2012-04-27

Passion For Poetry

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I love the classic poets – Longfellow, Wordsworth, Shelley – but my favourite of them all is Tennyson. Alfred Tennyson was born August 6th, 1809, at Somersby, Lincolnshire, fourth of twelve children. He showed an early talent for writing; at the age of twelve he wrote a 6,000-line epic poem.

Due to family illnesses, he developed a lifelong fear of mental illness. His father, the Reverend George Tennyson, suffered frequent mental breakdowns that were made worse by alcoholism. One of Tennyson's brothers had violent quarrels with his father, and another became an opium addict. Several men in his family had a mild form of epilepsy, which was then thought a shameful disease. His brother Edward had to be confined in a mental institution after 1833, and he himself spent a few weeks under doctors' care in 1843. In the late twenties his father's physical and mental condition worsened, and he became paranoid, abusive, and violent.

Tennyson escaped home in 1827 to attend Trinity College, Cambridge. That same year, he and his brother Charles published Poems by Two Brothers. They attracted the attention of the "Apostles," an undergraduate literary club led by Arthur Hallam. The "Apostles" provided Tennyson, who was tremendously shy, with much needed friendship and confidence as a poet.

Tennyson suffered from extreme short-sightedness — without a monocle he could not even see to eat — which gave him considerable difficulty writing and reading, and this disability in part accounts for his manner of creating poetry: Tennyson composed much of his poetry in his head, occasionally working on individual poems for many years. During his undergraduate days at Cambridge he often did not bother to write down his compositions, although the Apostles continually prodded him to do so.

In 1830, Tennyson published Poems, Chiefly Lyrical and in 1832 he published a second volume entitled simply Poems. Stung by the poor reviews, he would not publish another book for nine years. In 1836, he became engaged to Emily Sellwood. When he lost his inheritance on a bad investment in 1840, the engagement was called off.

In 1842, Tennyson's Poems in two volumes was a tremendous critical and popular success. In 1850, with the publication of In Memoriam, Tennyson became one of Britain's most popular poets. He was selected Poet Laureate in succession to Wordsworth. In that same year, he married Emily Sellwood. They had two sons, Hallam and Lionel.

In 1845 he received a Civil List (government) pension of £200 a year, which helped relieve his financial difficulties; the success of "The Princess" and In Memoriam and his appointment in 1850 as Poet Laureate finally established him as the most popular poet of the Victorian era.

In 1859, Tennyson published the first poems of Idylls of the Kings, dedicating it to Prince Albert, who had just died. He was summoned to court several times before accepting a peerage by Queen Victoria, making him Alfred Lord Tennyson. Tennyson died on October 6, 1892, at the age of 83, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.


The Eagle

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.


Tears, Idle Tears

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

Dear as remembered kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feigned
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more!


In Memoriam (To Sleep I give my powers away)

To Sleep I give my powers away;
My will is bondsman to the dark;
I sit within a helmless bark,
And with my heart I muse and say:

O heart, how fares it with thee now,
That thou should fail from thy desire,
Who scarcely darest to inquire,
"What is it makes me beat so low?"

Something it is which thou hast lost,
Some pleasure from thine early years.
Break thou deep vase of chilling tears,
That grief hath shaken into frost!

Such clouds of nameless trouble cross
All night below the darkened eyes;
With morning wakes the will, and cries,
"Thou shalt not be the fool of loss."


The Kraken

Below the thunders of the upper deep,
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge sea worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.


Perhaps the best known of Tennyson’s poems is The Lady of Shalott, made even more popular when Loreena McKennitt composed music for it. This rendition includes some beautiful paintings, as well as the lyrics of the poem.

1 comment:

graceunderpressure said...

beautiful. I like Alfred's work