poet of the Victorian Era. For his entire lifetime, Tennyson “was a voice, the voice of whole people”.
As a representative of his age, Tennyson’s poetry covered all the major issues of the Victorian era such as: the concerns of Industrial revolution, modernization, poverty, war, conflict between science and religion and other social issues.
The Victorian Age saw three major socio-cultural changes that were industrial revolution, evolution of Science, and rise of democracy. Tennyson voiced these changes in his poetry. Tennyson’s poetry of life and Death. The poet’s work thus reflects everything that the Victorian society was experiencing at that time.
Tennyson wrote on a wide variety of subjects. His poems cover medieval legends observations of nature, classical myths, contemporary events, personal thoughts and more. His initial poems were influenced by the Romantics. For instance, in his poem ‘Timbuctoo’ (1829), Alfred Tennyson wrote on a legendary African intellectual city.
Similarly, In ‘Mariana’ (1830), Tennyson depicts the inner state of mind of a woman waiting for her lover through the descriptions of the natural world. Alfred wrote on the doomed charge of six hundred British soldiers in the Crimean War in his ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ (1854). In “The Princess” (1847) Tennyson addressed women’s rights in higher education. Thus the poet’s works reflect the features of the Victorian Poetry.
Apart from contemporary concerns, Lord Alfred Tennyson also wrote on the Romantic past and historical events. Many poems by Tennyson explore the mythological past inspired from Homer, Virgil and Dante.
Alfred Tennyson picked up some of the actual events from Homer’s “Odyssey” as subjects for his poems like “Ulysses” and “The Lotos- Eaters”. Likewise, his ode ‘To Virgil’. He wrote on fall of Troy, inspired from Virgil’s great literary work “Aeneid”. Similarly, Alfred wrote on medieval legends, a world of knights in shining armour and their damsels in distress in poems like ‘The Lady of Shalott’ and ‘Idylls of the King’.
On going through all the works of Lord Alfred Tennyson, they seem showcasing the prominent characteristics of the Victorian Poetry. Literary community hence, regard him as the true figure of the Victorian Age.
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