Monday, December 10, 2018

The Early Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Early Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson 

I’ll begin with an excerpt…taken from To The Queen, shortly after Queen Victoria made Tennyson Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland.
     To the Queen (excerpt)
     Her court was pure; her life serene;
     God gave her peace; her land reposed;
     A thousand claims to reverence closed
     In her as Mother, Wife and Queen
The Early Poems is a collection of 137 of Tennyson’s poems. And even though I write a little poetry, I’m not much of a fan of reading it. But, I intended to stretch myself with this read, and in that at least I was successful. Much of Tennyson’s poetry is quite honestly over my head. The language is so esoteric, I grasped little of what the poet was attempting to express. Take this title for example: The lintwhite and the throstlecock

Does that speak to you? Me either. In many of these poems, if I strained too hard to understand the meaning, I missed the beauty of the meter and rhyme. If I listened to the beauty, I missed the meaning. However, I am inclined to believe that reading poetry is a skill like any other – one that must be developed and exercised. I do think, that by the end, I was comprehending a bit more, and so – my poetry education is only beginning.

Tennyson treats a wide range of topics poetically. Two poems that came back-to-back: The Grasshopper, and Love Pride and Forgetfulness. At other times, he writes in series. For instance, he wrote Nothing Will Die, and then followed with All Things Will Die in an identical meter. I thought those were clever. He also put to poetry other works of literature or legend, such as the plays of Shakespeare, Mort d’Arthur, or the legend of Lady Godiva.

And though much was over my head, there was a good deal, that I did comprehend, and a good deal that I appreciated. Some excerpts from some of those I did admire.

The Palace of Art (in which Tennyson gives a nod to some other pretty decent poets)
     For there was Milton like a seraph strong,
     Beside him Shakespeare bland and mild;
     And there the world-worn Dante grasp’d his song,
     And somewhat grimly smiled.

The May Queen – tells of a vain and selfish young woman. And then in a sequel…

Conclusion (the same girl is dying, but has learned virtue and humility)
     Nor would I now be well, mother, again, if that could be,
     For my desire is but to pass to Him that died for me.

To J.S. (to console a friend whose brother had died)
     I have not look’d upon you nigh,
     Since that dear soul hath fall’n asleep
     Great Nature is more wise than I:
     I will not tell you not to weep.

You ask me, why, tho’ ill at ease (speaking of his revered England)
     It is the land that freemen till,
     That sober-suited Freedom chose,
     The land, where girt with friends or foes
     A man may speak the thing he will;

Mort d’Arthur
     Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
     Than this world dreams of…

The Talking Oak (I think perhaps, Tolkien borrowed this to contrive his Ents)
     For ah! My friend, the days were brief
     Whereof the poets talk,
     When that, which breathes within the leaf,
     Could slip its bark and walk.

The Golden Year
     But we grow old! Ah! When shall all men’s good
     Be each man’s rule, and universal Peace
     Lie like a shaft of light across the land,
     And like a lane of beams athwart the sea,

     I am a part of all that I have met

Will Waterproof’s Lyrical Monologue
     For I had hope, by something rare,
     To prove myself a poet;
     But, while I plan and plan, my hair
     Is gray before I know it.

And my favorite of all was a poem called Two Voices – which is autobiographical. The two voices, tell of the inner conflict and thoughts of suicide Tennyson had after the death of a dear friend.

     Then to the still small voice I said;
     “Let me not cast in endless shade
     What is so wonderfully made”.

And later refuting the suicidal voice

     “These words,” I said, “are like the rest,
     No certain clearness, but at best
     A vague suspicion of the breast:

And still later, when he hears the Sunday bells tolling, and watches a young family on their way to worship..

     I blest them, and they wander’d on:
     I spoke, but answer came there none:
     The dull and bitter voice was gone.

And near the end…
     A second voice was at mine ear,
     A little whisper silver-clear,
     A murmer, “Be of better cheer”.



  1. You are brave. I completely agree that we've lost the ability to read poetry and it's important to practice to reclaim some skill with it. I think in losing the feel and understanding of poetry, we've lost some beauty in life. Thanks for inspiring me to get back at it!


Comments are always welcome. In fact, they make my day. You needn't sign in to leave a comment. Just enter your comment, then on the "Comment as:" drop down menu, select "anonymous".