Tennyson Essay, Research Paper
Alfred Tennyson was born on August 6th, 1809, at Somersby, Lincolnshire,
fourth of twelve children of George and Elizabeth Tennyson. Tennyson,
said to be the best poet of the Victorian era and his poetry will be
discussed in this essay.
Tennyson had a lifelong fear of mental illness, because several men in
his family had a mild form of epilepsy, which then was thought of as a
shameful disease. His father and brother Arthur made their epilepsy
worse by excessive drinking. His brother Edward had to be put in a
mental institution after 1833, and he spent a few weeks himself under
doctor’s care in 1843. In the late twenties his father’s physical and
mental condition got worse, and he became paranoid, abusive, and
In 1827 Tennyson escaped his troubled home when he followed his two
older brothers to Trinity College, Cambridge, where his teacher was
William Whewell. Because each of them had won university prizes for
poetry the Tennyson brothers became well known at Cambridge. In 1829
The Apostles, an undergraduate club, invited him to join. The members
of this group would remain Tennyson’s friends all his life.
Arthur Hallam was the most important of these friendships. Hallam, a
brilliant Victorian young man was recognized by his peers as having
unusual promise. He and Tennyson knew each other only four years, but
their intense friendship had a major influence on the poet. On a visit
to Somersby, Hallam met and later became engaged to Emily Tennyson, and
the two friends looked forward to a life-long companionship. Hallam
died from illness in 1833 at the age of 22 and shocked Tennyson
profoundly. His grief lead to most of his best poetry, including “In
Memoriam”, “The Passing of Arthur”, “Ulysses”, and “Tithonus”.
Since Tennyson was always sensitive to criticism, The bad reviews of
his 1832 poems hurt him greatly. Critics in those days took great joy
in the harshness of their reviews. John Wilson Croker’s harsh
criticisms of some of the poems he wrote kept Tennyson from publishing
again for another nine years.
The success of his 1842 poems made Tennyson a popular poet, and in
1845 he got a government pension of 200 pounds a year, which helped him
with his financial difficulties. The success of “The Princess” and “In
Memoriam” and his appointment as Poet Laureate in 1850 finally
established him as the most popular poet of the Victorian era.
By now Tennyson, only 41, had written some of his greatest poetry, but
he continued to write and to gain popularity. Prince Albert admired
his poetry so much that he would drop by unexpectedly to here some of
Tennyson’s poetry. This helped solidify his position as the national
poet, and Tennyson returned the favour by dedicating “The Idylls of the
King” to his memory.
Tennyson suffered from extreme short-sightedness so without a monocle
he could not even see to eat. This made for difficult reading and
writing, and this is why he composed a lot of his poetry in his head.
Sometimes he would work on a single poem for many years.
Every aspect of the Victorian era were found in his poetry. His
poetry covered a large range of subjects such as moral and religious
problems in his time. His poems also discuss the events of his day –
“The Charge of the Light Brigade” and “The Death of the Duke of
Wellington” are two poems of this type that show the emotion of the
Tennyson’s work is appreciated perhaps for the sheer beauty of his
writing, his descriptions of the natural world and of the landscape-
most often the Lincolnshire countryside which he grew up in:
Calm and deep peace on this high wold,
And on these dews that drench the furze,
And all the silvery gossamers
That twinkle into green and gold
(Culler, A. Dwight, pg. 39)
The ‘public’ side of Tennyson’s work is now valued less than his more
personal poetry. He writes about how reality destroys the ideal world
as in “The Lady of Shalott”. Frequently, Tennyson’s personal worries
were the same as those of the time. For example, the way he describes
Sir Bedivere’s reaction to the death of King Arthur in “Morte D’Arthur”.
Tennyson expresses Sir Bedivere’s problem, caught in a changing world
and with stable traditions disappearing fast. “For now I see the true
old times are dead…”(Culler, A. Dwight, pg. 47):
And I, the last, go forth companionless,
And the days darken round me, and the years,
Among new men, strange faces, other minds.
(Culler, A. Dwight, pg. 48)
Probably his greatest poem is “In Memoriam”, published in 1850, though
written over the previous seventeen years. He started writing it after
the youthful death of his best friend, Arthur Hallam. His death led
Tennyson to question the purpose of life and the importance of death.
“In Memoriam” is almost like a poetic diary since all events are linked
to Hallam and to the question of death. They say it’s the uncertainty
of the poem that makes it so good. The twentieth century poet T. S.
Eliot said of it, “Its faith is a very poor thing, but its doubt is a
very intense experience.” The intensity, the doubt, the beauty: all
are typical of Tennyson.
Long-lived like most of his family, no matter how unhealthy they
seemed to be, Alfred, Lord Tennyson died on October 6, 1892, at the age
1. The illustrated Encyclopedia of Knowledge (1978)
2. Culler, A. Dwight, The Poetry of Tennyson (1977)
3. Nicolson, Harold, Tennyson: Aspects of His Life (1972)
4. Software Toolworks Multimedia Encyclopedia (1992)