Alfred Lord Tennyson: Poet of Victorian Era

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      Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1893) is by far the most representative poet of the Victorian era. Born on August 6, 1809, in the Lincolnshire rectory of Somersby, he, with his brother Charles, published a small volume of poetry entitled Poems by Two Brothers. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and won the Chancellor's English medal with a poem, Timbuctoo.

      In 1832 appeared Poems by Alfred Tennyson which at once established his reputation as a poet. His Poems include The Lady of Shalott, The Palace of Art, The Lotos-Eaters. Poems (1842) contain his famous poems like Ulysses, Locksley Hall, Sir Galahad etc. The death of his friend, Arthur Henry Hallam was a stunning blow to Tennyson and he wrote In Memoriam (1850) which starting as an elegy for his friend, soon became a "long philosophic poem dealing with universal questions of life, death and hereafter". His other works include The Princess (1847), Maud (1855), Idylls of King (1859-1865), Tethonus (1868) and Enoch A'rden (1864). In 1850, he accepted the Poet Laureateship after the death of Wordsworth.

Alfred Lord Tennyson born on August 6, 1809 in the Lincolnshire rectory of Somersby
Alfred Lord Tennyson

      Tennyson had the supreme task of interpreting the complex life of the age. There is scarcely any movement in the great spheres of human thought-social, political and religious which has not found a reflection in his poetry. The Princess deals with the question of the proper sphere of women in society; Locksley Hall gives expression to the young hopes and aspirations of the liberalism of the early Victorian age, while in Locksley Hall, Sixty Years After the doubts and distrust felt by the conservatism of late Victorian Age find dramatic utterance. In Memoriam deals with the religious problems of the age, while Maud is an expression of the "revolt of a cultured mind against the hypocrisy and corruptions of a society degraded by the worship of Mammon".

      There is no doubt that this broadly representative character of his verse made him the most popular poet of the age; "he gained the ears of his age, because he spoke with its voice". But it was at once a source of strength and weakness. He was often called the poet of Victorian compromise. While other writers and thinkers like Carlyle, Ruskin, Arnold, Dickens and Thackeray made idealistic and realistic reactions against the commercialism and loss of faith in the Victorian era, Tennyson in his poetry tried to strike a compromise between the differing loyalties of the age - science and faith, religion and industrial civilization and moralistic preacher, exhorting the age not to fall away from its beliefs. No wonder, the reaction against Tennyson set in, and today among the young men of letters to care for Tennyson's poetry is to be old-fashioned, and to belittle it is to be in the movement. Young men and women of the twentieth century look upon the Victorian era as mean superficial and stupid. Without entering into the vexed question of the Tennysonian reaction, it may be asserted that there is much among the mass of his thoughts which are of perennial interest: by these and his great qualities as an artist, his memory is safe for all time to come.

      Tennyson as a poet has a great impact on English poetry. A contemporary critic has justly remarked - "the gifts by which Tennyson will ultimately take his place among great poets are indubitably those of an artist". Tennyson is a supreme lyricist the mantle of Spenser and Keats had fallen on him. In his short lyrical poems, his gift as a craftsman comes out prominent. Such poems as Break, Break, Break, Tears Idle Tears, Crossing the Bar, The Lotos-Eaters, Ulysses, and stanzas of In Memoriam are remarkable for lucidity of verse and excellence of mood and melody. He is a minute observer of nature and his descriptions of Nature have an uncanny accuracy and vividness. His poetic diction is characterized by wonderful richness, avoidance of the common-place and frequent use of repetition, alliteration and assonance.

      Alfred Lord Tennyson can produce the effects of harshness, vigor, drowsiness, majesty by the skillful manipulation of the rhythm, the mastery over vowel-music and consonantal effect (cf. The Lotos-Eaters and Ulysses). His similes and imageries, mostly drawn from nature are picturesque and apt (ct. The Lady of Shalott). Even his inspirers, Spenser and Keats could not have more effectively conveyed Tennyson's atmosphere best and among the best English poetry. The poet excels in the lullaby of Sweet and Low, the bugle call the splendor falls on castle walls, the sentimental Home they brought her warrior dead, Now sleep the crimson petal and come down, O Maid, from yonder mountain height are often called the greatest unrimed lyrics in English. Victorian morality and orthodoxy are, however, prominent in his longer pieces like Sir Galahad, Idylls of the King, The Princess, etc.
      There were ebb and tide in Tennyson's literary reputation. After his death and on into the early Twentieth century, the almost universal distaste for the bourgeois orthodoxy among intellectuals caused his reputation to decline drastically. Joyce dismissed him as "Alfred Lawn Tennison", and critics vied with one another to assign him lower and lower ranking as a minor figure in English poetry. The chief cause for the decline in his reputation was his advocacy of Victorian orthodoxy and the bourgeois ethos and the moral preachings which predominated in his poetry. He was largely credited with having given the English people their flattering image of the Prince Consort the German husband of Queen Victoria. But Tennyson's reputation at mid-twentieth century, however, was rising, and he is now again rated highly, though significantly not for the qualities that brought him fame in his era. T. S. Eliot in 1936 acclaimed Tennyson as a great poet because of his "abundance, variety and complete competence".

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