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Creator / Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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Cabinet card photograph by Elliott & Fry, late 1860s
I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, from In Memoriam A.H.H.

Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson (6 August 1809 – 6 October 1892) was an English poet.

He was the fourth of 12 children, born on 6 August 1809 in Lincolnshire to George Clayton Tennyson (1778-1831), an Anglican clergyman, and Elizabeth Fytche (1781-1865), the daughter of an Anglican clergyman. Alfred, with two of his brothers, Frederick and Charles, were sent to Louth grammar school in 1815, where he was unhappy. Tennyson left in 1820, but his father managed to give him a wide literary education. Alfred developed an interest in poetry at an early age, composing poems in the styles of Alexander Pope, Walter Scott, and John Milton. He even wrote The Devil and the Lady, an imitation of Elizabethan tragedy, at the age of 14. Lord Byron himself was another major influence on Tennyson. Upon hearing the news of Lord Byron's death, Tennyson was devastated, declaring that it was a day "when the whole world seemed to darken for me"; he fled to the woods and carved "Byron is dead" on a rock.

In 1827, Alfred and Charles joined Frederick in attending Trinity College, Cambridge. In April 1829, Tennyson met Arthur Henry Hallam, a fellow poet whose friendship was of enormous importance. Hallam brought Tennyson out of his shell and encouraged his poetry; they both entered the Chancellor's Prize Poem Competition (which Tennyson won with his poem Timbuctoo) and joined the Cambridge Apostles, a discussion group in which a member gives a prepared talk on a topic, which is later thrown open for discussion. He even published his collections of poems: Poems, Chiefly Lyrical in 1830 and Poems in 1832. Some critics decried his poems as overly sentimental, but they proved popular and brought Tennyson to the attention of well-known writers of the day, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

On 15 September 1833, Hallam died from a brain haemorrhage, plunging Tennyson into profound grief. Tennyson turned to writing In Memoriam A.H.H. to come to terms with this loss. In the meantime, he continued to write other poems, and The Princess (1847) enhanced his reputation, and the eventual publication of In Memoriam A.H.H. in 1850 acknowledged him as one of the major voices of poetry in his age.

Tennyson married Emily Sellwood in 1850 and was appointed Poet Laureate later in the same year. In 1853 he settled in the Isle of Wight and continued poems like Maud (1855) and Enoch Arden (1864). During that time, Queen Victoria lost her husband Prince Albert on 14 December 1861, and she turned to reading In Memoriam A.H.H., which became a great favourite of hers. Tennyson himself was offered a baronetcy many times before finally accepting ennoblement in 1883. Much of his later career was taken up with finishing his Arthurian epic, Idylls of the King; the first part of it was published in 1842, but the poem was completed in 1874. He even produced a number of stage plays, like Queen Marry, produced in 1875; and Becket, a play inspired by the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket, produced in 1884.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson died on 6 October 1892. Before dying, he requested that Crossing the Bar, a poem that compares death to crossing the sandbar, be placed at the end of all editions of his poems. He was also the longest-serving laureate, having held the laureate from 1850 until his death.

Major Works

Other tropes in Tennyson's work include:

  • Age Without Youth: The title character of "Tithonus" asks for his "gift" of eternal life to be taken away, as it is worthless without also having eternal youth. Alas, "the Gods themselves cannot recall their gifts." The trope namer could just as easily be "cruel immortality."
    Me only cruel immortality
    Consumes. I wither slowly in thine arms.
  • Blue Blood: Dismissed as unimportant in "Lady Clara Vere de Vere"
    Trust me, Clara Vere de Vere,
    From yon blue heavens above us bent
    The gardener Adam and his wife
    Smile at the claims of long descent.
    Howe'er it be, it seems to me,
    'Tis only noble to be good.
    Kind hearts are more than coronets,
    And simple faith than Norman blood.
  • Cycle of Revenge: In "The Voyage of Maeldune", the hero is told to forbear his revenge because
    And his white hair sank to his heels, and his white beard fell to his feet,
    And he spake to me, 'O Maeldune, let be this purpose of thine!
    Remember the words of the Lord when he told us, "Vengeance is mine!"
    His fathers have slain thy fathers in war or in single strife.
    Thy fathers have slain his fathers, each taken a life for a life,
    Thy father had slain his father, how long shall the murder last?
    Go back to the Isle of Finn and suffer the Past to be Past.
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: The elegy "Crossing the Bar", which is about accepting death, using the metaphor of a ship crossing a sandbar as it puts out to sea. Tennyson requested that it be placed last in collections of his poetry, and it usually has been ever since his death.
    I hope to see my Pilot face to face
    When I have crost the bar.
  • Fictional United Nations: One part of "Locksley Hall" (1842) has the narrator speculating on the future. After correctly predicting aviation, aerial commerce, and aerial combat, the narrator predicts the wars will be ended by "the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world".
  • Funetik Aksent: Tennyson wrote a couple of poems in the Lincolnshire dialect, like "Northern Farmer, Old Style" and "Northern Farmer, New Style". Lincolnshire was where he grew up. His son, Hallam, noted that the dialect was so authentic that "when they were first read in that county[,] a farmer's daughter exclaimed: 'That's Lincoln labourers' talk, and I thought Mr Tennyson was a gentleman'".
    Dosn't thou 'ear my 'erse's legs, as they canters awaäy?
    Proputty, proputty, proputty — that's what I 'ears 'em saäy.
    Proputty, proputty, proputty — Sam, thou's an ass for thy paaïns:
    Theer's moor sense i' one o' 'is legs, nor in all thy braaïns.
  • If I Can't Have You…: This is one of the many ways in which the narrator of "Locksley Hall" is bitter about the course his life has taken, to the point where he says it would be better if he'd killed his lover Amy than for her to be married to a lesser man, though from context it doesn't seem like he actually believes that. He ends up decrying all women as inferior and unintelligent, which reads more as "sour grapes" than anything, especially given Tennyson's progressive views on women in real life, and given that the narrator had complimented her intelligence (among other things) several times while insulting her husband. Moreover, this is his attitude towards everything he thinks he can't have.
  • In Memoriam: In Memoriam, which he dedicated to Arthur Henry Hallam.
  • Kraken and Leviathan: Tennyson's poem "The Kraken," a Trope Maker.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: In "The Charge of the Light Brigade," the unnamed commander comes across as this: "Forward the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!" he said... "Forward the Light Brigade!" Was there a man dismayed? Not though the soldier knew someone had blundered. Theirs not to make reply. Theirs not to reason why. Theirs but to do and die...
  • Saved by the Church Bell: The poem "In Memoriam A.H.H." is largely a somber reflection on grief, but the point where it shifts to moving on and finding happiness again starts with a description of bells ringing on Christmas Eve.
  • Unable to Cry: In the poem "Home They Brought Her Warrior Dead" (inspired by the "First Lay of Gudrun" in the Poetic Edda), a queen does neither weep nor speak when her husband is brought home dead. Her handmaids believe she will die if she does not weep, but their efforts have no effect until an old nurse brings the queen's child to her. The queen weeps, saying she will live on for his and her child.
  • Wife Husbandry: The legendary King Cophetua had no interest in women until he fell in love with a beggar child and decided to raise her to be his queen. This story is best known through Tennyson's poem "The Beggar Maid."