Alfred, Lord Tennyson 1809-1892 Tennyson Tennyson was the most popular poet of the Victorian age. He expressed the period’s moral earnestness, religious doubts, and fears & hopes about science and democracy more completely than his peers did. He was a great lyrical poet: he had an impressive ability to express emotion, especially melancholy emotions of grief and loss & loneliness, in a musical and memorable way. “We still look to the earlier masters for supreme excellence in particular directions: Wordsworth for sublime philosophy, to Coleridge for ethereal magic, to Byron for passion, to Shelley for lyric intensity, to Keats for richness. Tennyson does not excel each of these in his own field, but he is often nearer to the particular man in his particular mastery than anyone else can be said to be, and he has in addition his own special field of supremacy. What this is cannot be easily defined; it consists, perhaps, in the beauty of the atmosphere which Tennyson contrives to cast around his work, molding it in the blue mystery of twilight, in the opaline haze of sunset: this atmosphere, suffused over his poetry with inestimable skill and with a tact rarely at fault, produces an almost unfailing illusion or mirage of loveliness” (“Tennyson”). •Father was a clergyman, but it “drove him to drink”. People tried to explain his behavior by saying he had epilepsy, and also said some of the children had it, but, really, he was an alcoholic and the entire family was rather “eccentric”. •There were 12 children in his family. •In 1827 he and two of his brothers published a book of poetry, but one of the brothers was embarrassed to be associated with it. It was called “Poems by Two Brothers”. •At Cambridge, he formed a close friendship with Arthur Henry Hallam, whose death he mourned in his famous elegy, “In Memoriam” (1850). •Arthur Hallam introduced him to Emily Sellwood, the love of his life. Hallam himself became engaged to Alfred’s sisters. They didn’t marry, but when she married someone else, she named her son Arthur Henry Hallam Tennyson Jesse… •The same year Arthur Henry Hallam died, Alfred’s brother was admitted to a mental asylum, where he stayed until his death. •Hallam’s death (combined with a hostile review in 1830) sent him into severe melancholy. For ten years, he published nothing. •In 1839 Alfred and Emily were officially engaged. By 1840, they were officially unengaged because her father had put a stop to it – supposedly because Alfred was too poor to marry. He was also unhappy because his other daughter, Louisa, was very unhappily married to Alfred’s brother Charles (who was an opium addict). •In 1842 Tennyson decided that his health was bad and he let his doctors talk him into not writing for two years. He always had hypochondriac tendencies, but chain-smoking and a bottle of port every day didn’t help. •Between 1874 and 1879, he wrote several plays. None of them was terribly good, but one ran for 67 nights, probably because the Prince and Princess of Wales liked it so much. His eyesight had gotten very bad, but he had always composed his poems in his head, so he had Emily act as secretary. (Levi) •When he reappeared and published two volumes of poetry, his reputation became secure. In 1850 he was named Poet Laureate. In his latter years, he was a national institution: he acquired a large country estate, received a doctorate from Oxford and received a peerage from Queen Victoria. •In 1849 his brother Charles reconciled with his wife (Emily’s sister); the next year, Tennyson and Emily married in great secrecy. They had two boys – Hallam Tennyson (1852) and Lionel Tennyson (1954). He was a doting father and it was said that though he loved being Poet Laureate, his family was his top priority. •He died in 1892, peacefully, apparently of gout, with his wife and son by his side. He’d outlived most of the great writers of his time. At his request, his poem “Crossing the Bar”, an epitaph of sorts, is always printed last in any collection of his works. (Levi) Poet Laureate In 1616 Ben Jonson was named England’s first poet laureate; however, the title didn’t become an official royal office until 1668. Since that time, the office has been awarded for life. The poet laureate is responsible for composing poems for court and national occasions. At the time of each laureate’s death, the prime minister nominates successors and the king or queen chooses the “winner”. William Wordsworth’s death opened the door for Tennyson (“Poet Laureates”). Consider This… What sacrifices must a person make to be a poet, artist, scientist, or scholar? We all have emotional needs. Can we really make these sacrifices? What happens when we fail? Each of us lives partly in a world of makebelieve, much of it inherited from our families and our cultures. What happens when it is challenged and/or we choose to discard it? “The Lady of Shallot” 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. Re-read; Record you initial impressions. Do you like the poem? Does it remind you of anything? Look for literal meaning. What happens in the poem? What is the “story” about? Record a brief synopsis. Look deeper. Is there any deeper figurative meaning? Look for symbols, figures of speech, allusions. Is this an allegory? Remember: diction often contributes to mood; words create figures of speech; many figures of speech spill into imagery. All of this combines to affect the reader, to create meaning. Listen. How does it sound? Consider rhyme, rhythm, diction, speed. Can you pick up on any significant changes in the middle of the poem? Does the pace change? Mood? Sound? Consider the atmosphere: where is the focus? When is Tennyson most descriptive? Why? Highlight some descriptive stanzas. What kind of imagery is found here? Highlight or underline 10 words (diction) that help create the imagery. Where is the climax of the story / poem? What happens to the diction and the atmosphere, after this point? Give some concrete examples. Consider possible themes. Be sure to keep the era in mind (issues, concerns, criticisms might Tennyson be addressing through the poem?) Can this poem have anything to do with the reality of a poet’s life? Allusions King Arthur was a legendary king in England in the Middle Ages. His life has been retold many times over the centuries; hence, most of the incidents in his life have several versions. He established a brilliant court at Camelot, where he gathered around him the greatest and most chivalrous warriors in Europe, the Knights of the Round Table. Lancelot, Galahad, Percival and Gawain were notable knights. Other characters associated with the legends were Merlin, Morgan le Fay and Queen Guinevere. Elaine of Astolat Tennyson finished his first version of the poem "The Lady of Shalott" in 1832, basing it on a medieval Italian text called Donna di Scalotta. He later wrote that he was at the time unaware of the story of the Elaine of Astolat in Malory's Morte Darthur. He told Elaine's story in Lancelot and Elaine, one of his Idylls of the King. What the stories have in common is a lady whose hopeless love for Lancelot results in her death: the powerful image of the dead maiden floating into Camelot has been taken up over and over again in illustrations and paintings. (“Elaine of Astolat & The Lady of Shalott”) Allegory A fictional literary narrative or artistic expression that conveys a symbolic meaning parallel to, but not distinct from, and more important than, the literal meaning. The symbolic meaning is expressed through figurative language and symbols. Allegory can be used as a technique for critical interpretation, even of works that were not originally intended to be allegorical. Even beliefs that the author wasn’t aware of (consciously) can help us understand the culture from which the piece comes. Read “The Lemons” Allegories, Parables, Fables & Symbols: What’s The Difference? http://web.cn.edu/KWHEELER/documents/Parable_Allegory.pdf Links: http://www.pathguy.com/shalott.ht http://homepage.mac.com/mseffie/assignments/shalott/toc.html http://www.angelfire.com/me2/camelot/page4.html Summary Notes The poem’s about the harm in isolating oneself from the real world. Hypocritical shadowy world. Repression and restraint: Like Victorians (isolated from the hardships of the lower classes); like the poets’ struggle; like women in this society. To tell the truth or not. Symbols = mirror (shadows, unreal) Lancelot = reality and passion Tower = repression of emotion (self or inflicted) Tapestry = where she captures the world; unreal; it’s a falsehood •The world only through a mirror? What does it mean when the mirror cracks and the lady finds herself no longer able to live on her side of the river? Think of the criticism of Victorian hyprocisy. •The key to the poem: “I am half sick of shadows.” •The lady represents people who live lives sheltered from the real world. When finally forced to look at life realistically, they are destroyed by it. •Tennyson uses two kinds of words: direct – full of vitality and light. Indirect – based on experience of what we know – we know what sunlight does to armour and jewels. •Some feel it is a criticism of Victorians who optimistically looked at their worlds as everimproving socially, economically and politically (despite unrest). •In “The Lady” we have an isolate life. The poem moves inwardly, through the spacious, expansive field, roads and sky. It penetrates until it reaches the innermost nerve – the seat of emotions, the center of the power, which, for the individual, can transform the whole exterior world. •When the Lady observes the world second-hand she comes to no harm. But reality comes – reality is harsh. Lancelot flashes into the crystal mirror. •She might be a person who has experienced life only through books – like many Victorians. The Lady is a symbol of someone who experiences life indirectly. The mirror symbolized living life vicariously (like in fairy tales). Disaster occurs when the mirror breaks. •There is a storyline – it gives background and sets mood. The poem attempts to convey the emotional meaning of a specific incident. There is conflict (dualism), a conflict and resolution. Themes: harm in isolating oneself from the world; harm in locking up emotions and physical passions; concern with outward show; denial of reality (England’s changing situation); the truth sets you free. Sound! The rhyme is aaaabcccb The rhythm is very important – it is so lyrical and musical and he does incredible things with sound. It’s iambic (natural). It is light when the mood is happy (fast and trippy). It is heavy, melancholy when the mood changes (after climax) – long, slow vowels. MUST do another read to look for this. Tennyson is known for his musical lyrics. His use of diction, description, imagery and SOUND is amazing. “Ulysses” Ulysses The hero of Homer’s “Odyssey”. He had fought bravely to help win victory for the Greeks in the Trojan War. After the war, he wandered, with his men, around the Mediterranean world, participating in a series of adventures. Finally, he was able to return home to Ithaca. Homer’s tale ends when Ulysses settles down contently to rule his kingdom. This is were Tennyson picks it up… Homer was an ancient Greek poet. He is considered by many to be the greatest and most influential of all poets. “Iliad and the Odyssey” is his famous epic that recounts the story of the Trojan War. This was a great war, in classical mythology, that was fought between the Greeks and the Trojans. Form: Dramatic Monologue; blank verse. Tennysonian or typical Victorian sentiment: “…mythical figure symbolizes the insatiable thirst of man for adventure of every kind: physical, spiritual, and intellectual.” The goal is not as important as the race. Embrace life. Theme: one must continue throughout life to accumulate knowledge and experience – LIVE. Discuss the meaning of the following lines, in your group: I will drink life to the lees Yet all experience is an arch As though to breath were life! Old age hath yet his honor and his toil I am part of all that I have met He works his work, I mine That which we are, we are --- “Ulysses” Questions 1. To whom is Ulysses speaking? Is his audience consistent throughout? What does he want his listeners to do? 2. Why is he dissatisfied with his present life? If so, how do memories of his past contribute to his dissatisfaction? 3. What is “that untraveled world” line 20? Why does its margin or edge fade as he moves? Why does it not please him? 4. What kind of experience is not life according to Ulysses? (Line 22-24) Why does he want more than one life? What great goal in life does he describe in lines 30-32? 5. What difference does Ulysses note between himself and his son Telemachus? 6. How is he different from the people over whom he rules, described in lines 4-5 and lines 37-38? Does he feel superior to Telemachus? To his people? Explain your answer by identifying some telling diction. 6. How does Ulysses want to spend his old age? (Lines 5061) Is he determined to carry out his plans or is he merely wishing? 7. Tennyson said that he had written “Ulysses” with a sense that despite all losses, “life must be fought out to the end.” What other theme of the poem is indicated in lines 19-21 and in line 70? 8. This poem is a dramatic monologue, in which one person speaks to a silent listener at a critical moment in his life and unintentionally reveals his own characters. What are some of those unintentionally revealed character traits? Provide proof in your response. 9. Tennyson creates clear similes and metaphors to help the reader visualize Ulysses, Telemachus, and the planned voyage. If you were to create a visual to represent each of the three verse paragraphs, around what line/lines would each focus? Describe in words the visual representation you imagine. 10. State a theme. 12. How is progress or advance symbolized in the poem? Discussion Do you think that Ulysses is noble, or is he selfish and deliberately avoiding responsibility? With your group, develop your argument. You will have 3 minutes to sell your position. Be sure to be convincing. In your argument, be sure to quote from the poem between 3 & 5 times; compare Ulysses to others from history and from our modern world. These examples should be used to strengthen your response. Choose your two most passionate members to deliver. The Poem Can Be Read on Three Levels: 1. 2. 3. Ulysses Tennyson (must go on after Hallam’s death) Universal – message to all. What is fascinating about the figure of Ulysses as Tennyson envisions him is that, while clothed in an ancient setting, he is clearly expressing a Tennysonian, and Victorian, sentiment. This figure is a symbol to represent the insatiable thirst of man for adventure of every kind – physical, spiritual and intellectual. The race is more important than the goal. This poem represents the positive, attractive side of Tennyson, the Victorian. It’s generally considered to be the greatest of his poems, and is admired by readers who find his poetry lacking in action and everyday interest. When he was among those being considered for a gov’t pension, this poem was read to the PM and the pension was granted. It’s about Tennyson’s personal recognition that life must go on (after his depression). He was confronted with the need to take action, the conviction that life is rewarding and a great adventure, and that man must face the challenge of life no matter what disappointments may lie behind or before. Allusions Homer’s The Iliad & The Odyssey Clearly, Tennyson borrows from this, but Homer’s Ulysses and Tennyson’s Ulysses differ (Homer’s was a bigger fan of public affairs). It’s believed by some scholars that "Ulisse" from Dante's Inferno is Tennyson's main source for the character. This affects the reading of the poem as Ulisse recalls his voyage in the Inferno's 26th canto, where he is condemned to the Eighth Circle of false counselors (because he misused his gift of reason). Dante’s Ulisse excitedly explores the world & lusts for adventure at the expense of his family and his duties in Ithaca. Academic Assertions Until the early twentieth century, readers reacted to "Ulysses" sympathetically. The meaning of the poem was increasingly debated as Tennyson's stature rose. It’s more widely accepted, now, that Tennyson’s Ulysses is rather arrogant, superior and selfish; you, however, are entitled to your own opinion. The closing lines, after all, have been borrowed and used as a call to action, since it’s been written. Has anyone seen “One Week”, for example? There is some focus on the imperialistic attitude of the poem and many connect it to British Imperialism (which was controversial at the time) and which Tennyson, as Poet Laureate, likely supported (as a representative of the British government). The view that Tennyson intended a heroic character is supported by his statements about the poem, and by the events in his life — the death of his closest friend — that prompted him to write it. Interestingly, though, he never included it in his books or anthologies, though it has appeared in teaching books since its publication. “In Memoriam” A profound, intellectual, religious & emotional crisis was occasioned by the death of Tennyson’s best friend, Arthur Hallam. During a 16 year period, he poured out his grief, his questionings, his tentative consolations in a series of lyrics which he later wove into a long, looselyconnected elegy (published in 1850). •In addition to being the outcry of deep-seated grief and disillusionment, the poem also spoke for and to the intellectual and emotional concerns of many of Tennyson’s contemporaries. •It was regarded as one of the major poetic statements to emerge from the 19th century. •Queen Victoria told Tennyson that “next to the Bible, “In Memoriam” is my comfort.” •It is made up of 131 lyrics; each can be regarded as a separate, complete poem as well as a part of a larger whole. From Tennyson to “Tenny Song” With your partner, proceed through each of the following steps, translating the lyrics from Tennyson to a song. Use the sample as a guideline. Analyzing the poem Work with a partner. Open a Word Document. Cut and paste each lyric into your document. Follow these steps. Use the thesaurus, insert notes tool and your knowledge of the time period and of the emergence of religious doubt. Step One: Firstly, rearrange the lines so that they read like sentences, not verse. Step Two: Start to replace words which are unclear with words that are more straightforward. Alter word order so that the sentences are easier to understand. Step Three: use ‘Insert Comment’ to do just that: add other helpful explanations, or questions/suggestions. Using Insert Comment is that it feels more hesitant than a proper written out statement and can encourage you to ask questions & to offer theories. Step Four: Take the essence of the stanza (or group of stanzas) and creatively interpret them – writing lyrics & An Example First, the original I envy not in any moods I envy not in any moods The captive void of noble rage, The linnet born within the cage, That never knew the summer woods: Nor, what may count itself as blest, The heart that never plighted troth But stagnates in the weeds of sloth; Nor any want-begotten rest. I envy not the beast that takes His license in the field of time, Unfetter'd by the sense of crime, To whom a conscience never wakes; I hold it true, whate'er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; 'Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all. Step Two: I do not envy the captive lacking noble rage, such as the linnet born within a cage, that never knew the summer woods. I do not envy the beast that takes what it pleases, when it wishes, unfettered by a sense of crime, to whom a conscience never wakes. Nor do I envy what may count itself as blessed: the heart that never plighted troth but stagnates in the weeds of sloth; nor any wantbegotten rest. I hold it true, whatever happens, and I feel it, when I sorrow most, that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Also, with this step, use the “insert comment” tool and make comments, pose questions and make personal connections, where appropriate. Step Three: I do not envy the captive who accepts his captivity, such as the linnet born within a cage, that never knew the summer woods. I do not envy the beast that does what it pleases, when it wishes, unfettered by any sense of wrong-doing, which has never had a conscience. Nor do I envy those who think themselves blessed: those who have never loved or committed themselves but stagnated in idleness. I hold it true, whatever happens, and I feel it most strongly when I am saddest, that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Now, Turn it into a Song! Your Final Product Can be an Embodiment of the Whole Poem or a Representation of 2-3 lyrics. You want 2-3 stanzas in your song. I do not envy you You who think yourself so blessed I do not envy you You who have never given your heart But only lived your life in idleness I do not envy you… Most strongly when most sad, I know It is better to have loved, To have loved and to have lost Than like the caged bird Or unfeeling beast Never to have given heart or word And never to have loved at all. XXVII I envy not in any moods The captive void of noble rage, The linnet born within the cage, That never knew the summer woods: I envy not the beast that takes His license in the field of time, Unfetter'd by the sense of crime, To whom a conscience never wakes; Nor, what may count itself as blest, The heart that never plighted troth But stagnates in the weeds of sloth; Nor any want-begotten rest. I hold it true, whate'er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; 'Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all. This one has been done for you, so you do not have to redo it. BUT, understand that it is very important in your study of the poem. XXXVIII With weary steps I loiter on, Tho' always under alter'd skies The purple from the distance dies, My prospect and horizon gone. No joy the blowing season gives, The herald melodies of spring, But in the songs I love to sing A doubtful gleam of solace lives. If any care for what is here Survive in spirits render'd free, Then are these songs I sing of thee Not all ungrateful to thine ear. LIV Oh yet we trust that somehow good Will be the final goal of ill, To pangs of nature, sins of will, Defects of doubt, and taints of blood; Behold, we know not anything; I can but trust that good shall fall At last—far off—at last, to all, And every winter change to spring. That nothing walks with aimless feet; That not one life shall be destroy'd, Or cast as rubbish to the void, When God hath made the pile complete; So runs my dream: but what am I? An infant crying in the night: An infant crying for the light: And with no language but a cry. That not a worm is cloven in vain; That not a moth with vain desire Is shrivell'd in a fruitless fire, Or but subserves another's gain. XCVI You say, but with no touch of scorn, Sweet-hearted, you, whose light-blue eyes Are tender over drowning flies, You tell me, doubt is Devil-born. I know not: one indeed I knew In many a subtle question versed, Who touch'd a jarring lyre at first, But ever strove to make it true: Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds, At last he beat his music out. There lives more faith in honest doubt, Believe me, than in half the creeds. Altho' the trumpet blew so loud. He fought his doubts and gather'd strength, He would not make his judgment blind, He faced the spectres of the mind And laid them: thus he came at length To find a stronger faith his own; And Power was with him in the night, Which makes the darkness and the light, And dwells not in the light alone, But in the darkness and the cloud, As over Sinaï's peaks of old, While Israel made their gods of gold, CXXIV That which we dare invoke to bless; Our dearest faith; our ghastliest doubt; He, They, One, All; within, without; The Power in darkness whom we guess; I found Him not in world or sun, Or eagle's wing, or insect's eye; Nor thro' the questions men may try, The petty cobwebs we have spun: If e'er when faith had fall'n asleep, I heard a voice `believe no more' And heard an ever-breaking shore That tumbled in the Godless deep; A warmth within the breast would melt The freezing reason's colder part, And like a man in wrath the heart Stood up and answer'd `I have felt.' No, like a child in doubt and fear: But that blind clamour made me wise; Then was I as a child that cries, But, crying, knows his father near; And what I am beheld again What is, and no man understands; And out of darkness came the hands That reach thro' nature, moulding men. CXXVI Love is and was my Lord and King, And in his presence I attend To hear the tidings of my friend, Which every hour his couriers bring. Love is and was my King and Lord, And will be, tho' as yet I keep Within his court on earth, and sleep Encompass'd by his faithful guard, And hear at times a sentinel Who moves about from place to place, And whispers to the worlds of space, In the deep night, that all is well. Works Cited Levi, Peter. "Alfred, "Eccentric" Lord Tennyson." Incompetech Literature. 1999. 16 Jul 2009 <http://www.incompetech.com/authors/tennyson>. "Elaine and the Lady of Shallot"." The University of British Columbia. 17 Jul 2009 <http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/sechard/344syll.htm>. Gosse, Edmond. "Tennyson." Encyclopedia Britannica. Web.16 Jul 2009. http://charon.sfsu.edu/tennyson/tennyson.