Alfred, Lord Tennyson - MHS112

Alfred, Lord 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
•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.
•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.
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
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
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”
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?
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
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”)
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
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
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.
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
“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
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
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
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?
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:
Tennyson (must go on after Hallam’s
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
You say, but with no touch of scorn,
Sweet-hearted, you, whose light-blue
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
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
Which makes the darkness and
the light,
And dwells not in the light alone,
But in the darkness and the
As over Sinaï's peaks of old,
While Israel made their gods of
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
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.
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
"Elaine and the Lady of Shallot"." The University of British
Columbia. 17 Jul 2009
Gosse, Edmond. "Tennyson." Encyclopedia Britannica.
Web.16 Jul 2009.
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