Alfred Tennyson and His WorkAlfred Tennyson was born on August 6th, 1809, at Somersby, Lincolnshire,fourth of twelve children of George and Elizabeth Tennyson. Tennyson, said tobe the best poet of the Victorian era and his poetry will be discussed in thisessay. Tennyson had a lifelong fear of mental illness, because several men inhis family had a mild form of epilepsy, which then was thought of as a shamefuldisease. His father and brother Arthur made their epilepsy worse by excessivedrinking.
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 latetwenties his father’s physical and mental condition got worse, and he becameparanoid, abusive, and violent. In 1827 Tennyson escaped his troubled home when he followed his twoolder brothers to Trinity College, Cambridge, where his teacher was WilliamWhewell. Because each of them had won university prizes for poetry the Tennysonbrothers became well known at Cambridge.Order now
In 1829 The Apostles, an undergraduateclub, invited him to join. The members of this group would remain Tennyson’sfriends all his life. Arthur Hallam was the most important of these friendships. Hallam, abrilliant Victorian young man was recognized by his peers as having unusualpromise.
He and Tennyson knew each other only four years, but their intensefriendship had a major influence on the poet. On a visit to Somersby, Hallammet and later became engaged to Emily Tennyson, and the two friends lookedforward to a life-long companionship. Hallam died from illness in 1833 at theage of 22 and shocked Tennyson profoundly. His grief lead to most of his bestpoetry, including “In Memoriam”, “The Passing of Arthur”, “Ulysses”, and”Tithonus”. Since Tennyson was always sensitive to criticism, The bad reviews of his1832 poems hurt him greatly. Critics in those days took great joy in theharshness of their reviews.
John Wilson Croker’s harsh criticisms of some ofthe 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 1845he got a government pension of 200 pounds a year, which helped him with hisfinancial difficulties. The success of “The Princess” and “In Memoriam” and hisappointment as Poet Laureate in 1850 finally established him as the most popularpoet of the Victorian era. By now Tennyson, only 41, had written some of his greatest poetry, buthe continued to write and to gain popularity.
Prince Albert admired his poetryso 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 returnedthe favour by dedicating “The Idylls of the King” to his memory. Tennyson suffered from extreme short-sightedness so without a monocle hecould not even see to eat. This made for difficult reading and writing, andthis is why he composed a lot of his poetry in his head.
Sometimes he wouldwork on a single poem for many years. Every aspect of the Victorian era were found in his poetry. His poetrycovered a large range of subjects such as moral and religious problems in histime. His poems also discuss the events of his day – “The Charge of the LightBrigade” and “The Death of the Duke of Wellington” are two poems of this typethat show the emotion of the nation.
Tennyson’s work is appreciated perhaps for the sheer beauty of hiswriting, his descriptions of the natural world and of the landscape-most oftenthe 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 morepersonal poetry. He writes about how reality destroys the ideal world as in”The Lady of Shalott”. Frequently, Tennyson’s personal worries were the sameas those of the time.
For example, the way he describes Sir Bedivere’s reactionto the death of King Arthur in “Morte D’Arthur”. Tennyson expresses SirBedivere’s problem, caught in a changing world and with stable traditionsdisappearing 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, thoughwritten over the previous seventeen years. He started writing it after theyouthful death of his best friend, Arthur Hallam. His death led Tennyson toquestion the purpose of life and the importance of death. “In Memoriam” isalmost like a poetic diary since all events are linked to Hallam and to thequestion of death.
They say it’s the uncertainty of the poem that makes it sogood. The twentieth century poet T. S. Eliot said of it, “Its faith is a verypoor thing, but its doubt is a very intense experience.
” The intensity, thedoubt, the beauty: all are typical of Tennyson. Long-lived like most of his family, no matter how unhealthy they seemedto be, Alfred, Lord Tennyson died on October 6, 1892, at the age of 83. Bibliography1. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Knowledge (1978)2.
Culler, A. Dwight, The Poetry of Tennyson (1977)3. Nicolson, Harold, Tennyson: Aspects of His Life, Character, and Poetry(1972)4. Software Toolworks Multimedia Encyclopedia (1992) English