Alfred, Lord Tennyson

October 3, 2006


Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom after William Wordsworth
Verse was based on classical or mythological themes
Fourth son in a family of twelve children
Poet often regarded as the chief representative of the Victorian age in poetry
Began to write poetry at an early age in the style of Lord Byron
Studied at Trinity College, Cambridge: joined the literary club ‘The Apostles’ and met Arthur Hallam who became his closest friend
His book ‘Poems’ received unfavorable reviews and Tennyson ceased to publish for nearly ten years until Hallam suddenly died and Tennyson began to write ‘In Memoriam’
Wrote several plays in the 1870’s
Is buried in the Poets’ Corner in Westmister Abbey


Part I

On either side the river lie / Long fields of barley and of rye, / That clothe the wold and meet the sky; / And through the field the road runs by / To many-towered Camelot; / And up and down the people go, / Gazing where the lilies blow / Round an island there below, / The island of Shalott.
Willows whiten, aspens quiver, / Little breezes dusk and shiver / Through the wave that runs for ever / By the island in the river / Flowing down to Camelot. / Four grey walls, and four grey towers, / Overlook a space of flowers, / And the silent isle imbowers / The Lady of Shalott.
By the margin, willow-veiled, / Slide the heavy barges trailed / By slow horses; and unhailed / The shallop flitteth silken-sailed / Skimming down to camelot: / But who hath seen her wave her hand? / Or at the casement seen her stand? / Or is she known in all the land, / The Lady of Shalott?
Only reapers, reaping early / In among the bearded barley / Hear a song that echoes cheerly / From the river winding clearly, / Down to towered Camelot: / And by the moon the reaper weary, / Piling sheaves in uplands air, / Listening, whispers ”Tis the fairy / Lady of Shalott.’

Part II

There she weaves by night and day / A magic web with colours gay. / She has heard a whisper say, / A curse is on her if she stay / To look down to Camelot. / She knows not what the curse may be, / And so she weaveth steadily, / And little other care hath she, / The Lady of Shalott.
And moving through a mirror clear / That hangs before her all the year, / Shadows of the world appear. / There she sees the highway near / Winding down to Camelot: / There the river eddy whirls, / And there the surly village-churls, / And the red cloaks of market girls, / Pass onward from Shalott.
Sometimes a troop of damsels glad, / An abbot on an ambling pad, / Sometimes a curly sheperd-lad, / Or long-haired page in crimson clad, / Goes by to towered Camelot; / And sometimes through the mirror blue / The knights come riding two and two: / She hath no loyal knight and true, / The Lady of Shalott.
But in her web she still delights / To weave the mirror’s magic sights, / For often through the silent nights / A funeral, with plumes and lights / And music, went to Camelot: / Or when the moon was overhead, / Came two young lovers lately wed; / ‘I am half sick of shadows,’ said / The Lady of Shalott.

Part III

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves, / He rode between the barley-sheaves, / The sun came dazzling through the leaves, / And flamed upon the brazen greaves / Of bold Sir Lancelot. / A red-cross knight for ever kneeled / To a lady in his shield, / That sparkled on the yellow field, / Beside remote Shalott.
The gemmy bridle glittered free, / Like to some branch of stars we see / Hung in the golden Galaxy. / The bridle bells rang merrily / As he rode down to Camelot: / And from his blazoned baldric slung / A mighty silver bugle hung, / And as he rode his armour rung, / Beside remote Shalott.
All in the blue unclouded weather / Thick-jewelled shone the saddle-leather. / The helmet and the helmet-feather / Burned like one burning flame together, / As he rode down to Camelot. / As often through the purple night, / Below the starry clusters bright, / Some bearded meteor, trailing light, / Moves over still Shalott.
His broad clear brow in sunlight glowed; / On burnished hooves his war-horse trode; / From underneath his helmet flowed / His coal-black curls as on he rode, / As he rode down to Camelot. / From the bank and from the river / He flashed into the crystal mirror, / ‘Tirra lirra,’ by the river / Sang Sir Lancelot.
She left the web, she left the loom, / She made three paces through the room, / She saw the water-lily bloom, / She saw the helmet and the plume, / She looked down to Camelot. / Out flew the web and floated wide; / The mirror cracked from side to side; / ‘The curse is come upon me,’ cried / The Lady of Shalott.

Part IV

In the stormy east-wind straining, / The pale yellow woods were waning, / The broad stream in his banks complaining, / Heavily the low sky raining / Over towered Camelot; / Down she came and found a boat / Beneath a willow left afloat, / And round about the prow she wrote / The Lady of Shalott.
And down the river’s dim expanse, / Like some bold seer in a trance / Seeing all his own mischance, / With a glassy countenance / Did she look to Camelot. / And at the closing of the day / She loosed the chain, and down she lay; / The broad stream bore her far away, / The Lady of Shalott.
Lying, robed in snowy white / That loosely flew to left and right- / The leaves upon her falling light- / Through the noises of the night / She floated down to Camelot: / And as the boat-head wound along / The willowy hills and fields among, / They heard her singing her last song, / The Lady of Shalott.
Heard a carol, mournful, holy, / Chanted loudly, chanted lowly, / Till her blood was frozen slowly, / And her eyes were darkened wholly, / Turned to towered Camelot. / For ere she reached upon the tide / The first house by the water-side, / Singing in her song she died, / The Lady of Shalott.
Under tower and balcony, / By garden-wall and gallery, / A gleaming shape she floated by, / Dead-pale between the houses high, / Silent into Camelot. / Out upon the wharfs they came, / Knight and burgher, lord and dame, / And round the prow they read her name, / The Lady of Shalott.
Who is this? and what is here? / And in the lighted palace near / Died the sound of royal cheer; / And they crossed themselves for fear, / All the knights at Camelot: / But Lancelot mused a little space; / He said, ‘She has a lovely face; / God in his mercy lend her grace, / The Lady of Shalott.’

-The Lady of Shalott (in whole)

In Memoriam A. H. H.  (1850) 

Tennyson met Arthur Hallam at Cambridge university where they were both members of ‘The Apostles’ and the two became very close
Hallam was Tennyson’s closest friend, his sister’s fiance, and a critic and champion of his poetry
Hallam died in Vienna suddenly: Tennyson felt his life had been shattered
The lyrics Tennyson wrote to express the variety of his feelings and reflections were done over a period of 17 years and composed into one long elegy of 131 sections of 3-30 stanzas each (stanzas of 4 lines each with rhyme ABBA): it traces the poet through the 3 years following Hallam’s death
Portrays a linear development from crisis to hope, loss of faith to new beliefs
Considered one of the greatest love poems of all time, along with Shakespeare’s sonnets: both of which are men addressing men
Tennyson uses romantic imagery and speech to discuss the friendly intimacy he shared with Hallam: could be read as slightly homoerotic
The poem is unified by the Christmas sections in Parts 28-30, 78, and 104-105
The Prologue was added at the end of Tennyson’s writing
Poem compares Tennyson’s loss of Hallam to the age’s loss of faith: the Victorian period was named the “Age of Doubt”
According to T.S. Eliot:

“It is unique: it is a long poem made by putting together lyrics, which have only the unity and continuity of a diary, the concentrated diary of a man confessing himself.”


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,
Thine are these orbs of light and shade; / Though madest Life in man and brute; / Thou madest Death; and lo, thy foot / Is on the skull which thou hast made.
Thou wilt not leave us in the dust: / Thou madest man, he knows not why, / He thinks he was not made to die; / And thou hast made him: thou art just.

We have but faith: we cannot know, / For knowledge is of things we see; / And yet we trust it comes from thee, / A beam in darkness: let it grow.
Let knowledge grow from more to more, / But more of reverence in us dwell; / That mind and soul, according well, / May make one music as before

Forgive my grief for one removed, / Thy creature, whom I found so fair. / I trust he lives in thee, and there / I find him worthier to be loved.
Forgive these wild and wandering cries, / Confusions of a wasted youth; / Forgive them where they fail in truth / And in thy wisdom make me wise.


Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drowned, / Let darkness keep her raven gloss. / Ah, sweeter to be drunk with loss, / To dance with Death, to beat the ground,
Than that the victor Hours should scorn / The long result of love, and boast, / ‘Behold the man that loved and lost, / But all he was is overworn.’

-Part 1

Old yew, which graspest at the stones / That name the underlying dead, / Thy fibres net the dreamless head, / Thy roots are wrapped about the bones.
The seasons bring the flower again, / And bring the firstling to the flock; / And in the dusk of thee the clock / Beats out the little lives of men.

-Part 2

I sometimes hold it half a sin / To put in words the grief I feel; / For words, like Nature, half reveal / And half conceal the Soul within.
But, for the unquiet heart and brain, / A use measured language lies; / The sad mechanic exercise, / Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.

-Part 5

One writes, that ‘Other friends remain,’ / That ‘Loss is common to the race’- / And common is the commonplace, / And vacant chaff well meant for grain.
That loss is common would not make / My own less bitter, rather more:  / Too common! Never morning wore / To evening, but some heart did break.

-Part 6

He is not here; but far away / The noise of life begins again, / And ghastly through the drizzling rain / On the bald street breaks the blank day.

-Part 7

Fair ship, that from the Italian shore / Sailest the placid ocean-plains / With my lost Arthur’s loved remains, / Spread thy full wings, and waft him o’er.

-Part 9

Another answers: ‘Let him be, / He loves to make parade of pain, / That with his piping he may gain / The praise that comes to constancy.’

Behold, ye speak an idle thing; / Ye never knew the sacred dust. / I do but sing because I must, / And pipe but as the linnets sing:

-Part 21

Each voice four changes on the wind, / That now dilate, and now decrease, / Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace, / Peace and goodwill, to all mankind.
This year I slept and woke with pain, / I almost wished no more to wake, / And that my hold on life would break / Before I heard those bells again;

-Part 28

With such compelling cause to grieve / As daily vexes household peace, / And chains regret to his decease, / How dare we keep our Christmas eve;

Old sisters of a day gone by, / Gray nurses, loving nothing new; / Why should they miss their yearly due / Before their time? They too will die.

-Part 29

Rise, happy morn, rise, holy morn, / Draw forth the cheerful day from night: / O Father, touch the east, and light / The light that shone when Hope was born.

-Part 30

O, yet we trust that somehow good / Will be the final goal of ill, / To pangs of nature, sins of will, / Defects of doubt, and taints of blood; 

So runs my dream ; but what am I? / An infant crying in the night; / An infant crying for the light, / And with no language but a cry.

-Part 54

I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope, / And gather dust and chaff, and call / To what I feel is Lord of all, / And faintly trust the larger hope.

-Part 55

Man, her last work, who seemed so fair, / Such splendid purpose in his eyes, / Who rolled the psalm to wintry skies, / Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,
Who trusted God was love indeed / And love Creation’s final law- / Though Nature, red in tooth and claw / With ravine, shrieked against his creed-

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.

-Part 56

Again at Christmas did we weave / The holly round the Christmas hearth; / The silent snow possessed the earth, / And calmly fell our Christmas eve.

Who showed a token of distress? / No single tear, no mark of pain- / O sorrow, then can sorrow wane? / O grief, can grief be changed to less?
O last regret, regret can die! / No-mixed with all this mysic frame, / Her deep relations are the same, / But with long use her tears are dry.

-Part 78

The time draws near the birth of Christ; / The moon is hid, the night is still; / A single church below the hill / Is pealing, folded in the mist.

-Part 104

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky, / The flying cloud, the frosty light: / The year is dying in the night; / Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new, / Ring, happy bells, across the snow: / The year is going, let him go; / Ring out the false, ring in the true.

-Part 106

Whereof the man that with me trod / This planet was a noble type / Appearing ere the times were ripe, / That friend of mine who lives in God,
That God, which ever lives and loves, / One God, one law, one element, / And one far-off divine event, / To which the whole creation moves.



One Response to “Alfred, Lord Tennyson”

  1. See my virtual movies of Tennyson reading his poems and many other great poets reading their best loved poems at poetryanimations at youtube and poetrylad at dailymotion.

    Kind Regards

    Jim Clark

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