Hayani 1 Zayd Hayani Ms. Sonni English II 16.3.2011 Death has a reputation of being a destroyer of lives. In the case of Lord Alfred Tennyson, his surroundings of death and depression led him to creating beautiful poetry. The several unrelated deaths of Alfred’s Tennyson family and friends throughout his early life sculpted the dramatic mood shifts in the poem In Memoriam. This poem is an elegy of the death of his dearest friend, Hallam (“Alfred, Lord Tennyson” 621). Despite the depressed and melancholic tone at the beginning of the poem, there is an eminent shift of mood that reflects Tennyson’s changed attitude in his personal life. The Victorian Era also played a part in the creation of Tennyson’s work. Victorian England was a turbulent time where factors such as the Crimean War, the Industrial Revolution, and political turmoil impacted the average citizen’s life (Evans). Tennyson also impacted the style of Victorian Poetry and became acquaintances with Queen Victoria herself (“Tennyson as Poet”). His works included monologues, plays, poems, and prescriptive works. The traumatic events in Lord Alfred Tennyson’s life directly correlate to the shift of mood throughout the poem In Memoriam. Nothing better describes the life Lord Alfred Tennyson than a seemingly endless night followed by dawn. Tennyson was born on August 6, 1809 in Somersby, England to a large family. His family consisted of eight sons and four daughters, and Alfred’s father, Reverend George Clayton Tennyson, was a successful businessman. Tennyson began his poetry career early and started writing pieces when he was 12. He attended Cambridge University for a few years before dropping out due to the death of his father in 1831. Prior to the death, however, Tennyson joined a discussion group named the Apostles, where he met his valued friend, Hallam. Tennyson then published intermittent, criticized works such as “The Palace of Art,” until the death of Hallam sent him spiraling into depression. (“Alfred Tennyson”) Alfred didn’t publish anything for ten years, but then broke from the shell of depression and regret he built for himself and released masterpieces such as The Princess and Ulysses (“Tennyson as Poet”). He also fell in love with and married Mary Sellwood (“Alfred Tennyson”). Tennyson later was honored with the title Poet Laureate, the official government appointed poet, under Queen Elizabeth in 1850, the same year that he published In Hayani 2 Memoriam. A journalist for the London Journal named James Hunt claimed that Tennyson was “entitled to it above any other man in the kingdom”. Because of this privilege, Lord Tennyson became engaged in the life of Queen Elizabeth, often travelling to Buckingham Palace and reading to her aloud. (“Tennyson as Poet”) He also read some of his works in public for all to hear, a kind of “soapbox” style of expression (“Alfred, Lord Tennyson” 621). In Memoriam is the fruit of Tennyson’s dark labor. After ten years of focusing entirely on his literature in isolation, Tennyson emerges as a new man with a new outlook on life. He publishes In Memoriam eight years after his emergence back into the career of literature. In Memoriam is an elegy based on the memory of Hallam, Tennyson’s best friend. (“Alfred Tennyson”) The poem is a carefully crafted, extensive piece of literature where form is very important. The poem begins with Tennyson’s melancholic and dark tone expressing his depression and loneliness. After the 130th canto, the mood of the poem shifts to a more content, loving attitude. This shift represents a change in the way Alfred views the death of his friend. By the end of the work, Tennyson feels love towards his deceased companion; “[His] love is a vaster passion now” (Tennyson 130.10). The shift of tone in In Memoriam corresponds to the coping of Tennyson’s grief of losing a loved one. Through several of his powerful works, Tennyson conveys his inner emotional turmoil. Because Tennyson is surrounded by death in many parts of his life, a sense of emptiness is shown in In Memoriam. The trauma of Alfred losing his father causes Tennyson to spiral into a state of solidarity and loneliness. The guilt and remorse that Alfred experiences is seen clearly in the first half of In Memoriam. He feels as though he is in a “Dark house, by which once more [he] stand[s] / Here in the long unlovely street” (Tennyson 7.1-2). The street in this line represents his own life. The heavy and morbid tone of his poems intensifies as he walks down the “street” and overcomes these “dark houses,” or traumatic obstacles in his life. In this poem, he seeks for a hand to help him, but to no avail. At this point in his life, Lord Alfred Tennyson feels as though he is useless. This internal turmoil causes him to detach himself from the community that he so rapidly destroyed. The darkness of the first half of this poem is attributed to this seclusion. As Tennyson realizes that the world has no joy, no satisfaction, and nothing to offer him, the tone of In Memoriam grows gloomy and foreboding. There is a turning point in the mood of the poem, however. After verse 106, the poem begins to shift (Tennyson 106.1-32). It begins to have a more positive and accepting atmosphere. Almost every line in the Hayani 3 verse starts with the word “Ring”, such as “Ring out the old, ring in the new” (Tennyson 106.5). “Ring”, meaning “Bring”, signifies the change in attitude of the author. He is showing that now after his 10 years seclusion, he is a new man. He is finally breaking out of his own shell and taking on the world with a new perspective. The mood of the poem from this point on is vastly different. Tennyson, instead of talking about dark houses, now talks about running waters and the rising sun. This is because Tennyson has accepted Hallam’s death and uses it to build his new life. He describes his love for Hallam as “mixed with God and Nature” (Tennyson 130.11). Tennyson is now more in touch with religion. He recognizes his whole situation as a step in finding his faith. He wants to “Ring in the Christ to be” (Tennyson 106.32) and forget the “the faithless coldness of the times” (Tennyson 106.18). This switch is a refreshing change that relates to any reader’s struggles. The process of grieving and coping that is represented in this poem can relate to anybody’s life. Queen Victoria even used In Memoriam along with the bible to cope with the death of her husband (“Alfred Tennyson”). Tennyson uses outlets such as searching for faith and loving unconditionally, dead or alive, in order to manage and overcome his depression. In this way, Tennyson’s simple elegy is transformed into a universal account on how to cope with loss in any situation. Lord Tennyson not only wrote about morbid topics, but also he touched on the role of women and religion. Tennyson’s poetry was clearly impacted by the inclusion of the woman he loved in his life. In 1850, Tennyson was at the peak of his career. Not only did he marry the love of his life, Emily Sellwood, but he also was appointed Poet Laureate and published In Memoriam. Tennyson’s stance on the duties of a woman is best described as “conflicting.” He believed that it was the responsibility of a woman to carry on her nurturing duties, but also to be concerned about beauty and sexuality. (“Alfred Tennyson”) It seems as though Tennyson respects women and has a soft, unbiased perspective on their function in society. Likewise, Tennyson’s stance on religion is not clearly stated. Although Victorian England was officially Christian, Tennyson’s faith is vague (“Tennyson and Religion”). He does bring up the concept of God and Christ in several of his works, but he never references Catholicism or Protestantism. Due to all of the emotional turmoil in his life at the time, Tennyson may have lost track of organized religion. Tennyson’s views on both women and faith are askew in many aspects, but stick to the core ideas of his being, goodness and change. Tennyson’s works reflect both his inner struggles and the shared mood of the Victorian age. The Victorian Era was a time when England was in the heat of the Industrial Revolution. The lifestyle of most Hayani 4 working families was not ideal. The working conditions in factories were dirty, dangerous, and degrading. Although Tennyson was not a factory worker, the collective mood of England may have affected his lifestyle. Life expectancy averaged at 48 years old, which is why Tennyson felt as though his world was closing in on him. (Evans) This short expectancy may have also have been related to the fact that Tennyson started writing at such a young age. He wrote his first work, a 6,000-line epic, at age 12 (“Alfred Tennyson”). There was a lot of political turmoil in England at the time, as well. The political system was becoming increasingly representative and democratic (Evans). This shift of political oversight may have promoted Alfred Tennyson’s blooming ideas and led him to becoming the English Poet Laureate (“Tennyson as Poet”). Also, the government was not very repressive and censored as it has been in the past. This allowed Tennyson to be free with his thoughts and, for instance, read his poems aloud to the public.The main event, however, that impacted Tennyson’s writing was the Crimean war. Tennyson views the Crimean war as a gruesome, terrible event. His poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade” is based on the war and depicts the bloody defeat of the British soldiers in a narrow valley. Lord Tennyson uses the term “Valley of Death” to describe this battleground (Kishlansky, Geary, and O’Brien 707). Tennyson also reflects upon the war in his fictional narrative, Maud and Other Poems. In this work, a character named Maud goes to fight in Crimea due to the notion that the violence of war will compensate for the accidental manslaughter of his love’s brother. (“Alfred Tennyson”) The Crimean War brought with it nationalism. This patriotism is seen in Tennyson’s “Queen Mary”, “Harold”, and “Becket.” These plays were written after Tennyson had established a relationship with Queen Victoria and been bestowed Poet Laureate. The historic and nostalgic nature of these plays written in Tennyson’s older years show a side of him that is patriotic and noble. This is not the depressed Alfred Tennyson that was rejected by his own self. Having a deeply intense writing style, emotional past, and rugged physique, Lord Alfred Tennyson has been described by many as the model for all Victorian Romantic poets (“Alfred, Lord Tennyson” 620-21). He let his flaws and misfortunes drive him towards success. Working with a past littered with death, isolation, and depression, Tennyson produced poems that let the reader explore his soul. In Memoriam showcases the universal coping process that must be used in order to live life fully after a traumatic event and “Ring in the love of truth and right” (Tennyson 106.23). The political turmoil in 19th century England correlated with the Hayani 5 inner turmoil of Tennyson’s life. Tennyson truly let his internal anguish, pride, depression, and recovery bleed on the pages from which he constructed In Memoriam. Hayani 6 Works Cited “Alfred, Lord Tennyson.” Adventures in English Literature. Pegasus ed. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989. 620621. Print. “Alfred Tennyson.” Gale Biography in Context. N.p., 12 Dec. 1998. Web. 15 Feb. 2011. <http://ic.galegroup.com/ic/ bic1/ReferenceDetailsPage/ ReferenceDetailsWindow?displayGroupName=Reference&prodId=BIC1&action=e&windowstate=normal&cat Id=&documentId=GALE%7CK1631006435&mode=view&userGroupName=dari14134&jsid=a8b53ae8d62a7 ea5def3bdf6e2db9717>. Evans, Eric. “Overview: Victorian Britain, 1837 - 1901.” BBC History. N.p., 17 Feb. 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/overview_victorians_01.shtml>. Kishlansky, Mark, Patrick Geary, and Patricia O’Brien. “Building Nations: The Politics of Unification.” Civilization in the West. Ed. Janet Lanphier. 6th ed. New York: Pearson Education, 2006. 707. Print. Tennyson, Alfred. “In Memoriam.” Adventures in English Literature. By Jovanovich. Pegasus ed. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989. 633-635. Print. “Tennyson and Religion.” Cambridge Authors. N.p., 2011. Web. 13 Mar. 2011. <http:/http://www.english.cam.ac.uk/ cambridgeauthors/tennyson-and-religion>. “Tennyson as Poet Laureate.” Cambridge Authors. N.p., 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. <http://www.english.cam.ac.uk/ cambridgeauthors/tennyson-as-poet-laureate>.