Tennyson as a Victorian Poet

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Tennyson as a Victorian Poet

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) achieved, what so many poets and writers throughout the centuries were unable to achieve, fame and success during his lifetime. Indeed, in 1850, after the publication of “In Memoriam”, he was installed to the position of poet laureate. Tennyson not only distinguished himself by his work to date, but also honored with the responsibility of representing the state during its most solemn and celebratory occasions. As Poet Laureate, he 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). As a lyric and elegiac poet, he has very few rivals in the English language. He bespeaks the main movement of mind and morals of his era. He is, in fact, the representative poet of Victorian Age. He entered fully into the moods of his age. He molded and then satisfied the tastes of his contemporaries. He is triumphant to show us the restless spirit of his nation. His poetry demonstrates national spirit more than personal spirit and also, like mirror, reflects the social, political moral, and religious trends of the time.

Tennyson’s poetry reflects the general feelings of his age on the great things of the world- religion, morals and social life. “Ulysses”, for instance, represents the spirit of inquiry, intellectual ferment, quest for knowledge, and urgency of going ahead, carrying on, and the life full of earnestness. Now, Tennyson’s Ulysses is Homer’s Odysseus felt through Dante. But the vibration of this poem of Tennyson is not due merely to a modern poets response to the Renaissance. The emotion to which it gives this dramatic expression is something personal to the poet, as a man alive in his own time. What the poem meant to Tennyson we know. He tells us that “Ulysses” was written soon after the death of his dear friend Arthur Hallam. It was the most devastating blow of his entire life. The poet said, ‘it (the poem) gives the feeling about the need of going forward and braving the struggle of life.’ As so often in Tennyson, the resolve, the will, to undertake responsible public action and effort, is linked with the need to find release from an overwhelming personal sorrow. This message, then, about ‘the need of going forward and braving the struggle of life’, is the point of juncture between the poet as a private individual, with his private sorrows, and the poet as a responsible social being, conscious of a public world in which he has duties. The poet is exhorting himself to seek consolation in ‘going forward’.

No one can doubt the admirable Victorian seriousness, which should be saluted in ‘Ulysses’. And the desire to express it is manifestly an important part of the poem’s inspiration. A man never reaches an age where he should give up. Whatever takes place; he should fight till the end. The poem's final line, "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield," came to serve as a motto for the poet's Victorian contemporaries. This is Victorian spirit. And a Victorian man is born with a stiff upper lip. Thus for Tennyson's immediate audience, the figure of Ulysses held not only mythological meaning, but stood as an important contemporary cultural icon as well.

In ‘The Lady of Shalott’, we see the lady as alone as both Mariana and Oenone, though in the poem bearing her name the lady has not specifically been deserted. She is isolated from all the activities of the world. Her...
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