Tennyson’s Poetry

by: Alfred Lord Tennyson

Death

1

Chanted loudly, chanted lowly, Till her blood was frozen slowly . . . For ere she reach’d upon the tide The first house by the water-side, Singing in her song she died, The Lady of Shalott.

Here, the Lady of Shalott, in her eponymous poem, lies down in a boat upon which she has scrawled her name and slowly floats to Camelot, dying along the way. Having been unable to participate in the outside world, in death she wants to be remembered. The Lady, who spent her days creating a magical tapestry, may also represent the artist who must remain removed from the world in order to create art. The second she looks out onto the real world, a curse falls upon her: Her loom and mirror are destroyed, so she can no longer create art. As a result, her identity, thus her life, is also destroyed.

2

Death is the end of life; ah, why Should life all labor be? Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast, And in a little while our lips are dumb. Let us alone. What is it that will last? All things are taken from us[.]

In “The Lotos-Eaters,” Ulysses and his crew find a land with “languid air,” where the residents eat lotuses. The crew members partake in the lotus eating. However, doing so leaves the men incapable of and uninterested in doing anything. While in this state, they collectively ask why, of all the creatures of the earth, only man, “the first of things,” toils. At first they want a rest before dying. Then they say they desire “long rest or death” as either will serve as a respite from hardship. The sailors see death as desirable, but presumably the poet intends to color their view with irony, since they only come to this conclusion under the influence of a drug.

3

Release me, and restore me to the ground; Thou seest all things, thou wilt see my grave: Thou wilt renew thy beauty morn my morn; I earth in earth forget these empty courts, And thee returning on thy silver wheels.

Tithonus, in his eponymous poem, pleads with his lover, Aurora, the goddess of dawn, to let him die. She got him eternal life but forgot to ask for eternal youth, and now Tithonus appears decrepit and feels miserable. Although for many years he felt content to be eternal, he now regrets his immortality and believes living forever contradicts natural law. To him, death would be a release and a chance to finally rest and forget. Tithonus’s expectation of death as nothingness contrasts with Tennyson’s vision of the afterlife in other poems: An ancient Greek would not expect to live after death.

4

Storm’d at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell Rode the six hundred.

In “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” the poet uses shorter words and lines to rousingly mimic the sound of men riding into battle. The event he describes took place during the Crimean War. The men of the brigade understood that they were most likely marching to their deaths, as the enemy greatly outnumbered them. The poet notably omits the idea that ordering the charge ended up being a mistake on leadership’s part, and he focuses on the soldiers’ unwavering bravery. The poem serves as an admiring tribute to all members of the Light Brigade, those who survived and those who didn’t, and not merely an elegy to the dead.