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Poems by Alfred Tennyson
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Alfred Tennyson was born in Lincolnshire, the fourth of twelve children. His father was a bitter clergyman, forced into the life of a rector by his own father after being disinherited in favor of a more capable younger brother (Alfred's uncle) who would build a family of position that could eventually claim a place within the aristocracy. Alfred's father was an unstable man, an alcoholic and drug addict, creating a dark, tense atmosphere in Alfred's upbringing.
Addiction and nervous disorders ran through the family. Two of Alfred Tennyson's siblings were institutionalized for erratic behaviors and addictions. It's said that all of the Tennyson children had at least one mental breakdown.
Alfred Tennyson began writing poetry at a young age, as did several of his brothers and sisters, as a way to find freedom from their dark home atmosphere.
Yet, despite such a difficult upbringing, Tennyson experienced ecstatic states of spiritual transcendence that he described as "a kind of waking trance -- this for lack of a better word -- I have frequently had, quite up from boyhood, when I have been all alone... All at once, as it were out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality, the individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being, and this not a confused state but the clearest, the surest of the surest... utterly beyond words -- where death was an almost laughable impossibility, the loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no extinction, but the only true life."
His first collection of poetry was published before he was 18.
Alfred Tennyson attended university at Cambridge, happy to escape his home life. There he made friends easily, where he was admired for his intelligence, his skill as a writer, for his sense of humor, and for his good looks. This was an especially happy time in the young poet's life.
During this time he became close friends with a brilliant student named Arthur Henry Hallam. Some historians suggest this was a homosexual relationship. Regardless, the the bond between the two friends was immediate and strong. Hallam became engaged to Tennyson's younger sister, but the wedding was put off until Hallam completed his studies.
Alfred Tennyson had to abandon his studies when his father died. His grandfather provided some income to the family, but would not support the Cambridge studies of Alfred or his brothers, since none seemed to be pursuing studies that would lead to profitable careers and family advancement.
Alfred Tennyson refused a position in the church pressed on him by his grandfather. Living in virtual poverty on a small allowance given to him by an aunt, he determined to make his way as a poet. This was a period of great struggle for the young poet. His published poetry received brutal notices from the literary critics.
Then Hallam, Alfred's close friend and fiance to his sister, died unexpectedly while traveling in Vienna.
Hallam's death, mixed in with his other life struggles, created a spiritual crisis for Alfred Tennyson. His mood and hopes collapsed. He refused to publish his poetry for nearly ten years, though he continued to write.
Alfred Tennyson was briefly engaged to a young woman named Emily Sellwood around this time, but broke off the engagement because of his poverty and fears for his health. He began an itinerant period of heavy drinking and staying with his widowed mother or with friends in London.
His friends, worried about him, finally convinced him to publish his poems again, and the resulting two volume Poems, was received with unexpectedly high praise. Alfred Tennyson was suddenly considered one of the rising stars of his generation of poets.
Subsequent publications further increased his notoriety and restored his finances. His collection of elegies to his dead friend Hallam In Memoriam lifted him to the position of the preeminent poet of his day.
Feeling that his life was on track once again, he renewed the betrothal to Emily Sellwood that he'd abandoned a few years earlier and two finally married. His wife took over much of the day-to-day business of home and finances, freeing Tennyson to focus on his writing.
Because of his prominence, Tennyson was invited to court and he became a close friend to Queen Victoria. Tennyson succeeded Wordsworth as poet laureate. Later, after several refusals, he allowed himself to be created a baron, no longer Alfred Tennyson, but Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
The Victorian romanticism of Tennyson's poetry doesn't always match modern tastes. The language and imagery can be florid. Ideals of military heroism are often romanticized. His poetry gives voice to an imperial culture trying to rediscover what is most noble within its own identity, while at other times it serves as a reminder to reconnect with the living world of nature. Through it all, like his "trances," Tennyson's poetry uncovers moments of stillness and transcendence and underlying unity... with rhymes and turns of phrase that gently coax the awareness to follow.
Poems by Alfred Tennyson
- Crossing the Bar
- Flower in the crannied wall
- St. Agnes' Eve
- The Higher Pantheism
- The Human Cry
- If thou would'st hear the Nameless (from The Ancient Sage)
- And Galahad fled along them bridge by bridge (from The Holy Grail)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson - Wikipedia
Good biographical overview and intro to his poetry. Lots of links to works and external sites.
The Tennyson Page
A selection of Tennyson's poems, timeline, and a very nice library of Tennyson and illustrations based on his poems.
Lord Alfred Tennyson - Poets.org
Short bio, along with a few poems.
Victoranweb.org - Alfred Lord Tennyson
Many links to articles and essays on all aspects of Tennyson's poetry and life.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson : The Poetry Foundation
A fairly detailed biography, along with several poem selections.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson - A state of transcendent wonder
A good article exploring the transcendent states experienced by Lord Tennyson, comparing them with the modern Transcendental Meditation movement.