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Alfred Lord Tennyson: An Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2042 words Published: 28th Sep 2017

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Discuss death and immorality in the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Tennyson was a prolific poet, his poetry ranged from being relatively joyful to upon investigation and scrutiny very nihilist and pessimistic in tone, the subjects he wrote on were not lacking in variety. Prominent themes in his poetry were both death and immorality. One of his most prominent and well known poems that falls into both these categories was “memorandum soul”; this poem entered thought into the notion of the a meditation on the journey of one person’s life, Tennyson wrote this meditation about his deceased friend Arthur Henry Hennelson. Whether it be the inspiration or a source of a caveat the death of this person leaves behind was something Tennyson chose to discover through his poetry. The poem also deals with the journey one faces upon death and how the individual chooses to deal with it. Using metaphor to represent different paths through life. It’s very lengthy; lasting dozens of stanzas, each one it could be said metaphorically representing a different chapter in his friend’s life alongside being a vessel of expression of the evolving times of the Victorian period of which the poem was written during.

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Tennyson’s poetry can be tied into the fool’s gold theory when burying treasure in the past old miners used to leave a small amount of gold buried above their true treasure trove so that in the case of someone uncovering its location they’ll only dig to the extent of finding the first smaller parcel of gold believing it to be the full and complete package. We can apply the same frame of thinking around Tennyson’s modus operandi of his poetry; did he intend for only those who put in the effort of reading and contemplating his works to get the full message of them. While those who only glance over his work will receive their just reward of a fool’s gold, or in other words a message fit for someone who can’t comprehend let alone handle the truth. An example of this can be seen in his poem “After-Thought” In this poem, at first glance if we look at things as they are plainly laid out we might think Tennyson is portraying the passing of someone and the inherent motions one goes through when someone dies “I thought of Thee, my partner and my guide, As being past away. -Vain sympathies!”. However when we read further into the poem we can see that Tennyson develops his poem into an investigation into a perception of the human condition, how one deals with their mortality and inherent unavoidable death “To live, and act, and serve the future hour; And if, as toward the silent tomb we go, Through love, through hope, and faith’s transcendent dower, We feel that we are greater than we know”. Tennyson portrays that the average person deludes themselves into thinking that they’re important when he realises that in reality this harsh world won’t even bat an eyelid if an individual were to die.

As time passes by in Tennyson’s life he changes as a human being, and feels the pain of this change; the ever-present personal evolution of his mindset and persona as a poet is intensified by his inclination toward increasing darkness, immorality and depravity in his poetry, a key example of this can be seen throughout In Memorandum; the poem took many years for Tennyson to create which portrays his modus operandi and how it evolved over a long period of time, from the prologue of the poem; the quote “Forgive my grief for one removed,Thy creature, whom I found so fair. I trust he lives in thee, and thereI find him worthier to be loved.” while still relatively un-colourful and when contrasted to other poets of the era may be considered dark, it contrasts lightly to the progressive stanzas in Tennyson’s poem. For instance nearing the end of the poem the quote “O life as futile, then, as frail!O for thy voice to soothe and bless!What hope of answer, or redress?Behind the veil, behind the veil.” portrays a very strong sense of hopelessness or inevitability of loss of control in life that Tennyson may have feared realising how ugly life can turn upon the death of his friend . We can see this sentiment present throughout In Memorandum “Who trusted God was love indeed , And love Creation’s final law- Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw, With ravine, shriek’d against his creed”. Through the examination of both religion and mourning for his dead friend the poet aims to attain a more rounded comprehension of the destruction his friend’s death lead to and how he through writing the lengthy poem attempts to come to terms with it.

It’s human nature to want to rise above our limits; Tennyson comprehends this and uses this message in his poetry, utilising it as a vessel in an attempt to comprehend his past and inherently use that understanding in an attempt to have better control over his future and the future of the society he lived in as it progressively changed. We can grasp a means of comprehension of this sentiment from Tennyson’s poem All Things will Die; this poem portrays grimly the nihilist perspective that Tennyson had developed as he grew as a poet and possibly his yearning to overcome death itself. We can see that initially Tennyson perceives the magnificence in nature and humanity through this quote ”Clearly the blue river chimes in its flowing Under my eye; Warmly and broadly the south winds are blowing Over the sky. One after another the white clouds are fleeting; Every heart this May morning in joyance is beating, Full merrily”. Tennyson initially opts to portray a wholesomely pleasant scene, one of pleasing imagery and nice vibes, he then progresses to dash our preconceptions of what he has hence portrayed by then dismantling our perception of the poem, instead of progressing with his pleasant imagery he instead opts to portray the inevitable decay and destruction that all good things and people will face when their time comes ” Full merrily; Yet all things must die. The stream will cease to flow; The wind will cease to blow; The clouds will cease to fleet; The heart will cease to beat; For all things must die. All things must die. In addition to this we can also further see in ‘In Memorandum’ Tennyson’s grieving process and feelings of frustration and impotence at his friend’s death in this poem. The final stanza of the poem specifically goes into detail on how pointless life seems to Tennyson now and how death brings the only hope of redress of his issues and struggles. Lines like “O life as futile, then, as frail!” and “What hope of answer, or redress? Behind the veil, behind the veil.” Perfectly express these feelings. In conclusion ‘In Memoriam’ by Tennyson is a very dark and serious poem that deals with many of the strongest issues at the time such as death and the reconciliation of science and faith and looking closely at this poem one can see a mix of Tennyson’s growing doubt in spirituality mixing with a powerful wave of grief at the loss of a loved one effectively portraying Tennyson’s descent into darkness. Continuing down this line brings forward both the meat of the poem and the impetus behind its creation, death. For Victorians who are now presented with scientific evidence which contradicts their spiritual teachings, the idea of an afterlife becomes less of a promised final resting place and more of a close held hope. This is quite evident in “In Memoriam” as Tennyson deals with not only the death of a very close friend but also the implications of the possibility that there is no God. The influence of Darwin’s work in the field of biology can actually be seen in the poem when Tennyson says “Who trusted God was love indeed , And love Creation’s final law- Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw, With ravine, shriek’d against his creed”. Tennyson wonders how if nature is meant to be the creation of a loving God then why do animals hunt and kill each other to scratch out a meagre existence in this world. In Victorian literature death and the way it was presented was a huge force behind how popular the work became. John Kucich talks about how the popularity of Dickens’ deathbed scenes mirrored Tennyson’s rise to fame following “In Memoriam”. The poem’s popularity amongst the Victorians can definitely be attributed to its subject matter.

Tennyson wrote “In Memorandum” as a form of memorandum for his friend. the poem goes into depth, detailing Tennyson’s attempt at dealing with the grief he feels experiencing the sudden loss of his friend. The poem also continues to evolve into a vessel for Tennyson to express his perspectives and notions he perceives about the life he’s lived and further to that an attempt at extrapolating meaning and a better, more concrete understanding of the Victorian city around him and the world as it progressively changes around him with the growing popularity of science as he writes this obtuse and lengthy poem. By contrast to the harsh scientific perspective present throughout much of the poem other critics perceive his opinion of religion to contrast to it “”A central theme present in the poem is that of religion and the uncertainty people have of its continuation in the progressively scientific Victorian London. Tennyson opens his piece like this ” Strong Son of God, immortal Love,Whom we, that have not seen thy face,By faith, and faith alone, embrace,Believing where we cannot prove;”As Altholz writes in a critical essay “The most important thing to remember about religion in Victorian England is that there was an awful lot of it. The nineteenth century was marked by a revival of religious activity unmatched since the days of the Puritans. This religious revival shaped that code of moral behaviour, or rather that infusion of all behaviour with moralism, which we still call, rightly or wrongly, “Victorianism.” Above all, religion occupied a place in the public consciousness, a centrality in the intellectual life of the age, which it had not had a century before and did not retain in the twentieth century.” (Altholz 32)


From these various points we can conclude that throughout his life and his work Tennyson never stopped developing and growing as a person and inherently as a writer, his moods and temperament may have progressed toward a more downbeat variant as time went on but his commitment to his craft of poetry never wavered and it was his unwavering commitment that has propagated Tennyson to the levels of understanding he reached while he was still writing and also to his legacy as one of the finest poet’s to have lived which lasts to this day.


Josef L. Altholz The Mind and Art of Victorian England. Victorian Web. Retrieved 6 November 2007.

Tennyson’s Poetry, Alfred Tennyson,Robert W. Hill Jr. new york W. W. Norton & Company1999 print

Tennyson: In Memoriamby Susan Shatto;

Marion ShawReview by:Edgar F. Shannon, Jr.

Modern Philology, Vol. 82, No. 2 (Nov., 1984) , pp. 214-216

tennyson’s poetry

Tennyson’s In Memoriam 74.By: Fontana, Ernest, Explicator, 00144940, Spring92, Vol. 50, Issue 3

this thought process “…a blow-away paper the rain had brought to rest.”

cited again as the line “The news of a day I’ve forgotten –If I ever read it” portrays.Despite contemplation we can’t truly know where our choices may have led us if we chose a different road, ‘A patch of old snow’ portrays this notion brooding over what could have been but also p


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