Alfred Lord Tennyson was born in August of 1809 in Somersby, Lincolnshire, England. By the age of twelve, he had written his first epic poem that consisted of 6,000 lines, and by the time he was seventeen he and his brothers had a collection of poetry published. From 1830 to 1833, Tennyson published two more books of poetry. These were not met with outstanding reviews, a fact that greatly disappointment him. His naturally shy disposition kept him from publishing again for another nine years. Tennyson finally found success in 1842 after the publication of this book, Poems in two volumes.
It was in 1850 that Alfred Lord Tennyson reached the peak of his career. He published what is considered to be his masterpiece, ‘In Memoriam A.H.H.’ This piece solidified his reputation and future career and led to his being named poet laureate, following directly behind Williams Wordsworth. He would hold this position until his death. His body was interred at Westminster Abby, and to this day he remains one of the most popular Victorian poets.
This piece was published in 1847 and is one part of a longer poem called ‘The Princess’. Tennyson was interested in themes of time, life and death, all of which are sung from the perspective of a court maiden. The song is very emotional, and contains mix of images such as summer mornings, birds, ship sails, and the light of the sun. All of these sights and sounds come to the speaker through endless tears.
“The Kraken”describes the life, death and purpose of the kraken, an underwater sea monster. The speaker begins by stating that a searcher would have to look in the ocean quite deeply to find the kraken. It is in a place no human can really venture. He adds that the kraken is not the king of the underwater realm, but just another feature. This is due to the fact that he has been sleeping an “ancient” sleep.
In the final lines of the poem it is revealed that eventually the Kraken will wake up, it will bring all its power to the human race and the angels alike, and then die when it reaches the surface.
‘The Eagle’ is one of Tennyson’s shortest poems, consisting of a total of six lines. It presents the eagle as a powerful creature, alone and above the rest of the world. The singular focus on the eagle forces a reader to really consider the creature and the life it lives. This is especially emphasized in the last lines when he “like a thunderbolt…falls” as he dives towards the sea.
In Memoriam A.H.H.
This poem was published in 1850 and was dedicated to a close friend of Tennyson, Arthur Henry Hallam. He died in 1833 at the age of 22. At the time he had been engaged to Tennyson’s sister, who was deeply impacted by his passing. Hallam was the subject of a number of poems Tennyson wrote in this period, and they were finally combined into this longer poem, ‘In Memoriam A.H.H.’. It is 131 sections long and contains both a prologue and epilogue. It is considered Tennyson’s masterpiece.
‘Nothing will Die’ speaks on life, death, and the importance of natural change on earth. The speaker asks a number of important questions at the beginning of the poem. The answer to each one of these is “never.” The wind will never stop blowing, the clouds will never stop “fleeting” and the heart of humankind will never become “aweary of beating.”
In the final lines the summarizes his previous points, coming to the conclusion that everything will change, nothing was ever born that didn’t already exist, and that nothing can ever truly die as all life returns to the earth.
This poem was first written under the title ‘Tithon’ in 1833. It was not available to the public at large until 1859 when it was published under its full name. It is characteristic of the poet’s style and a wonderful example of his ability to expand on already existing myths and legends. The poem uses the plight of Tithonus to speak on the inevitability of death. Tithonus is a character that features in Greek mythology who is cursed to an immortal life through which he continues to age.
‘The Lotos-eaters’ is based on a portion of Homer’s Odyssey in which Odysseus’s men are fed lotos plants and become mesmerized by the land onto which they have stumbled. The poem begins with Odysseus commanding his men to have “Courage” because before long he knows they’re going to find land. They do so almost immediately and it enchants them with its otherworldly beauty. While the men are looking at their surrounding the “Lotos-eaters” appear and deliver to the men branches covered in lotos flowers and fruits.
After eating the fruit the men decide they never want to live. It is more pleasurable living there where they don’t have to worry about making their way back to the “Fatherland”. The second half of the poem is made up of a “Choric Song” in which the men describe all the reasons they want to remain on the island.
‘The Lady of Shalott’ was published in 1833 and is one of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s most famous, early poems. The story is based loosely in an Arthurian legend of a woman who dies of love unrequited. In Tennyson’s revamping of the tale, the main character of the poem suffers from a curse. She is doomed to see the world through a mirror, or face her death. Unfortunately, the curse does kill her after she abandons her mirror and leaves her room to see Sir Lancelot closer.
If I were loved, as I desire to be’ is a sonnet that describes the power love has to surmount evil. The speaker complains at the beginning of the poem about how others treat him. Then, he states that he wants to be loved by one particular person. If he can accomplish that, then the evils of the world will be unable to reach him.
Love would provide him with an indestructible hope that would rise past any depression or darkness. The poem concludes with the speaker describing how even if the world was to come to an end, and alone with her he faced his death, he would not be afraid.
‘A Question by Shelley’ is a sonnet that speaks on the greatest unanswered questions of life. As well as the fear that they will never be satisfactorily answered. The poem begins with the speaker referencing some of the last words that Percy Bysshe Shelley, one of the greatest Romantic poets, wrote before his death,“Then what is life?”
In the next section of lines Tennyson describes the fervour with which he and those like him discussed these questions of life. The poem concludes with the speaker describing two different types of people. There are those who care about these questions and those who don’t. He is happy to count himself among the former, even though it is the harder path.