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Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (6th August 1809-6th October 1892) is a poet emblematic of the Victorian era. After a difficult early life, he became a huge success and was named Poet Laureate by Queen Victoria. Tennyson's poems have had great longevity, and are widely studied in the modern day.

Below is a biography of Tennyson and an analysis of his key works. You will also find facts about the poet and a table of important quotes from his poems.

Lord Alfred Tennyson: biography

Below is Tennyson's biography.

Alfred Lord Tennyson: early life

Alfred Tennyson was born on 6th August 1809 in Lincolnshire, one of twelve children. Tennyson had a turbulent childhood. His father, George, was a rector but felt pushed into the profession by his father. Therefore, George often drank heavily and took out much of his frustration on his wife, Elizabeth, and their children. This impacted Tennyson greatly. He suffered from mental health issues, as did the rest of his siblings. He also began writing from a very young age as an escape from his chaotic life. Tennyson's early education was in both a local school and from his father.

Alfred Lord Tennyson: education and career

1827 was an important year for Tennyson. He published his first poetry collection in collaboration with two of his brothers, Frederick and Charles. The collection was entitled Poems by Two Brothers. Tennyson also began attending the University of Cambridge in 1827. He enjoyed his university experience, making many friends and relishing being away from the oppressive atmosphere of his family home.

His time at Cambridge also helped to push Tennyson towards a literary career. He won the prestigious chancellor's gold medal for poetry for his poem 'Timbuctoo'. While at university, Tennyson also met another poet, Arthur Henry Hallam, and the two became fast friends. They joined the famous 'Apostles' group together, known for its debates and interest in literature. Hallam would go on to be an inspiration for one of Tennyson's most well-known poems, In Memoriam (1850), written in the aftermath of his untimely death at twenty-two.

Tennyson published his next poetry collection, Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, in 1830 to relatively positive reviews. However, the next year Tennyson and his brothers were forced to leave Cambridge before graduating due to the death of their father. Their grandfather provided the family with enough money to live on but not enough to put the three young men through university. Despite the financial difficulties he was facing, Tennyson was insistent on becoming a poet and published his next collection, Poems, in 1832. However, it was very poorly reviewed. Hallam's death came shortly after this, devastating Tennyson. He did not publish for the next ten years but did continue to write.

It was not until 1842 that Tennyson published again. His collection, Poems, was made up of two volumes and was very well reviewed. By this time, Tennyson was recognised as an important literary figure. This change of events greatly improved his mental state, which often went through significant bouts of depression. The financial situation of the Tennyson family also gradually began to improve in this period.

In 1850, In Memoriam was published, another huge critical success for Tennyson. He also married Emily Sellwood, who he'd had various romantic encounters with over the years. Tennyson had long feared that he had epilepsy and could pass it on to any children he had. A doctor's assurance that this was not true left him free to marry. The couple had two sons, Lionel and Hallam. Tennyson was also appointed Poet Laureate after the death of William Wordsworth.

Tennyson then released Idylls of the King (1859), a set of poems based on the Arthurian legend. This was a concept little explored at this time and the collection sold many copies. Tennyson also grew very close to Queen Victoria with the two meeting on multiple occasions and bonding over a shared love of poetry. She continuously tried to make him a baron but he humbly refused. Tennyson had reached such fame by this point that he was recognised in most places he went. He often struggled with this limelight.

Alfred Lord Tennyson: later years and death

In the latter stages of his life, Tennyson ventured into writing and staging plays but these were largely unsuccessful. He was also offered a peerage by Prime Minister William Gladstone, who he had gone to Cambridge with, and he accepted. Tennyson continued to write into his old age, even writing a poem based on the devastating loss of his eldest son, Lionel. Alfred Tennyson died on 6th October 1892, surrounded by his family. He is buried in the Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Alfred Lord Tennyson: poems

Tennyson wrote and published extensively throughout his life. He is seen as one of the most important poets of the Victorian era. Tennyson is known for his intricate understanding of sound in poetry, often making use of poetic devices like alliteration. He also wrote of his love for rural England and included moral lessons in his poems. Many of these elements are emblematic of Victorian poetry, as was Tennyson himself.

Some of Tennyson's most famous poems include 'The Lady of Shalott' (1833), 'Break, Break, Break' (1842), and 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' (1854). 'The Lady of Shalott' is an example of Tennyson's great talent for writing lyric poems. It is based on the Arthurian legend and explores the themes of isolation and female agency.

A lyric is a poem that is often musical, focusing heavily on rhythm and rhyme. It also typically explores intense emotions.

It is perhaps 'In Memoriam' that is recognised as Tennyson's best and most sophisticated work. The poem was released after ten years of not publishing. 'In Memoriam' is a long-form poem made up of multiple sections. In it, Tennyson pays tribute to the memory of his dear friend Hallam and muses on grief, loss, and spirituality.

Alfred Lord Tennyson: analysis

Below is an analysis of some of Tennyson's key poems.

Alfred Lord Tennyson: 'Dark house, by which once more I stand'

'Dark house, by which once more I stand' is the seventh canto from Tennyson's highly successful long poem 'In Memoriam'.

A canto is a section in a long-form poem.

The poem is a simple one, following a narrator as he spends the early morning outside the home of his late friend. He is unable to sleep due to his grief and this leads him here. As is the rest of 'In Memoriam', the poem is based on Tennyson's grief at losing his close friend Arthur Henry Hallam.

'Dark house, by which once more I stand' is a formally consistent poem, using both iambic tetrameter and ABBA rhyme scheme. These elements, along with Tennyson's use of enjambment, add a sense of continuity to the narrator's grief. Although peace is made with loss later on in 'In Memoriam', this has not occurred yet at this stage in the poem. The narrator's grief is still prevalent and raw.

Alfred Lord Tennyson: 'Break, Break, Break'

'Break, Break, Break' comes from Tennyson's 1842 collection, Poems. It too memorialises Arthur Henry Hallam. 'Break, Break, Break' is an elegy.

An elegy is a poem mourning the loss of something, often, but not exclusively, a loved one.

The narrator of 'Break, Break, Break' is watching aggressive waves break against a shore. This is a gloomy and intense scene. This scene may be based on the extremely isolated home Tennyson and his wife lived in for a period on the Isle of Wight. Tennyson's narrator is deeply in mourning. He speaks of a 'vanish'd hand' that he longs to touch again but cannot. The happy times he associates with this person are now gone. There is also a sense of isolation in the poem thematically. The landscape around the narrator seems quite unforgiving and although there are other people mentioned in the poem, the narrator does not interact with any of them. The only person he truly wants to be with, his lost loved one, is gone forever.

Alfred Lord Tennyson: facts

Read on for some facts about Tennyson's life and work!

  • Tennyson and the British Prime Minister William Gladstone, who gave him a peerage. attended Cambridge together but did not see eye to eye. Both were friends with Arthur Henry Hallam and were jealous of the other's relationship with the promising young man.
  • Hallam also got engaged to one of Tennyson's sisters before his death, bringing the two men even closer.
  • As Poet Laureate, Tennyson became an important social figure and was invited to many high-profile events that he felt very out of place at.
  • It is thought that Tennyson's work was inspired by John Keats.
  • Despite his later popularity, Tennyson received many highly critical reviews as a young poet, particularly for his 1832 collection, Poems. These devastated Tennyson who tended to take negativity to heart.

Alfred Lord Tennyson: quotes

Below is a table of quotes from Tennyson's poems.

QuoteLocationExplanation
'Doors, where my heart was used to beatSo quickly, waiting for a hand,A hand that can be clasp'd no more—''Dark house, by which once more I stand', ll. 3-5.Here, Tennyson's narrator stands outside the door of his late friend's home, reminiscing on happier times. At one point, hands would reach out for him from this doorway and invite him in, but this is no longer the case. The narrator feels very far from his friend now.
'But O for the touch of a vanish'd hand, And the sound of a voice that is still!''Break, Break, Break', ll. 11-12.This is yet another poem of Tennyson's in which the narrator is wishing for the touch of one now gone. He longs to hear the voice of his late friend once again. This creates a tone of loneliness and isolation.
''I am half sick of shadows,' said The Lady of Shalott.''The Lady of Shalott', ll. 71-72.'The Lady of Shalott' depicts a woman under a curse that forces her to remain in isolation. Up until these lines, she has spoken little. Here, she voices her frustration with her lack of control over her own life. Tennyson is representing Victorian women's lack of agency.
'When can their glory fade?O the wild charge they made! All the world wondered.''The Charge of the Light Brigade', ll. 50-52.This poem is about an ill-fated attack the British made on the Russian army during the Crimean War. As seen in these lines, Tennyson's poem presents the soldiers' sacrifice as brave and heroic. It is a very patriotic poem.

Alfred Lord Tennyson - Key takeaways

  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson is one of the most renowned poets of the Victorian era.
  • After a turbulent early life, he became extremely successful in his time, being made Poet Laureate by Queen Victoria.
  • Some of Tennyson's best-known poems include 'In Memoriam' (1850) and 'Break, Break, Break' (1842).
  • Tennyson is recognised for his deep understanding of sound in poetry.
  • Many of his poems also revolve around the topic of loss as he lost his close friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, unexpectedly at a very young age.

Frequently Asked Questions about Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tennyson died on 6th October 1892.

Tennyson was born on 6th August 1809.

Tennyson is famous for his lyrical poetry that often dealt with loss and isolation.

Tennyson was a Victorian poet, thought to be emblematic of the era.

Tennyson wrote poetry that had highly formalised structures, making use of descriptions and rhyme.

Final Alfred Lord Tennyson Quiz

Question

When was 'Dark house, by which once more I stand' written?

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Between 1833 and 1850.

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What kind of poem is 'Dark house, by which once more I stand'?

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Answer

Elegy.

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What are some key themes in Tennyson's poem?

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Grief, longing, and confusion.

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What metre is Tennyson's poem in?

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Answer

Iambic tetrameter.

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What is iambic tetrameter?

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Answer

When a poem has four iambic feet per line.

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What rhyme scheme does 'Dark house, by which once more I stand' have?

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ABBA.

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What are two important images in Tennyson's poem?

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Answer

The house and hands.

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Can you name two poetic devices used in the poem?

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Answer

Enjambment and metaphor.

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How can the tone of Tennyson's poem be described?

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Dejected, depressed, lonely. 

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Why does the narrator feel confusion?

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Because the world is moving on without him as he grieves.

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Who is this poem about?

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Tennyson's close friend, Arthur Henry Hallam.

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How does the narrator cope with his grief?

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By standing by his late friend's house.

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What is an elegy?

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A poem that mourns something lost.

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What does the enjambment in the poem represent?

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The continuous nature of the narrator's grief.

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What is the rain in the poem metaphorical for?

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The narrator's grim mood.

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When was Alfred Tennyson born?

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6th August 1809.

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What are two of Tennyson's most famous poems?

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In Memoriam and 'Break, Break, Break'.

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What aspect of poetry was Tennyson thought to have a deep understanding of?

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Sound.

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What university did Tennyson attend?

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Cambridge.

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What is the poem In Memoriam about?

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The loss of Tennyson's friend, Arthur Henry Hallam.

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What two themes does 'The Lady of Shalott' deal with?

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Isolation and female agency.

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What prestigious position did Queen Victoria give to Tennyson? 

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Poet Laureate. 

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What metre is 'Dark house, by which once more I stand' in?

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Answer

Iambic tetrameter.

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Why did Tennyson enjoy attending university?

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Because he could escape his abusive home life.

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Why did Tennyson avoid marrying for so long?

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Because he thought he had epilepsy that could be passed down to his children.

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How can 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' be described?

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Patriotic.

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What kind of poem is 'Break, Break, Break'?

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Elegy.

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Why is there a sense of isolation in 'Break, Break, Break'?

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Because the narrator only wants to be with his late friend, but this is impossible.

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What poet was Tennyson inspired by?

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John Keats.

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When did Tennyson die?

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6th October 1892.

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