Context

The English poet Alfred Tennyson was born in Sommersby, England on August 6, 1809, twenty years after the start of the French Revolution and toward the end of the Napoleonic Wars. He was the fourth of twelve children born to George and Elizabeth Tennyson. His father, a church reverend, supervised his sons’ private education, though his heavy drinking impeded his ability to fulfill his duties. His mother was an avid supporter of the Evangelical movement, which aimed to replace nominal Christianity with a genuine, personal religion. The young Alfred demonstrated an early flair for poetry, composing a full-length verse drama at the age of fourteen. In 1827, when he was eighteen, he and his brother Charles published an anonymous collection entitled Poems by Two Brothers, receiving a few vague complimentary reviews.

That same year, Tennyson left home to study at Trinity College, Cambridge, under the supervision of William Whewell, the great nineteenth-century scientist, philosopher, and theologian. University life exposed him to the most urgent political issue in his day—the question of Parliamentary Reform, which ultimately culminated in the English Reform Bill of 1832. Although Tennyson believed that reform was long overdue, he felt that it must be undertaken cautiously and gradually; his university poems show little interest in politics.

Tennyson soon became friendly with a group of undergraduates calling themselves the “Apostles,” which met to discuss literary issues. The group was led by Arthur Henry Hallam, who soon became Tennyson’s closest friend. Tennyson and Hallam toured Europe together while still undergraduates, and Hallam later became engaged to the poet’s sister Emily. In 1830, Tennyson published Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, to Hallam’s great praise. However, within the larger critical world, this work, along with Tennyson’s 1832 volume including “The Lady of Shalott” and “The Lotos-Eaters,” met with hostile disparagement; the young poet read his reviews with dismay.

In 1833, no longer able to afford college tuition, Tennyson was living back at home with his family when he received the most devastating blow of his entire life: he learned that his dear friend Hallam had died suddenly of fever while traveling abroad. His tremendous grief at the news permeated much of Tennyson’s later poetry, including the great elegy “In Memoriam.” This poem represents the poet’s struggles not only with the news of his best friend’s death, but also with the new developments in astronomy, biology, and geology that were diminishing man’s stature on the scale of evolutionary time; although Darwin’s Origin of Species did not appear until 1859, notions of evolution were already in circulation, articulated in Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology (1830-33) and Robert Chambers’s Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844).

Tennyson first began to achieve critical success with the publication of his Poems in 1842, a work that include “Ulysses,” “Tithonus,” and other famous short lyrics about mythical and philosophical subjects. At the time of publication, England had seen the death of Coleridge, Shelley, Byron, Keats, and indeed all of the great Romantic poets except Wordsworth; Tennyson thus filled a lacuna in the English literary scene. In 1845, he began receiving a small government pension for his poetry. In 1850, Wordsworth, who had been Britain’s Poet Laureate, died at the age of 80; upon the publication of “In Memoriam,” Tennyson was named to succeed him in this honor. With this title he became the most popular poet in

Victorian England and could finally afford to marry Emily Sellwood, whom he had loved since 1836. The marriage began sadly—the couple’s first son was stillborn in 1851—but the couple soon found happiness: in 1853 they were able to move to a secluded country house on the Isle of Wight, where they raised two sons named Hallam and Lionel.

Tennyson continued to write and to gain popularity. His later poetry primarily followed a narrative rather than lyrical style; as the novel began to emerge as the most popular literary form, poets began searching for new ways of telling stories in verse. For example, in Tennyson’s poem “Maud,” a speaker tells his story in a sequence of short lyrics in varying meters; Tennyson described the work as an experimental “monodrama.” Not only were his later verses concerned with dramatic fiction, they also examined current national political drama. As Poet Laureate, Tennyson represented the literary voice of the nation and, as such, he made occasional pronouncements on political affairs. For example, “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1854) described a disastrous battle in the Crimean War and praised the heroism of the British soldiers there. In 1859, Tennyson published the first four Idylls of the King, a group of twelve blank-verse narrative poems tracing the story of the legendary King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. This collection, dedicated to Prince Albert, enjoyed much popularity among the royal family, who saw Arthur’s lengthy reign as a representation of Queen Victoria’s 64-year rule (1837-1901).

In 1884, the Royals granted Tennyson a baronetcy; he was now known as Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He dedicated most of the last fifteen years of his life to writing a series of full-length dramas in blank verse, which, however, failed to excite any particular interest. In 1892, at the age of 83, he died of heart failure and was buried among his illustrious literary predecessors at Westminster Abbey. Although Tennyson was the most popular poet in England in his own day, he was often the target of mockery by his immediate successors, the Edwardians and Georgians of the early twentieth century. Today, however, many critics consider Tennyson to be the greatest poet of the Victorian Age; and he stands as one of the major innovators of lyric and metrical form in all of English poetry. Analysis and Themes

Tennyson’s poetic output covers a breadth difficult to comprehend in a single system of thematics: his various works treat issues of political and historical concern, as well as scientific matters, classical mythology, and deeply personal thoughts and feelings. Tennyson is both a poet of penetrating introspection and a poet of the people; he plumbs the depths of his own consciousness while also giving voice to the national consciousness of Victorian society.

As a child, Tennyson was influenced profoundly by the poetry of Byron and Scott, and his earliest poems reflect the lyric intensity and meditative expressiveness of his Romantic forebears. These early poems demonstrate his ability to link external scenery to interior states of mind. However, unlike the Romantics, whose nature poems present a scene that raises an emotional or psychological problem, Tennyson uses nature as a psychological category. In “Mariana,” for example, he uses Keatsian descriptions of the natural world to describe a woman’s state of mind; he conveys via his natural setting the consciousness of a woman waiting vainly for her lover, and her increasing hopelessness.

” he speaks out in favor of a controversial diplomatic maneuver. for example. / By faith. “O bliss. immortal Love / Whom we. he also worried that the notion seemed to contradict the Biblical story of creation and longheld assumptions about man’s place in the world.” “In Memoriam” also reflects Tennyson’s struggle with the Victorians’ growing awareness of another sort of past: the vast expanse of geological time and evolutionary history. Tennyson also maintained a lively interest in the developments of his day. when Hallam would read poetry aloud to his friends: thus Tennyson writes.” Although Tennyson associated evolution with progress. he concludes that God’s eternal plan includes purposive biological development. In addition to treating the history of his nation. yet with power to burn and brand/ His nothingness into man”. his ode “To Virgil” abounds with allusions to incidents in the great poet’s Aeneid . The sudden death of his closest friend Arthur Henry Hallam when Tennyson was just 24 dealt a great emotional blow to the young poet. and historical events. Thus. and Dante. thus he reassures his Victorian readers that the new science does not mean the end of the old faith. concluding famously that “ ’Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all. when all in circle drawn / About him. he describes the stars as “cold fires. figures prominently in his work. Virgil. including their Cambridge days. and faith alone. in “In Memoriam.Not only is Tennyson a poet of the natural and psychological landscape. especially the fall of Troy. Tennyson also spoke to his Victorian contemporaries about issues of urgent social and political concern. The new discoveries in biology. In “The Charge of the Light Brigade. remaining deeply committed to reforming the society in which he lived and to which he gave voice. he also attends frequently to the past. he possessed a painful awareness of the brutality and indifference of “Nature red in tooth and claw. Tennyson’s personal past. embrace / Believing where we cannot prove. In Maud. and geology implied a view of humanity that much distressed many Victorians. Tennyson also explores the mythological past. as he lay and read / The Tuscan poets on the lawn!” Tennyson grapples with the tremendous grief he feels after the loss of such a dear friend. Likewise. His “Ulysses” and “The Lotos-Eaters” draw upon actual incidents in Homer’s Odyssey . who spent the next ten years writing over a hundred poems dedicated to his departed friend. This lengthy work describes Tennyson’s memories of the time he spent with Hallam. unlike the Romantics. as articulated in classical works of Homer.” he insists that we must keep our faith despite the latest discoveries of science: he writes. Nonetheless. including Tennyson.” At the end of the poem. “Strong Son of God. Themes. too. Motifs and Symbols Themes . that have not seen they face. In “The Princess” he addresses the relations between the sexes and argues for women’s rights in higher education. later collected and published as “In Memoriam” in 1850. Tennyson thus looked both to historical and mythological pasts as repositories for his poetry. for all his love of the past. heart and ear were fed / To hear him. the disastrous charge on the Russian army by British troops in the Crimean War. “The Lady of Shalott” and the poems within Idylls of the King take place in medieval England and capture a world of knights in shining armor and their damsels in distress. astronomy.

modern life and enthusiastically endorses technology. even though those destinies end in tragic death. in 1811. Many of his poems are about the temptation to give up and fall prey to pessimism. Notable scientific findings and theories of the Victorian period include stratigraphy. There the speaker feels tempted to abandon modern civilization and return to a savage life in the jungle. The Lady of Shalott leaves her seclusion to meet the outer world. battled alcoholism. Poems such as “The Lady of Shalott” (1832. who looks back on his youthful optimism and faith in progress with scorn and skepticism. both written after Hallam’s death. such as “The Lotos-Eaters” (1832. These discoveries challenged traditional religious understandings of nature and natural history. the first sighting of an asteroid in 1801 and galaxies in the 1840s. he chooses to live a civilized. but they also extol the virtues of optimism and discuss the importance of struggling on with life. and Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection in 1859. such as Fülöp Semmelweis. The need to persevere and continue is the central theme of In Memoriam and “Ulysses” (1833). Tennyson struggled through a period of deep despair. and Louis Pasteur. During his time of mourning. the poem affirms both religious faith and faith in human progress. In the end. “Locksley Hall Sixty Years After” (1886) takes as its protagonist the speaker from the original “Locksley Hall. 1842) and “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1854) also vary this theme: both poems glorify characters who embrace their destinies in life. Nevertheless. and he used his poetry to work out the conflict between religious faith and scientific discoveries. The Virtues of Perseverance and Optimism After the death of his friend Arthur Hallam. Joseph Lister. For most of his career. In the second half of the century. The cavalrymen in “The Charge of the Light Brigade” keep charging through the valley toward the Russian cannons. Tennyson continued to struggle with the reconciliation of science and religion. scientists. For example. began the experiments and work that would eventually lead to germ theory and our modern understanding of microorganisms and diseases. Tennyson rarely wrote and. In the end. Perhaps because of Tennyson’s gloomy and tragic childhood. for many years. Tennyson was deeply interested in and troubled by these discoveries. which he eventually overcame to begin writing again. the geological study of rock layers used to date the earth. perseverance and optimism also appear in poetry written before Hallam’s death. as illustrated by some of his later work.” but now he is an old man. determined to seek the love that is missing in her life. 1842). In Memoriam connects the despair Tennyson felt over the loss of his friend Arthur Hallam and the despair he felt when contemplating a godless world.The Reconciliation of Religion and Science Tennyson lived during a period of great scientific advancement. His poem “Locksley Hall” (1842) expresses his ambivalence about technology and scientific progress. The Glory of England . they persevere even as they realize that they will likely die.

from Tennyson’s descriptions of it in the Idylls of the King and “The Lady of Shalott.” Motifs Tragic Death Early. There. Break” (1834) sees death even in sunsets. Section 21 of In Memoriam alludes to the 1846 discovery of Neptune. As poet laureate. the traveler says. as does “The LotosEaters” (1832. the speaker should rejoice in the marvelous possibilities of science. The speaker of “Break. the cavalrymen in “The Charge of the Light Brigade” ride to their deaths by charging headlong into the Russian cannons. The Ancient World . Each of that poem’s seven stanzas ends with the line “I would that I were dead. Nevertheless. chivalry. which prompted Tennyson to write his greatest literary work. Tennyson was required to write poems for specific state occasions and to dedicate verse to Queen Victoria and her husband. often finding nobility in their characters or their deaths.” The lady in “The Lady of Shalott” brings about her own death by going out into an autumn storm dressed only in a thin white dress. Perhaps the most significant event of his life was the untimely death of his best friend Arthur Hallam at age twenty-two. In the Idylls of the King. Section 120. The formal consistency expresses Tennyson’s grief and links the disparate stanzas together into an elegiac whole. Rather than grieve. Taking metaphors and poetic diction from science allowed Tennyson to connect to his age and to modernize his sometimes antiquarian language and archaic verse forms. slumbering sea beast. Tennyson glorified England by encouraging a collective English cultural identity: all of England could take pride in Camelot. Indeed. and his poetry manifests this interest in its reliance on scientific language. In Memoriam. or a quatrain that uses iambic tetrameter and has an abba rhyme scheme. including the steamships and railways discussed in “Locksley Hall. mentions a “cell” (8) and “polypi” (9). which describes an ancient. in part. he also wrote many poems that glorify nineteenth-century England. 1842).Tennyson used his poetry to express his love for England. while the early “Mariana” (1830) features a woman who longs for death after her lover abandons her. Other poems praise technological discoveries and inventions. These poems lyrically mourn those who died tragically. Scientific Language Tennyson took a great interest in the scientific discoveries of the nineteenth century. particularly the chivalrous and capable knights who lived there. “The Kraken” (1830). This long poem uses the so-called In Memoriam stanza. Prince Albert. and romance comes.” or mention specific plants and flowers. a traveler tells the speaker not to grieve for his friend. the modern conception of Camelot as the source of loyalty. “The Charge of the Light Brigade” praises the fortitude and courage of English soldiers during a battle of the Crimean War in which roughly 200 men were killed. Similarly. tragic death and suicide appear throughout Tennyson’s poetry. Break. Tennyson praised England even when not specifically required to do so. features the speaker wondering what good science might do in a world full of religious doubt and despair. Although he expressed worry and concern about the corruption that so dominated the nineteenth century. in contrast.

thereby emphasizing the importance of the mythical place. In “Mariana.” were set in King Arthur’s time. about King Arthur’s rise and fall. Should she leave her prison. Symbols King Arthur and Camelot To Tennyson. urges readers to carry on and persevere rather than to give up and retire. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert envisioned themselves as latter-day descendents of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. our contemporary conception of Camelot as harmonious and magnificent comes from Tennyson’s poem. and Arthurian England was England in its best and purest form. a legendary prince from Troy. Elsewhere Tennyson channels the voice of Tithonus. In poems such as “The Lotos-Eaters” and “Ulysses. Some of Tennyson’s earliest poems. in . He praises the ancient poet Virgil in his ode “To Virgil” (1882). But King Arthur also had a more personal representation to Tennyson: the mythic king represents a version of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam. This idealization allows Tennyson to imagine what might have been in the best possible light. Tennyson mined the ancient world to find stories that would simultaneously enthrall and inspire his readers. Although society might force creative. with Shalott in eighteen of the poem’s twenty stanzas. which described the characters of Ulysses. such as “The Lady of Shalott. and their praise helped popularize the long poem. Imprisoned women. whose death at twenty-two profoundly affected Tennyson. in the eponymous poem “Tithonus” (1833. the name of King Arthur’s estate. The Imprisoned Woman The imprisoned woman appears throughout Tennyson’s work. “The Lady of Shalott” is likewise about a woman imprisoned. was one of the major projects of Tennyson’s late career. and Penelope and their adventures in the ancient world. shifting the time frame of some of the action and often adding more descriptive imagery to the plot. deep-feeling people. commenting on Virgil’s choice of subject matter and lauding his ability to chronicle human history in meter. 1859). Telemachus. Furthermore. “Ulysses. Tennyson found much inspiration in the ancient worlds of Greece and Rome. her isolation imprisons her.” Tennyson retells the stories of Dante and Homer. a curse would fall upon her. which allowed Tennyson to idealize Hallam.” a dramatic monologue spoken by Homer’s hero. act as symbols for the isolation experienced by the artist and other sensitive. used female characters to symbolize the artistic and sensitive aspects of the human condition. as does the way she waits for her lover to return. Idylls of the King. Tennyson slightly alters these mythic stories.” a woman abandoned by her lover lives alone in her house in the middle of desolate country. Hallam’s death destroyed his potential and promise. sensitive types to become outcasts. this time in a tower. However. Tennyson. such as these Tennyson characters. much as he does when describing King Arthur and his court. like many other Victorian poets. For instance. Indeed. Tennyson rhymes Camelot. Her waiting limits her ability and desire to do anything else.Like the romantic poets who preceded him. King Arthur symbolizes the ideal man.

have suffer’d greatly. the women themselves create their own isolation and imprisonment. Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy. governments.Tennyson’s poems. on shore. These women seem unable or unwilling to deal with the outside world. And drunk delight of battle with my peers. but honour’d of them all. By this still hearth. I am a part of all that I have met. climates. and alone. and know not me. and when Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades Vext the dim sea: I am become a name. and feed. For always roaming with a hungry heart Much have I seen and known. and sleep. . both with those That loved me. “Ulysses” Complete Text It little profits that an idle king. among these barren crags. Myself not least. to make an end. I cannot rest from travel: I will drink Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d Greatly. Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’ Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades For ever and forever when I move. cities of men And manners. councils. I mete and dole Unequal laws unto a savage race. Match’d with an aged wife. That hoard. How dull it is to pause.

When I am gone. This is my son. and opposed . broad seas. something more. and thro’ soft degrees Subdue them to the useful and the good. and of one to me Little remains: but every hour is saved From that eternal silence. To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle. Beyond the utmost bound of human thought. discerning to fulfil This labour. the vessel puffs her sail: There gloom the dark. Most blameless is he. mine own Telemachus. and pay Meet adoration to my household gods. My mariners. A bringer of new things. decent not to fail In offices of tenderness. I mine. And this gray spirit yearning in desire To follow knowledge like a sinking star. by slow prudence to make mild A rugged people. and wrought.To rust unburnish’d. and thought with me— That ever with a frolic welcome took The thunder and the sunshine. not to shine in use! As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life Were all too little. He works his work. There lies the port. Souls that have toil’d.— Well-loved of me. centred in the sphere Of common duties. and vile it were For some three suns to store and hoard myself.

but strong in will To strive. Push off. until I die. and not to yield. Some work of noble note. that which we are. for my purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset. to find. Old age hath yet his honour and his toil. free foreheads—you and I are old. Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods. And see the great Achilles. we are. and tho’ We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven. doling out rewards and punishments for the unnamed masses who live in his kingdom. ’Tis not too late to seek a newer world. my friends. whom we knew. Made weak by time and fate. Summary Ulysses (Odysseus) declares that there is little point in his staying home “by this still hearth” with his old wife. . It may be that the gulfs will wash us down: It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles. and sitting well in order smite The sounding furrows. The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks: The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep Moans round with many voices. Come. to seek. much abides. may yet be done. and the baths Of all the western stars. One equal temper of heroic hearts. Tho’ much is taken.Free hearts. Death closes all: but something ere the end.

He has enjoyed all his experiences as a sailor who travels the seas. They have also exposed him to the “delight of battle” while fighting the Trojan War with his men. he suggests. The use of enjambment is appropriate in a poem about pushing forward “beyond the utmost bound of human thought. praising his prudence. Ulysses declares that his travels and encounters have shaped who he is: “I am a part of all that I have met. and not to yield. whereas he knows that in fact life contains much novelty. “This is my son. Ulysses now speaks to an unidentified audience concerning his son Telemachus. whose identity is revealed by his own words. to seek. Perhaps. who will act as his successor while the great hero resumes his travels: he says. the poem is divided into four paragraph-like sections.” He declares that his goal is to sail onward “beyond the sunset” until his death. to whom I leave the scepter and the isle. mine own Telemachus.” Finally. of the lines. or unrhymed iambic pentameter. they are “strong in will” and are sustained by their resolve to push onward relentlessly: “To strive. and that to remain stationary is to rust rather than to shine. Commentary . Although Ulysses and his mariners are not as strong as they were in youth. and devotion to the gods.” Form This poem is written as a dramatic monologue: the entire poem is spoken by a single character. he wishes “to follow knowledge like a sinking star” and forever grow in wisdom and in learning. I mine. The lines are in blank verse. Many of the lines are enjambed. Ulysses declares that it is boring to stay in one place.” He encourages them to make use of their old age because “ ’tis not too late to seek a newer world.” In the final stanza. And it is only when he is traveling that the “margin” of the globe that he has not yet traversed shrink and fade. dedication. Telemachus will do his work of governing the island while Ulysses will do his work of traveling the seas: “He works his work. the sentences often end in the middle.Still speaking to himself he proclaims that he “cannot rest from travel” but feels compelled to live to the fullest and swallow every last drop of life.” or the paradise of perpetual summer described in Greek mythology where great heroes like the warrior Achilles were believed to have been taken after their deaths. and cease to goad him. His spirit yearns constantly for new experiences that will broaden his horizons. they still have the potential to do something noble and honorable before “the long day wanes. which means that a thought does not end with the line-break. which serves to impart a fluid and natural quality to Ulysses’s speech. they may even reach the “Happy Isles. and he longs to encounter this. His travels have exposed him to many different types of people and ways of living. and weathered life’s storms over many years. rather than the end. He declares that although he and they are old. each of which comprises a distinct thematic unit of the poem. Ulysses addresses the mariners with whom he has worked. traveled.” he asserts. to stay in one place is to pretend that all there is to life is the simple act of breathing. and he considers himself a symbol for everyone who wanders and roams the earth. to find.” He speaks highly but also patronizingly of his son’s capabilities as a ruler.

this poem also concerns the poet’s own personal journey. Thus for Tennyson’s immediate audience. and not to yield. deals with the desire to reach beyond the limits of one’s field of vision and the mundane details of everyday life. he offers only 11 lines of lukewarm praise to his son concerning the governance of the kingdom in his absence. as such. and another 26 lines to the exhortation of his mariners to roam the seas with him. to find. However. Like the Lady of Shallot. the speaker’s own words betray his abdication of responsibility and his specificity of purpose. written in 1833 and revised for publication in 1842. The poem’s final line.In this poem. Ulysses hungers to explore the untraveled world. for it was composed in the first few weeks after Tennyson learned of the death of his dear college friend Arthur Henry Hallam in 1833. and shortly before embarking on his final voyage.” Dante’s Ulysses is a tragic figure who dies while sailing too far in an insatiable thirst for knowledge.” like many of Tennyson’s other poems. As in all dramatic monologues. “In Memoriam” . Like In Memoriam. he was a model of individual self-assertion and the Romantic rebellion against bourgeois conformity. learns from a prophecy that he will take a final sea voyage after killing the suitors of his wife Penelope. who longs for the worldly experiences she has been denied. this poem is also an elegy for a deeply cherished friend. “Ulysses. The details of this sea voyage are described by Dante in Canto XXVI of the Inferno: Ulysses finds himself restless in Ithaca and driven by “the longing I had to gain experience of the world. Ulysses’ incompetence as a ruler is evidenced by his preference for potential quests rather than his present responsibilities. As Tennyson himself stated. and the baths of all the western stars” (lines 60–61). proclaims his resolution to push onward in spite of the awareness that “death closes all” (line 51). as described in Scroll XI of the Odyssey. Ulysses.” came to serve as a motto for the poet’s Victorian contemporaries: the poem’s hero longs to flee the tedium of daily life “among these barren crags” (line 2) and to enter a mythical dimension “beyond the sunset. but stood as an important contemporary cultural icon as well. Tennyson combines these two accounts by having Ulysses make his speech shortly after returning to Ithaca and resuming his administrative responsibilities. to seek. Homer’s Ulysses. “to strive. who symbolizes the grieving poet. the poem expresses his own “need of going forward and braving the struggle of life” after the loss of his beloved Hallam. then. Tennyson reworks the figure of Ulysses by drawing on the ancient hero of Homer’s Odyssey (“Ulysses” is the Roman form of the Greek “Odysseus”) and the medieval hero of Dante’s Inferno. Ulysses is the antithesis of the mariners in “The Lotos-Eaters. Thus. However.” who proclaim “we will no longer roam” and desire only to relax amidst the Lotos fields. He devotes a full 26 lines to his own egotistical proclamation of his zeal for the wandering life. In contrast. the figure of Ulysses held not only mythological meaning. Ulysses “cannot rest from travel” and longs to roam the globe (line 6). and a mere two words about his “aged wife” Penelope. here the character of the speaker emerges almost unintentionally from his own words.

Selected Text (Summary and Commentary will focus on the following excerpts) Prologue Strong Son of God. thou. he knows not why. embrace. Believing where we cannot prove. Our wills are ours. we know not how. that have not seen thy face. Thou madest Death. immortal Love. . Our little systems have their day. holiest manhood. thy foot Is on the skull which thou hast made. Thou wilt not leave us in the dust: Thou madest man. to make them thine. and lo. Thou seemest human and divine. Whom we. The highest. He thinks he was not made to die. and faith alone. By faith. Thine are these orbs of light and shade. Thou madest Life in man and brute. And thou hast made him: thou art just. Our wills are ours.

For knowledge is of things we see And yet we trust it comes from thee. O Lord. What seem’d my worth since I began. And thou. to thee.They have their day and cease to be: They are but broken lights of thee. We mock thee when we do not fear: But help thy foolish ones to bear. art more than they. A beam in darkness: let it grow. That mind and soul. For merit lives from man to man. Thy creature. Let knowledge grow from more to more. O Lord. according well. I trust he lives in thee. . We have but faith: we cannot know. Help thy vain worlds to bear thy light. Forgive what seem’d my sin in me. But vaster. And not from man. and there I find him worthier to be loved. whom I found so fair. May make one music as before. But more of reverence in us dwell. We are fools and slight. Forgive my grief for one removed.

thou bringest all I love. much wept for: such a breeze Compell’d thy canvas. sacred bark. like a line of light. XXVII Thou comest. Henceforth.Forgive these wild and wandering cries. Week after week: the days go by: Come quick. and my prayer Was as the whisper of an air To breathe thee over lonely seas. spare thee. So may whatever tempest mars Mid-ocean. Forgive them where they fail in truth. wherever thou may’st roam. So kind an office hath been done. And balmy drops in summer dark Slide from the bosom of the stars. My blessing. Is on the waters day and night. . And in thy wisdom make me wise. For I in spirit saw thee move Thro’ circles of the bounding sky. And like a beacon guards thee home. Confusions of a wasted youth.

Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies. who seem’d so fair. . shall he.Such precious relics brought by thee. shriek’d against his creed- Who loved.’ And he. red in tooth and claw With ravine. Such splendid purpose in his eyes. the Just. `A thousand types are gone: I care for nothing. I bring to death: The spirit does but mean the breath: I know no more. Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer. her last work. The dust of him I shall not see Till all my widow’d race be run. From scarped cliff and quarried stone She cries. LVI ‘So careful of the type?’ but no. Be blown about the desert dust. Man. Who battled for the True. ‘Thou makest thine appeal to me: I bring to life. who suffer’d countless ills. all shall go. Who trusted God was love indeed And love Creation’s final lawTho’ Nature.

All of man’s constructed systems of religion and philosophy seem solid but are merely temporal. behind the veil. XXVII: . Summary Prologue: The poem begins as a tribute to and invocation of the “Strong Son of God. but this is only so that he might exert himself to do God’s will. a dream. The speaker asks that God help foolish people to see His light. The poet attributes the sun and moon (“these orbs or light and shade”) to God. but he must believe that he was not made simply to die. The speaker expresses the hope that “knowledge *will+ grow from more to more. Dragons of the prime. Were mellow music match’d with him. never having seen God’s face. Man cannot understand why he was created. and yet while man can have knowledge of these systems. then. and asks God to make his friend wise. or redress? Behind the veil. O life as futile.” The speaker has faith that this departed fair friend lives on in God. A discord. he cannot have knowledge of God. He repeatedly asks for God to forgive his grief for “thy *God’s+ creature. whom I found so fair. has no proof of His existence. as frail! O for thy voice to soothe and bless! What hope of answer. he can only reach God through faith. The Son of God seems both human and divine.” but this should also be accompanied by a reverence for that which we cannot know. in comparison to the eternal God. and acknowledges Him as the creator of life and death in both man and animals.Or seal’d within the iron hills? No more? A monster then. Man has control of his own will.” Since man. That tare each other in their slime.

but arbitrarily bestows life or death on all creatures. Even when he is in the greatest pain. he still realizes that “ ‘Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all.Be blown about the desert dust.Here the speaker states that he feels no jealousy for the man who is captured and does not know what it means to feel true rage. Man.) With the ABBA rhyme scheme. red in tooth and claw”). He quotes a personified. shall he. feminine Nature asserting that she does not attend to the survival of the species. Tennyson did not invent the form—it appears in earlier works such as Shakespeare’s “The Phoenix and the Turtle”—but he did produce an enduring and memorable example of it. the notion of the “spirit” does not refer to any divine. a form that has since become known as the “In Memoriam Stanza. He also does not envy those who have never felt pain (“the heart that never plighted troth”) or those who complacently enjoy a leisure that they do not rightfully deserve.” (Of course. it cannot propel itself forward: each stanza seems complete. Each short poem is comprised of isometric stanzas. Form “In Memoriam” consists of 131 smaller poems of varying length.” The speaker declares that life is futile and longs for his departed friend’s voice to soothe him and mitigate the effect of Nature’s callousness. we must will it ourselves. or for the bird that is born with in a cage and has never spent time outside in the “summer woods. Or sealed within the iron hills?” The thought of this evokes a notion of the human condition as monstrous.. this force of will symbolizes the poet’s difficulty in moving on after the loss of his beloved friend Arthur Henry Hallam. and more terrifying to contemplate than the fate of prehistoric “dragons of the prime. unearthly element.” Likewise. rather. the poem resolves itself in each quatrain. closed. Thus to move from one stanza to the next is a motion that does not come automatically to us by virtue of the rhyme scheme.. but rather to the simple act of breathing. The stanzas are iambic tetrameter quatrains with the rhyme scheme ABBA. he feels no envy for beasts that have no sense of the passage of time and no conscience to check their behavior. Commentary . For Nature. the speaker now questions whether Nature even cares for the species.” LVI: After having asserted in Section LV that Nature cares only for the survival of species (“so careful of the type”) and not for the survival of individual lives. The poet questions whether Man. will eventually be reduced to dust or end up preserved like fossils in rock: “And he. who prays and trusts in God’s love in spite of the evidence of Nature’s brutality (“Nature.

in the climax. Eventually. which Tennyson vaguely describes as “One far-off divine event / To which the whole creation moves. Finally.” Tennyson insisted that we hold fast to our faith in a higher power in spite of our inability to prove God’s existence: “Believing where we cannot prove. but also the fiance of his sister. The climax of the poem is generally considered to be Section 95. all statements by the speaker can be understood as personal statements by the poet himself. In the end. and Robert Chambers published his early evolutionary tract. praise of his virtues. higher form. science. celebrating the marriage of Tennyson’s sister Cecilia to Edmund Lushington in 1842. through a process lasting millions of years.” including ceremonial mourning for the dead. is developing into something greater. or a poem in memory and praise of one who has died. Eliot called this poem “the most unapproachable of all his *Tennyson’s+ poems. which gives way to more general reflections on the meaning of life. Tennyson was deeply troubled by the proliferation of scientific knowledge about the origins of life and human progress: while he was writing this poem. After learning of Hallam’s death.Tennyson wrote “In Memoriam” after he learned that his beloved friend Arthur Henry Hallam had died suddenly and unexpectedly of a fever at the age of 22. Sir Charles Lyell published his Principles of Geology. or wedding poem. each of which marks another year that the poet must endure after the loss of Hallam. the poet’s attitude shifts from grief to resignation. though he ultimately published them as a single lengthy poem in 1850.S. cosmic purpose. Like most elegies.” This birth also represents new life after the death of Hallam. In “In Memoriam. the poem contains no single unifying theme.” Not just an elegy and an epithalamion. Tennyson replaces the doctrine of the immortality of the soul with the immortality of mankind through evolution. T. “In Memoriam” was intended as an elegy. the sheer length of this work encumbers one’s ability to read and study it. and the promise of immortality. and 104).” He reflects early evolutionary theories in his faith that man. Hallam was not only the poet’s closest friend and confidante. the poem is also a deeply philosophical reflection on religion. the “In Memoriam” poem begins with expressions of sorrow and grief. He composed the short poems that comprise “In Memoriam” over the course of seventeen years (1833-1849) with no intention of weaving them together.” and indeed. It is loosely organized around three Christmas sections (28. he realizes that his friend is not lost forever but survives in another. and consolation for his loss. which undermined the biblical creation story. Tennyson was overwhelmed with doubts about the meaning of life and the significance of man’s existence. thereby achieving a synthesis between his profound religious faith and the new scientific ideas of his day. Moreover. 78. Crossing the Bar” . which is based on a mystical trance Tennyson had in which he communed with the dead spirit of Hallam late at night on the lawn at his home at Somersby. Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. followed by the poet’s recollection of a happy past spent with the individual he is now mourning. and hints at a greater. These fond recollections lead the poet to question the powers in the universe that could allow a good person to die. The poem closes with a celebration of this transcendent survival. The poet suggests that their marriage will lead to the birth of a child who will serve as a closer link between Tennyson’s generation and the “crowning race. As such. Moreover. and its ideas do not unfold in any particular order. “In Memoriam” ends with a an epithalamion. it contains all of the elements of a traditional pastoral elegy such as Milton’s “Lycidas.

I hope to see my Pilot face to face When I have crossed the bar. Rather. he wishes for a tide that is so full that it cannot contain sound or foam and therefore seems asleep when all that has been carried from the boundless depths of the ocean returns back out to the depths. But such a tide as moving seems asleep. Twilight and evening bell. . When I embark. For though from out our bourne of Time and Place The flood may bear me far. Too full for sound and foam. He hopes that the ocean will not make the mournful sound of waves beating against a sand bar when he sets out to sea. And after that the dark! And may there be no sadness of farewell. and hears that he is being called.Complete Text Sunset and evening star And one clear call for me! And may there be no moaning of the bar. Summary The speaker heralds the setting of the sun and the rise of the evening star. When that which drew from out the boundless deep Turns again home. When I put out to sea.

although the line lengths vary among the stanzas. the waves must crash against the sandbar. the main character finds himself at the “quiet limit of the world. he evokes the image again.” The bar is one of several images of liminality in Tennyson’s poetry: in “Ulysses. Form This poem consists of four quatrain stanzas rhyming ABAB. Tennyson uses the metaphor of a sand bar to describe the barrier between life and death.” the hero desires “to sail beyond the sunset”. So. for in an earlier poem of his. He hopes that no one will cry when he departs. The religious significance of crossing was clearly familiar to Tennyson.” The other important image in the poem is one of “crossing. A sandbar is a ridge of sand built up by currents along a shore.The speaker announces the close of the day and the evening bell. he retains the hope that he will look upon the face of his “Pilot” when he has crossed the sand bar. Although he followed this work with subsequent poems. as the poet expresses alarm at realizing what death will entail. because although he may be carried beyond the limits of time and space as we know them. and to the act of “crossing” oneself in the classic Catholic gesture of religious faith and devotion. now as Tennyson himself dies. Commentary Tennyson wrote “Crossing the Bar” in 1889. three years before he died.” and regrets that he has asked to “pass beyond the goal of ordinance. The poem describes his placid and accepting attitude toward death.” suggesting Christian connotations: “crossing” refers both to “crossing over” into the next world. In order to reach the shore.” The ABAB rhyme scheme of the poem echoes the stanzas’ thematic patterning: the first and third stanzas are linked to one another as are the second and fourth. creating a sound that Tennyson describes as the “moaning of the bar.” The second line of each of these stanzas begins with “and.” conjoining another item that does not fit together as straightforwardly as the first two: “one clear call for me” and “after that the dark!” Each of these lines is followed by an exclamation point. These stanzas then conclude with a wish that is stated metaphorically in the first stanza: “may there be . The cross was also where Jesus died. the knights and lords of Camelot “crossed themselves for fear” when they saw the Lady of Shalott lying dead in her boat. does he hope to complement this metaphorical link with a spiritual one: he hopes that he will “see *his+ Pilot face to face. he requested that “Crossing the Bar” appear as the final poem in all collections of his work. The first and third lines of each stanza are always a couple of beats longer than the second and fourth lines. too. which will be followed by darkness. Both the first and third stanzas begin with two symbols of the onset of night: “sunset and evening star” and “twilight and evening bell. in “Tithonus”.

Neither of these stanzas concludes with a period. . The second and fourth stanzas are linked because they both begin with a qualifier: “but” in the second stanza. whether it be a tide “too full for sound and foam” or the “far” distance that the poet will be transported in death.” Yet the wish is the same in both stanzas: the poet does not want his relatives and friends to cry for him after he dies. suggesting that each is intimately linked to the one that follows.no moaning of the bar / When I put out to sea”. and more literally in the third stanza: “And may there be no sadness of farewell / When I embark. and “for though” in the fourth. In addition. the second lines of both stanzas connote excess.

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