Alfred Tennyson: Overview

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Author: Laurel Brake
Editor: D. L. Kirkpatrick
Date: 1991
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,619 words

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Alfred, Lord Tennyson's life and work almost span the century, and encompass numerous aspects of the Victorian period and its literature. With his sensibility closely responsive to the doubts, needs, enthusiasms, and certitudes of the age, Tennyson eventually became a pervasive influence on it, as a best seller, laureate, and friend of the queen. Not the rigidity and fixity often mistakenly attributed to the Victorians, but the unending struggle to keep humane values in view characterises the poems as a whole.

The possibility of faith was a central preoccupation for Tennyson and his contemporaries, primarily in a Christianity based on the literal truth of the Gospels, but also faith in all other authority which, along with Christianity, seemed shaken by geological, historical, biological, and social studies. Tennyson directly confronts the problem of how to create poetry of stature which retains certain elements of romantic poetry, including a capacity for commitment, affirmation, and grandeur, yet takes account of the thrust of realism, scientific knowledge, and social problems. To this end the variety of serious, notably sustained, virtuoso poetic experiments in form, subject, and language is directed. Ranging through dialect, dialogue, monodrama, lyric, domestic idyll, elegy, and epic, the poems tackle a prodigious diversity of subjects including the nature and limits of perfection in Greek and Arthurian heroes and heroines, the condition of England, the role of the artist and of art, women in society, evolution, faith, love, death, and mortality. The resultant poetry yields a superb rendering of doubt and its dignity as well as a mystical Christianity which transcends it.

Many of the earlier poems are dialectical, concerning themselves variously with the presentation of alternative perspectives. Dialogue poems such as ``Supposed Confessions of a Second-Rate Sensitive Mind'' and ``The Two Voices,'' paired or companion poems such as ``All Things Will Die''/``Nothing Will Die'' and ``Ulysses''/``Tithonus,'' poems in which the dominant situations are overshadowed by their antitheses such as ``The Lady of Shalott,'' ``The Lotos-Eaters,'' and ``The Palace of Art,'' and framed poems such as ``Morte d'Arthur'' come into this category. This dramatic juxtaposition of dual or multiple views remains a characteristic strategy to define truth in the later poetry. It is a structural element in various degrees and forms even in long poems such as The Princess (which might be said to be defeated by the excess of perspectives it offers), In Memoriam, and Maud, as well as in the pair of Locksley Hall...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420007899