English Literature Of The 19th Century:
Other Irish Story Writers
Thomas Adolphus Trollope
Poetry Of The Early Victorian Period
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( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Alfred Tennyson distinctly devoted his life to poetry, and though, without fortune, waited patiently for recognition by the world. He was forty-two when he was made poet-laureate and thereby helped to wealth, which he lived long to enjoy. He was the son of a clergyman and was born at Somerby in Lincolnshire in 1809. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and published "Poems, Chiefly Lyrical" in 1830. These poems were fresh and sweet and musical, but were severely at, tacked by the critics. The poet afterwards rejected some and amended others. In 1833 came a second volume, containing "The May Queen," "The Lotos-Eaters," and "A Dream of Fair Women." The first became a universal favorite, the others showed a singular power of dreamy fancy, which was often exercised afterwards. In 1842 another volume was published, which some early admirers thought he never excelled. It contained "Lady Clara Vere de Vere," "The Talking Oak," and the weird soliloquy of "Locksley Hall." "Morte D'Arthur" was the germ from which was to be developed the long series of the "Idylls of the King." In 1847 came "The Princess," a narrative poem in blank verse, treating pleasantly of woman's rights. It told how a Princess, eager to assert woman's equality, had gathered a court, from which men were carefully excluded, and how her plans were thwarted and she herself became a victim to love. A few of the poet's finest lyrics were interwoven "The Splendor Falls," "Tears, Idle Tears," and "The Bugle-Song."
In contrast with this was "In Memoriam" (1850), the wonderful elegy in which the poet laments the loss of his friend, Arthur H. Hallam, who had been betrothed to his sister. It consists of 130 poems, each of several stanzas, representing all the varying moods of his thought on his affliction, recollections of the past, and hopes of the future. Though all the stanzas are of the same peculiar form, the poet's mastery of music and diction has prevented unpleasant monotony. Again, in contrast with this song of grief came in 1855 "Maud," a poem of love and marriage, with many happy lyrics. But its too cloying sweetness was not so well relished. The author afterwards amended it.
In mature life Tennyson took up again the favorite story of King Arthur and sought to make it an English epic. The four poems of the original "Idylls of the King" (1859) are named from four women, prominent in the story Enid, Vivien, Elaine, and Guinevere. The contrast of style and subject in these idylls was carefully wrought out. But the epic was steadily enlarged by the poet until it comprised fifteen separate poems. Founded originally on Sir Thomas Malory's prose romance, it was largely reconstructed with aid from the Welsh and French chronicles, and even modernized in tone. How far the later additions are improvements is disputed by critics.
Meantime Tennyson had written many other poems, some of which were on events of the time, as the noble ode on the funeral of the Duke of Wellington; "The Charge of the Light Brigade," a battle lyric of Balaklava in the Crimean War; and "The Defence of Lucknow," one of the Sepoy Mutiny. "Enoch Arden" is a touching idyll of common English life; "Rizpah," a tragic idyll from Scripture narrative. "The Voyage of Maeldune" was a rarely successful reproduction of the spirit of old Celtic poetry. In 1875 the poet began a series of dramas with "Queen Mary," and continued it with "Harold," "The Falcon," "Becket," and "The Foresters," some of which were put on the stage. In 188o he issued a volume of "Ballads," worthy of his fame. "Locksley Hall, Sixty Years After" is a fitting companion to the thoughtful poem of his youth. In the last volume appearing in his life-time was "Crossing the Bar," which was taken as his dying song. He died at Aldworth in October, 1892, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Tennyson from the beginning of his career was noted for the exquisite music of his verse, the exactness of his rhymes, the attention to sound as well as sense. This faculty he undoubtedly learned from Keats, though he improved it and made it thoroughly his own. He profited by the criticism of his earliest work, but without submitting unduly to the arbitrary decisions of others. To the end of his life he continued to correct and improve his work, making it more clear and harmonious. He has been censured for lack of profundity, but he does not avoid expressing thought on the great problems of existence, though he refusÚs to rave and gesticulate about them. His strength lay in his thorough understanding of the simple elements of life, and his ability to express their full meaning. His versification is the most perfect in the English language, and has been the model to his successors, as it was indeed to his contemporaries.