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Who was Alfred Lord Tennyson?

Updated on December 3, 2016

Alfred Lord Tennyson was an English poet. Born in Somersby, England, August 6, 1809. He died in Haslemere, England, October 6, 1892.

Tennyson's works eloquently expressed the sentiments and aspirations of the Victorian period. His poetry is particularly noted for its melodious language, rich descriptive imagery, and elevated moral tone. One of his finest works is In Memoriam, an elegy that embodies his faith in the immortality of the human spirit. Other well-known works include Idylls of the King, a group of metrical romances based on Arthurian legends, and such lyric and narrative poems as Ulysses, Enoch Arden, and Crossing the Bar.

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Youth and Early Poems

Tennyson received most of his early education from his father, who was a clergyman. By the age of 15 the boy had already written several verse plays and an epic. He also collaborated with his brothers on a collection of verse entitled Poems by Two Brothers (1827). In 1827 he entered Cambridge University, where he distinguished himself as a student and won an award for his poem Timbuctoo. His first book, Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, appeared in 1830 but attracted little notice. After the death of his father in 1831, Tennyson had to leave the university and assume family responsibilities.

In 1832 he issued his second book, Poems. The collection, which includes such famous poems as The Lady of Shalott and The Lotos-Eaters, was received unfavorably by critics of the time. The death in 1833 of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, whom he had known at Cambridge, was a grievous blow to Tennyson, and he spent the next several years in virtual seclusion, meditating, studying, and writing.

Tennyson's semiretirement ended in 1842 with the publication of a new volume of poetry. It included Locksley Hall, Morte d'Arthur, and Ulysses. Unlike Tennyson's earlier publications, this volume was acclaimed. As a result, he received an annual pension from the English government. In 1847 he published The Princess, a poetic fantasy on women's rights.

Mature Works and Recognition

In Memoriam, which appeared in 1850, was Tennyson's memorial to Hallam. The work consists of a series of separate lyrics and it conveys Tennyson's personal feelings of grief and his philosophical quest for the meaning of life. In Memoriam marked the turning point in Tennyson's career and fame. Several months after the poem's publication he was named poet laureate of England. Increased financial success also enabled him to marry.

In 1853, Tennyson and his wife settled at Farringford on the Isle of Wight. There he pursued his duties as poet laureate, writing poems and odes to mark solemn and official occasions. Outstanding examples are Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington and The Charge of the Light Brigade. During this period he also produced the poetic monodrama Maud (1855).

Tennyson's famous Idylls of the King consists of a group of independent narrative poems that reinterpret the legends about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The first four of the poems, or idylls, were published in a volume in 1859. The Idylls are noted for their vividly symbolic medieval atmosphere and absorbing characterizations. At the same time they reflect Tennyson's Victorian attitudes, emphasizing the destructive effects of sin and the importance of ethical values.

After 1870, Tennyson divided his attention between lyric and dramatic poetry. He wrote a number of historical verse dramas, including Queen Mary (1875) and Becket (1879). Although his attempts at play-writing were unsuccessful, his skill as a lyric poet remained undiminished. During his last years he wrote some of his finest poems, including The Revenge, Rizpah, and Crossing the Bar. His final work, The Death of Oenone and Other Poems, was published posthumously in 1892.


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    • Tams R profile image

      Tams R 6 years ago from Missouri

      I did not know Tennyson was responsible for the commonly uttered phrase: "'Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all." I learnt something new. I made it here via a hub by billybuc and I am glad I did.

    • Hubography profile image

      Hubography 8 years ago

      Yeah, that's fine. I'll also check out your hub!

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 8 years ago from The English Midlands


      I have placed a link to this item on one of my hubs ~ hope that's ok?

      Tennyson and 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'