Today is the birthday of Lord Alfred Tennyson (August 6, 1809 – October 6,1892). He’s one of the most popular poets in the English language, and was one of the last poets to sell as many books as a novelist. At his peak, he was one of the most famous people in England — possibly behind only Queen Victoria and the prime minister. He was made a lord in 1884, when he was 75, and he was the only member of the House of Lords to be there solely on the basis of literary merit.
Tennyson gave us some of the most familiar lines in English poetry, including “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” (In Memoriam) and “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do or die.” (The Charge of the Light Brigade). I loved The Lady of Shalott in my schooldays and one of my all-time favourite poems is Ulysses. The older I grow, the more I love its closing lines:
… and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
To my mind, Tennyson’s Ulysses and Robert Browning’s The Last Ride Together are two of the greatest poems of the Victorian era. The romanticism, the indomitable spirit, the things that made the Victorians great, run through these poems.
As I grow older, however, I can identify with this poem – and, at the end of this post, is a deeply sensuous poem by Tennyson.
Crossing the Bar
By Alfred Tennyson
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have cross’d the bar.
Finally, here’s Tennyson in all his sensuousness.
Now sleeps the crimson petal
By Alfred Tennyson
Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font:
The firefly wakens: waken thou with me.
Now droops the milkwhite peacock like a ghost,
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.
Now lies the Earth all Danae to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me.
Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.
Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,
And slips into the bosom of the lake:
So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip
Into my bosom and be lost in me.