Alfred Tennyson was a popular poet of Victorian Era Britain. Even his contemporaries had considered him in those days to be the greatest poet of the Victorian period. Alfred was very much influenced by the works of great poets like John Keats who was famous as a Romantic poet.
His work was believed to have had a significant impact on Alfred’s imagination and writing skills. Alfred was inspired by classical mythology and the same was reflected in his work. You can see his short biography and works.
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Early days of the great poet
He was born to George Tennyson and Elizabeth Fytche in 1809 in Somersby, Lincolnshire, England. He was the fourth child born to the couple. His father was the rector of Somersby, Benniworth and Bag Enderby during different years. He had also been the vicar of Grimsby.
Although Alfred was born in a middle-class family, he had a rich financial background and family lineage. His paternal grandfather was also a rector and country solicitor. Alfred’s grandfather chose his second son to succeed him over Alfred’s father.
Epilepsy was said to have been a part and parcel of Tennyson family. Unlike today, epilepsy was regarded as some sort of mental ailment during those days. Alfred’s father in the later years of his life suffered from paranoia and was said to have begun behaving violently.
One brother was addicted to drugs, while another brother was required to be admitted to an asylum where he spent a large part of his life. The third brother of Alfred who was suffering from a similar mental problem was confined to a room. It is believed that he died at a young age whilst being in confinement.
Alfred himself had spent a while under the care and observation of a doctor fearing that he too had fallen prey to the deadly disease that many of his family members had already contracted.
George Tennyson wanted all his children to take good education and he personally looked into it. Alfred went to Louth Grammar School, in Louth for four years. However, he was not happy with his school. He later left his school and stayed at home and continued his education under the guidance of his watchful and devoted father.
Alfred Tennyson and his siblings shared another thing in common. All of them since an early age had a natural inclination for penning down poems. Alfred began writing when he was a teen. In 1827, he went with his two elder brothers to the Trinity College, Cambridge. The same year the brothers wrote and published a volume of poems titled ‘Poems by Two Brothers’.
Their poems were instantly a hit in college. Also, the three of them received University prizes for their poetry. The following year, in 1828, Alfred’s poem ‘Timbuctoo’ won him the Chancellor’s, Gold Medal. These poems made the brothers extremely popular on their campus.
While studying at the University the brothers became a part of The Apostles’ in 1829, which was an undergraduate club. Here Alfred met Arthur Hallam, who later on became his best friend. In 1830, Tennyson published his first independent set of poems titled ‘Poems, Chiefly Lyrical’. This set also included ‘Mariana’ and ‘Claribel’ which later on became extremely popular.
Sometime between 1832-1833, Alfred wrote his next book known as ‘Poems’. This work of his was subjected to criticism by many. Alfred was taken aback by this kind of response and refrained from penning down his poems for a few years. A tragedy struck Alfred in the year 1833 when he received the news of the untimely death of his close friend Hallam. Hallam was at that time on a holiday in Vienna.
The news of his death left a deep impact on Alfred. It was after his demise that Alfred penned down his most famous poem ‘In Memoriam’. The poem was published in 1850.
His other popular poems include ‘Break, Break, Break’, ‘Tears, Idle Tears’, ‘The Idylls of the Kings’ (this 1859 poem was written in honour of Prince Albert who was an admirer of Alfred’s poems), etc. ‘The Idylls of the Kings’ became so popular that over ten thousand copies were sold within a short span of thirty days.
In 1842, he published another volume of poems called ‘Poems’. In this volume he wrote poems like ‘The Lady of Shallot’ (1833), ‘Ulysses’ (1833), ‘The Lotus caters’ and ‘The Morte d’Arthur’. All these poems went on to become famous and were even appreciated by the critics. The success of ‘Poems’ made Alfred one of the popular poets of the Victorian Era England. In 1847, he wrote a satirical poem titled ‘The Princess: A Medley’. This poem was based on woman’s education during those days. The poem was in particular famous for the lyrics produced by Alfred.
One of his works ‘Enoch Arden’ published in 1864 was inspired by the true story of a sailor. ‘In Memoriam’ which was considered to be a masterpiece was a tribute to his friend Hallam. Some other popular poems written during the later half of the 19th century include ‘The Passing of Arthur’ and ‘Tithonus’.
In 1855, Alfred wrote ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’. It was a dramatic adaptation of the Crimean War and the role played by the British soldiers in the war. This is regarded as one of his best works.
The year 1850 was a year of events for Alfred. On the personal front, Alfred got married Emily Sellwood in 1850 and had two sons from the wedlock. They named one of their sons Hallam (after Alfred’s friend) and the other Lionel. In the same year, on the insistence of Queen Victoria, he accepted the position of Poet Laureate.
Previously, Gladstone and Disraeli had urged Alfred to take up the post. However, he did not accept the same then. The Queen was one of the many persons who admired Alfred’s poems and that could have been the reason for her to promote him to the position of Poet Laureate. Alfred became Poet Laureate after William Wordsworth and continued to be so until his death. It is believed that he is the only one who has held this position for such a long time.
When he was Poet Laureate, Alfred wrote poems like ‘Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington’ (1852) and ‘Ode Sung at the Opening of the International Exhibition’. In 1884, he was made the first Baron Tennyson of Aldworth by the Queen. Alfred purchased Farringford House on the Isle of Wight in 1856. From 1869 until 1892, Alfred lived in Aldworth.
Alfred died in 1892 at his home in Aldworth. He was 83 years old when he died. He was buried at Westminster Abbey. After Alfred’s death, Hallam became the second Baron. Hallam even wrote a biography on the life of his father. The biography was published in 1897. Even today, Alfred Tennyson is remembered for his poems.
List of all poems
Second Song—To the Same
Recollections of the Arabian Nights
Ode to Memory
The Poet’s Mind
The Dying Swan
Love and Death
The Ballad of Oriana
Sonnet to J. M. K.
The Lady of Shalott
Mariana in the South
The Miller’s Daughter
The Palace of Art
Lady Clara Vere de Vere
The May Queen
The Lotos Eaters
A Dream of Fair Women
The Death of the Old Year
To J. S.
You Ask Me Why, Though Ill at Ease
Of Old Sat Freedom on the Heights
Love Thou Thy Land, with Love Far-Brought
The Gardener’s Daughter; or, The Pictures
Walking to the Mail
St. Simeon Stylites
The Talking Oak
Love and Duty
The Two Voices
Will Waterproof’s Lyrical Monologue
The Lord of Burleigh
Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere
The Beggar Maid
The Vision of Sin
The Skipping Rope
Move Eastward, Happy Earth, and Leave
Break, Break, Break
The Poet’s Song