Biography Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson

photo of Alfred Lord Tennyson
  • Time Period1809 - 1892
  • PlaceLincoln
  • CountryEngland

Poet Biography

English author often regarded as the chief representative of the Victorian age in poetry. Tennyson succeeded Wordsworth as Poet Laureate in 1850; he was appointed by Queen Victoria and served 42 years. Tennyson's works were melancholic, and reflected the moral and intellectual values of his time, which made them especially vulnerable for later critic.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson was born in Somersby, Lincolnshire. His father, George Clayton Tennyson, a clergyman and rector, suffered from depression and was notoriously absentminded. Alfred began to write poetry at an early age in the style of Lord Byron. After spending four unhappy years in school he was tutored at home. Tennyson then studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he joined the literary club 'The Apostles' and met Arthur Hallam, who became his closest friend. The undergraduate society discussed contemporary social, religious, scientific, and literary issues. Encouraged by 'The Apostles', Tennyson published Poems, Chiefly Lyrical in 1830, which included the popular Mariana. He travelled with Hallam on the Continent. By 1830, Hallam had become engaged to Tennyson's sister Emily. After his father's death in 1831 Tennyson returned to Somersby without a degree.

His next book, Poems(1833), received unfavourable reviews, and Tennyson ceased to publish for nearly ten years. Hallam died suddenly on the same year in Vienna. It was a heavy blow to Tennyson. He began to write Im Memorian for his lost friend - the work took seventeen years. A revised volume of Poems, included the The Lady of Shalott and The Lotus-eaters. Morte d'Arthur and Ulysses appeared in 1842 in the two-volume Poems, and established his reputation as a writer. In Ulysses Tennyson portrayed the Greek after his travels, longing past days: "How dull it is to pause, to make an end, To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!"

Among Tennyson's major poetic achievements is the elegy mourning the death of his friend Arthur Hallam, In Memoriam (1850). He was born in the same year as Darwin, but his view about natural history, however, was based on catastrophe theory, not evolution. The patriotic poem Charge of the Light Brigade, published in Maud (1855), is one of Tennyson's best known works, although at first Maud was found obscure or morbid by critics ranging from George Eliot to Gladstone. Later the poem about the Light Brigade inspired Michael Curtiz's film from 1936, starring Errol Flynn. Historically the fight during the Crimean war brought to light the incompetent organization of the English army. However, the stupid mistake described in the poem honoured the soldier's courage and heroic action.

In the 1870s Tennyson wrote several plays, among them poetic dramas Queen Mary (1875) and Harold (1876). In 1884 he was created a baron. Tennyson died at Aldwort on October 6, 1892 and was buried in the Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. Soon he became the favourite target of attacks of many English and American poets who saw him as a representative of narrow patriotism and sentimentality. Later critics have praised again Tennyson. T.S. Eliot has called him 'the great master of metric as well as of melancholia' and that he possessed the finest ear of any English poet since Milton.