Alfred Tennyson was born on 6th August 1809. He was a British Poet. During the reign of Queen Victoria, he was the poet Laureate of Ireland and Great Britain. For his 1st poetic piece, “Timbuktu,” he received the Chancellor’s Gold Medal at Cambridge. In 1830, he published Chiefly Lyrical, his first solo collection of poems. In this collection, his two most celebrated poems, “Claribel” and “Mariana,” were also included. Even though some critics criticized his poetry for being over-sentiment, his poetry soon became popular among the readers, and Tennyson was recognized among the famous poets of the day. The early poetry of Tennyson was medieval in style and subject matter and employed powerful imagery, which proved to be a major influence on the Pre-Raphaelite Movement.
Tennyson is also known for his short lyrics such as “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” “Ideal Tears,” “Break, Break, Break,” “Tears,” and “Crossing the Bar.” His poetry was mainly based on the themes of classical mythology, such as “In Memoriam A.H.H,” and “Ulysses,”; even though the poem “In Memoriam” was written in the memory of his friend and fellow poet Arthur Hallam at Trinity College, Cambridge. He also wrote famous blank verse poetry, such as “Ulysses,” Idylls of the King, and “Tithonus.” Tennyson also attempted to write drama during his career. However, it did succeed.
Many phrases from the poetry of Tennyson are used as ordinary phrases in the English language. For example, from the poem “In Memoriam A.H.H.,” there is a phrase
“Nature, red in tooth and claw”;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all”;
“My strength is as the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure”;
“Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die”;
“Knowledge comes, but Wisdom lingers”;
“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield;
“The old order changeth, yielding place to new.”
He is on number nine among the most frequent quotes writers in the quotations of The Oxford Dictionary.
A Short Biography of Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, was born on 6th August 1809 in Lincolnshire, England. He was among the well-known Victorian poets. He was fourth among the twelve siblings. He shows interest in writing from an early age. He wrote an epic poem of almost 6,000 lines at the age of twelve. He got tuitions on classical and modern languages from his father, Revered George Tennyson. However, his father suffered from an extreme mental breakdown in the 1820s, which worsened by alcoholism. Tennyson’s brother would have violent fights with his father that made his father confined to a mental asylum, and his brother became an opium addict.
In 1827, Tennyson escaped from home to attend Trinity College at Cambridge. Tennyson and his brother Charles Tennyson published a collection of poems Two Brother in the same year. Though the poems were juvenile in nature, it captured the attention of an undergraduate literary group, “Apostle.” Tennyson was tremendously shy and not confident about his talent; the literary group “Apostle” gave him confidence as a poet with much-needed friendship. The group was led by Arthur Hallam, and Tennyson and Hallam became good friends. In 1830 and 1832, they together toured Europe. In 1833, Hallam died suddenly, and his death had greatly affected Tennyson. Tennyson attributed his long poem “In Memoriam A.H.H.” and many other poems to his beloved friend Hallam.
Tennyson published his first solo collection of Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, in 1830. In 1830, he published another collection Poems. Critics and reviewers criticize these for being “obscure” and “affected.” Hurt by the harsh reviews, Tennyson did not publish any collection for the next nine years. He became engaged to Emily Sellwood in 1836. In 1840, Sellwood’s family called off the engagement when Tennyson lost his inheritance. In 1842, Tennyson published two volumes that received tremendous critical views and success. When Tennyson published “In Memoriam” in 1850, he received excessive fame and was regarded as one of the most popular poets of Britain. In a succession of Wordsworth, he became the Poet Laureate. He married Emily Sellwood in the same year and had two sons: Lionel and Hallam.
Tennyson, through his poetry, had gained a reputation as one of the popular poets of the Victorian era. He earned more than 10,000 pounds annually from his poetry, which allowed him to buy a house of his own in the country and write in isolation. He was largely criticized for his appearance: a large bearded man, regularly wearing a cloak and a large hat. Tennyson published the first collection of Idylls of the Kings in 1859. The book had sold more than 10000 copies in a single month. He accepted the title in 1884 and became Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He died on 6th October 1892 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Literary Style
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, is mainly known as the most illustrative poet of the 19th century Victorian age. Tennyson was also a national poet. His poetry mirrors the several significant trends of his time that made him popular in his own life. Even though his poetry is representative of the day, it ceases to be universal in its appeal. Thus, if the poetry of Tennyson had been universal, it would have made Tennyson more popular both during his time and after his death.
He was sufficiently compensated with poet-artist extraordinary and enduring values that caused a set-back to his popularity. In the modern world, he is primarily admired as a poet of his values and order. He carefully observed the external beauties of nature and painted them in his words. His poetry is well-known for his preciseness and accuracy while describing little details, his profound sense of significant phrases and words, and his lyrical and musical qualities of his words. All these qualities make him a poet-artist in the rightest sagacity.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s qualities as a poet are skillfully summed up by Prof. Web by saying that his poetry has “clearness of expression” and decent “simplicity of expression.” Moreover, it has become an important part of English literature and of all the world with its judgment of beauty and “its power of shaping it” with blended “strength and harmony.” He expressed purity and loftiness of thought in a perfect form and has charming power, which will remain forever. The more detailed characteristics of the poetry of Tennyson is given below.
Characteristics of Tennyson’s poetry
It is very difficult to study the characters of each poem of Tennyson; however, his poetry has some basic characteristics.
- Tennyson is a poet-artist. The way he has studied the art of poetry with such singleness of purpose, no other poet of his age has studied it with such intent. His poetry has a perfect melody and perfect end rhyme of the verse.
- His poetry is didactic. He appears to be a teacher or leader or leader. He focuses on individuality rather than universality, just like the preceding writers of the French revolution.
- The themes of Tennyson’s poetry are representative of the Victorian age. It deals with the reign of order: the law of the spiritual world and exercising the flawless man. His poems “In Memoriam,” The Princes,” and “Idylls of the Kings” are three completely different poems. However, the theme of all is the same.
- He deals with the theme of spirituality and philosophy in his poetry and uses proper diction. He talks about the establishment of law in both the natural world and the spiritual world.
- Because of Tennyson’s deep understanding of rhyme and rhythm, his poetry has a variety of styles.
- He employed allusions, motifs, symbols, and images in his poetry. The imprisoned woman and King Arthur and Camelot are his major symbols.
- Some of his poetry has a simple and common language, whereas some of his poetry employed excessively sensuous language. He was much interested in scientific discoveries; therefore, his poetry has scientific language and also employed poetic diction and metaphor science. His language is blended with contrasting images that recur throughout the poem.
- Like Romantic poets Keats and Edmund Spenser. Tennyson comprised a richness of imagination, imagery, and controlled rhythm tactfully. His language also has musical qualities.
Themes in Tennyson’s Poetry
Death is a common theme of great poets; however, Tennyson deals with it in a sustained and profoundly personal way. Tennyson wrote most of his poetry in the aftermath of the death of his best friend, Arthur Hallam. His most celebrated poem, “Ulysses,” deals with the struggling life of a great hero who, despite his old age, is searching for life and approaching death. Similarly, his poem “Tithonus” deals with the exhaustion of life in the world and the desire for death. the poem “The Two Voices” is a constant debate to commit suicide or not. His most famous and celebrated poem, “In Memoriam,” is a long poem thinking about the afterlife and Tennyson’s desire to die to join his beloved friend after death.
In the same poem, he also appears to accept death as a part of the natural life cycle and realizes that he can still discover comfort in the world until his hour comes. The theme of acceptance of death is also manifested in his poem “Crossing the Bar,” written in his late age.
Another important theme of Tennyson’s poetry is nature. Tennyson portrayed Nature as sensuous and beguiling; for example, in the poem “The Lotos-Eaters.” In his poems, nature also plays a role in the constant reminder of the life cycle: the cycle of birth to death; he also illustrates that if one tries to live out outside this cycle, it will be only him/her misery and parting from mortal humanity.
Tennyson also portrayed nature as a strength for existence and life. He also used Nature as a metaphor for death in the poem “Break, Break, Break” and “Crossing for Bar.” Tennyson talks about how Nature casually discards species and causes havoc. It is because of this, life is meaningless for the poet.
Grief was the major party of Tennyson’s life, and it also infuses in his poetry. He suffered from his parent’s death, the subsequent addiction and mental illness of his family members, and the death of his close friend Arthur Hallam. Tennyson frankly discusses despair in his poetry and talks about his struggle to use appropriate words for the expression of his feelings. He also demonstrates the importance of poetry in loss and sorrow. Some of his poems are excessively overwhelmed with grief, and Tennyson wishes to die, whereas, in some of his poetry, he manages to control his brief and accepts that it is part of life.
Tennyson was deeply adhered to hi Christian faith. His poem “In Memoriam” is a vivid description of his Christian faith. He does not express his suspicions of faith and religion, particularly in discussing the death of his friend Hallam. He was also fond of scientific discoveries in his age and wonders of the idea that if Nature is indifferent to man or only death can bring elimination of life/soul. He finds life meaningless due to which he cannot find optimism and positivism in his life, and only death will decrease his sufferings. However, at the end of the poem, the poet lapses in faith are reconciled. He appears to accept the natural life cycle and realizes that spirit is not eliminated; it develops to a more high state. He believes in God’s planning for human beings, and human presence on earth is not unheeded and meaningless.
Another major theme of Tennyson’s poetry is the implication of time. Tennyson discusses old age and lasting exhausting and tiresome life. This theme is evident in the poem “Ulysses,” “The Two Voices,” and “Tithonus.” Tennyson maintains the idea that life in the world is full of despair as one keeps on separating from their loved one. Moreover, knowledge, for Tennyson, is limited. He also talks about the complicated time in the tension between religion and science. According to science, time continues to be stretched, whereas religion claims the afterlife but does not prove it. In his poetry, Tennyson basically reflects the idea that time is short and momentary. If one continues to spend it on sadness, it is wasted.
Tennyson’s poetry features great individuals who continue to show courage despite suffering. Though courage is admired universally, it was an important aspect of personality in the Victorians era. In the poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” illustrates six hundred noble soldiers who went for battle, knowing that they will die. King Arthur and Camelot are his motifs in Tennyson’s poetry to illustrate courage cannot only be shown on the battlefield but also in the face of death.