The Early Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson

This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
Buy it on Amazon Listen via Audible FREE Audible 30 days

Produced by Jonathan Ingram, Clytie Siddall, Charles Franks, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team











A Critical edition of Tennyson’s poems has long been an acknowledged want. He has taken his place among the English Classics, and as a Classic he is, and will be, studied, seriously and minutely, by many thousands of his countrymen, both in the present generation as well as in future ages. As in the works of his more illustrious brethren, so in his trifles will become subjects of curious interest, and assume an importance of which we have no conception now. Here he will engage the attention of the antiquary, there of the social historian. Long after his politics, his ethics, his theology have ceased to be immediately influential, they will be of immense historical significance. A consummate artist and a consummate master of our language, the process by which he achieved results so memorable can never fail to be of interest, and of absorbing interest, to critical students.

I must, I fear, claim the indulgence due to one who attempts, for the first time, a critical edition of a text so perplexingly voluminous in variants as Tennyson’s. I can only say that I have spared neither time nor labour to be accurate and exhaustive. I have myself collated, or have had collated for me, every edition recorded in the British Museum Catalogue, and where that has been deficient I have had recourse to other public libraries, and to the libraries of private friends. I am not conscious that I have left any variant unrecorded, but I should not like to assert that this is the case. Tennyson was so restlessly indefatigable in his corrections that there may lurk, in editions of the poems which I have not seen, other variants; and it is also possible that, in spite of my vigilance, some may have escaped me even in the editions which have been collated, and some may have been made at a date earlier than the date recorded. But I trust this has not been the case.

Of the Bibliography I can say no more than that I have done my utmost to make it complete, and that it is very much fuller than any which has hitherto appeared. That it is exhaustive I dare not promise.

With regard to the Notes and Commentaries, I have spared no pains to explain everything which seemed to need explanation. There are, I think, only two points which I have not been able to clear up, namely, the name of the friend to whom the ‘Palace of Art’ was addressed, and the name of the friend to whom the ‘Verses after Reading a Life and Letters’ were addressed. I have consulted every one who would be likely to throw light on the subject, including the poet’s surviving sister, many of his friends, and the present Lord Tennyson, but without success; so the names, if they were not those of some imaginary person, appear to be irrecoverable. The Prize Poem, ‘Timbuctoo’, as well as the poems which were temporarily or finally suppressed in the volumes published in 1830 and 1832 have been printed in the Appendix: those which were subsequently incorporated in his Works, in large type; those which he never reprinted, in small.

The text here adopted is that of 1857, but Messrs. Macmillan, to whom I beg to express my hearty thanks, have most generously allowed me to record all the variants which are still protected by copyright. I have to thank them, too, for assistance in the Bibliography. I have also to thank Mr. J. T. Wise for his kindness in lending me the privately printed volume containing the ‘Morte d’Arthur, Dora,’ etc.



The development of Tennyson’s genius, methods, aims and capacity of achievement in poetry can be studied with singular precision and fulness in the history of the poems included in the present volume. In 1842 he published the two volumes which gave him, by almost general consent, the first place among the poets of his time, for, though Wordsworth was alive, Wordsworth’s best work had long been done. These two volumes contained poems which had appeared before, some in 1830 and some in 1832, and some which were then given to the world for the first time, so that they represent work belonging to three eras in the poet’s life, poems written before he had completed his twenty-second year and belonging for the most part to his boyhood, poems written in his early manhood, and poems written between his thirty-first and thirty-fourth year.

The poems published in 1830 had the following title-page:

“Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, by Alfred Tennyson. London: Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1830”.

They are fifty-six in number and the titles are:–

Lilian. .
Isabel. .
The “How” and the “Why”.
Mariana. .
To—-. Madeline.
The Merman.
The Mermaid. .
Supposed Confessions of a second-rate sensitive mind not in unity with itself.
The Burial of Love.
To–(Sainted Juliet dearest name.) Song. The Owl. .
Second Song. To the same. .
Recollections of the Arabian Nights. . Ode to Memory. .
Song. (I’the the glooming light.)
Song. (A spirit haunts.) .
Adeline. .
A Character. .
Song. (The lint-white and the throstle cock.) Song. (Every day hath its night.)
The Poet. .
The Poet’s Mind. .
Nothing will die.
All things will die.
Hero to Leander.
The Mystic.
The Dying Swan. .
A Dirge. .
The Grasshopper.
Love, Pride and Forgetfulness.
Chorus (in an unpublished drama written very early). Lost Hope.
The Deserted House. deg.
The Tears of Heaven.
Love and Sorrow.
To a Lady Sleeping.
Sonnet. (Could I outwear my present state of woe.) Sonnet. (Though Night hath climbed her peak of highest noon.) Sonnet. (Shall the hag Evil die with child of Good.) Sonnet. (The pallid thunderstricken sigh for gain.) Love.
Love and Death. .
The Kraken.
The Ballad of Oriana. .
Circumstance. .
English War Song.
National Song.
The Sleeping Beauty. .
We are Free.
The Sea-Fairies. deg.
to J.M.K. .
[Greek (transliterated): oi rheontes] .

. Of these the poems marked . appeared in the edition of 1842, and were not much altered.

Those marked were, in addition to the italicised poems, afterwards included among the ‘Juvenilia’ in the collected works (1871-1872), though excluded from all preceding editions of the poems.

deg. Those marked deg. were restored in editions previous to the first collected editions of the works.

In December, 1832, appeared a second volume (it is dated on the title-page, 1833):

“Poems by Alfred Tennyson. London: Moxon, MDCCCXXXIII.”

This contains thirty poems:–

Sonnet. (Mine be the strength of spirit fierce and free.) deg. deg. To–. (All good things have not kept aloof.) deg. deg. Buonaparte. deg. deg.
Sonnet I. (O Beauty passing beauty, sweetest Sweet.) Sonnet II. (But were I loved, as I desire to be.) deg. deg. The Lady of Shalott. .
Mariana in the South. .
Eleanore. .
The Miller’s Daughter. .
[Greek: phainetai moi kaenos isos theoisin hemmen anaer] . ‘none. .
The Sisters. .
To–. (With the Palace of Art.)
The Palace of Art .
The May Queen. .
New Year’s Eve. .
The Hesperides.
The Lotos Eaters. .
Rosalind. deg. deg.
A Dream of Fair Women .
Song. (Who can say.)
Margaret. .
Sonnet. Written on hearing of the outbreak of the Polish Insurrection. Sonnet. On the result of the late Russian invasion of Poland. deg. deg. Sonnet. (As when with downcast eyes we muse and brood.) deg. deg. O Darling Room.
To Christopher North.
The Death of the Old Year. .
To J. S. .

. Of these the poems marked . were included in the edition of 1842;

those marked being greatly altered and in some cases almost rewritten,

deg. those marked deg. being practically unaltered.

deg. deg. To those reprinted in the collected works deg. deg. is added.

In 1842 appeared the two volumes which contained, in addition to the selections made from the two former volumes, several new poems:–

“Poems by Alfred Tennyson. In two volumes. London: Edward Moxon, MDCCCXLII.”

The first volume is divided into two parts:

(1) Selections from the poems published in 1830, ‘Claribel’ to the ‘Sonnet to J. M. K.’ inclusive.

(2) Selections from the poems of 1832, ‘The Lady of Shalott’ to ‘The Goose’ inclusive.

The second volume contains poems then, with two exceptions, first published.


The Epic.
Morte d’Arthur.
The Gardener’s Daughter.
Audley Court.
Walking to the Mail.
St. Simeon Stylites.
Conclusion to the May Queen.
The Talking Oak.
Lady Clara Vere de Vere.
Love and Duty.
Locksley Hall.
The Two Voices.
The Day Dream.
The Sleeping Palace.
The Sleeping Beauty.
The Arrival.
The Revival.
The Departure.
St. Agnes.
Sir Galahad.
Edward Gray.
Will Waterproofs Lyrical Monologue, made at the Cock. Lady Clare.
The Lord of Burleigh.
Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere. A Farewell.
The Beggar Maid.
The Vision of Sin.
The Skipping Rope.
Move Eastward, happy Earth.
“Break, break, break.”
The Poet’s Song.

Only two of these poems had been published before, namely, ‘St. Agnes’, which was printed in ‘The Keepsake’ for 1837, and ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ in ‘The Day Dream’, which was adopted with some alterations from the 1830 poem, and only one of these poems was afterwards suppressed, ‘The Skipping Rope’, which was, however, allowed to stand till 1851. In 1843 appeared the second edition of these poems, which is merely a reprint with a few unimportant alterations, and which was followed in 1845 and in 1846 by a third and fourth edition equally unimportant in their variants, but in the fourth ‘The Golden Year’ was added. In the next edition, the fifth, 1848, ‘The Deserted House’ was included from the poems of 1830. In the sixth edition, 1850, was included another poem, ‘To–, after reading a Life and Letters’, reprinted, with some alterations, from the ‘Examiner’ of 24th March, 1849.

The seventh edition, 1851, contained important additions. First the Dedication to the Queen, then ‘Edwin Morris,’ the fragment of ‘The Eagle,’ and the stanzas, “Come not when I am dead,” first printed in ‘The Keepsake’ for 1851, under the title of ‘Stanzas.’ In this edition the absurd trifle ‘The Skipping Rope’ was excised and finally cancelled. In the eighth edition, 1853, ‘The Sea-Fairies,’ though greatly altered, was included from the poems of 1830, and the poem ‘To E. L. on his Travels in Greece’ was added. This edition, the eighth, may be regarded as the final one. Nothing afterwards of much importance was added or subtracted, and comparatively few alterations were made in the text from that date to the last collected edition in 1898.

All the editions up to, and including, that of 1898 have been carefully collated, so that the student of Tennyson can follow step by step the process by which he arrived at that perfection of expression which is perhaps his most striking characteristic as a poet. And it was indeed a trophy of labour, of the application “of patient touches of unwearied art”. Whoever will turn, say to ‘The Palace of Art,’ to ”none,’ to the ‘Dream of Fair Women,’ or even to ‘The Sea-Fairies’ and to ‘The Lady of Shalott,’ will see what labour was expended on their composition. Nothing indeed can be more interesting than to note the touches, the substitution of which measured the whole distance between mediocrity and excellence. Take, for example, the magical alteration in the couplet in the ‘Dream of Fair Women’:–

One drew a sharp knife thro’ my tender throat Slowly,–and nothing more,


The bright death quiver’d at the victim’s throat; Touch’d; and I knew no more.

Or, in the same poem:–

What nights we had in Egypt!
I could hit His humours while I cross’d him. O the life I led him, and the dalliance and the wit,


We drank the Libyan Sun to sleep, and lit Lamps which outburn’d Canopus.
O my life In Egypt!
O the dalliance and the wit,
The flattery and the strife.

Or, in ‘Mariana in the South’:–

She mov’d her lips, she pray’d alone, She praying, disarray’d and warm
From slumber, deep her wavy form
In the dark lustrous mirror shone,


Complaining, “Mother, give me grace
To help me of my weary load”.
And on the liquid mirror glow’d
The clear perfection of her face.

How happy is this slight alteration in the verses ‘To J. S.’ which corrects one of the falsest notes ever struck by a poet:–

A tear Dropt on _my tablets_ as I wrote.

A tear Dropt on _the letters_ as I wrote.

or where in ‘Locksley Hall’ a splendidly graphic touch of description is gained by the alteration of “_droops_ the trailer from the crag” into “_swings_ the trailer”.

So again in ‘Love and Duty’:–

Should my shadow cross thy thoughts
Too sadly for their peace, _so put it back_. For calmer hours in memory’s darkest hold,

where by altering “so put it back” into “remand it thou,” a somewhat ludicrous image is at all events softened.

What great care Tennyson took with his phraseology is curiously illustrated in ‘The May Queen’. In the 1842 edition “Robin” was the name of the May Queen’s lover. In 1843 it was altered to “Robert,” and in 1845 and subsequent editions back to “Robin”.

Compare, again, the old stanza in ‘The Miller’s Daughter’:–

How dear to me in youth, my love,
Was everything about the mill;
The black and silent pool above,
The pool beneath it never still,

with what was afterwards substituted:–

I loved the brimming wave that swam
Through quiet meadows round the mill, The sleepy pool above the dam,
The pool beneath it never still.

Another most felicitous emendation is to be found in ‘The Poet’, where the edition of 1830 reads:–

And in the bordure of her robe was writ Wisdom, a name to shake
Hoar anarchies, as with a thunderfit.

This in 1842 appears as:–

And in her raiment’s hem was trac’d in flame Wisdom, a name to shake
All evil dreams of power–a sacred name.

Again, in the ‘Lotos Eaters’

_Three thunder-cloven thrones of oldest snow_ Stood sunset-flushed

is changed into

_Three silent pinnacles of aged snow_.

So in ‘Will Waterproof’ the cumbrous

Like Hezekiah’s backward runs The shadow of my days,

was afterwards simplified into

Against its fountain upward runs
The current of my days.

Not less felicitous have been the additions made from time to time. Thus in ‘Audley Court’ the concluding lines ran:–

The harbour buoy,
With one green sparkle ever and anon Dipt by itself.

But what vividness is there in the subsequent insertion of

“Sole star of phosphorescence in the calm.”

between the first line and the second.

So again in the ‘Morte d’Arthur’ how greatly are imagery and rhythm improved by the insertion of

Across the ridge, and paced beside the mere,


Then went Sir Bedivere the second time,


Counting the dewy pebbles, fix’d in thought.

There is an alteration in ‘none which is very interesting. Till 1884 this was allowed to stand:–

The lizard, with his shadow on the stone, Rests like a shadow, _and the cicala sleeps_.

No one could have known better than Tennyson that the cicala is loudest in the torrid calm of the noonday, as Theocritus, Virgil, Byron and innumerable other poets have noticed; at last he altered it, but at the heavy price of a cumbrous pleonasm, into “and the winds are dead”.

He allowed many years to elapse before he corrected another error in natural history–but at last the alteration came. In ‘The Poet’s Song’ in the line–

The swallow stopt as he hunted the _bee_,

the “fly” which the swallow does hunt was substituted for what it does not hunt, and that for very obvious reasons. But whoever would see what Tennyson’s poetry has owed to elaborate revision and scrupulous care would do well to compare the first edition of ‘Mariana in the South’, ‘The Sea-Fairies’, ‘OEnone’, ‘The Lady of Shalott’, ‘The Palace of Art’ and ‘A Dream of Fair Women’ with the poems as they are presented in 1853. Poets do not always improve their verses by revision, as all students of Wordsworth’s text could abundantly illustrate; but it may be doubted whether, in these poems at least, Tennyson ever made a single alteration which was not for the better. Fitzgerald, indeed, contended that in some cases, particularly in ‘The Miller’s Daughter’, Tennyson would have done well to let the first reading stand, but few critics would agree with him in the instances he gives. We may perhaps regret the sacrifice of such a stanza as this–

Each coltsfoot down the grassy bent, Whose round leaves hold the gathered shower, Each quaintly folded cuckoo pint, And silver-paly cuckoo flower.


Tennyson’s genius was slow in maturing. The poems contributed by him to the volume of 1827, ‘Poems by Two Brothers’, are not without some slight promise, but are very far from indicating extraordinary powers. A great advance is discernible in ‘Timbuctoo’, but that Matthew Arnold should have discovered in it the germ of Tennyson’s future powers is probably to be attributed to the youth of the critic. Tennyson was in his twenty-second year when the ‘Poems Chiefly Lyrical’ appeared, and what strikes us in these poems is certainly not what Arthur Hallam saw in them: much rather what Coleridge and Wilson discerned in them. They are the poems of a fragile and somewhat morbid young man in whose temper we seem to see a touch of Hamlet, a touch of Romeo and, more healthily, a touch of Mercutio. Their most promising characteristic is the versatility displayed. Thus we find ‘Mariana’ side by side with the ‘Supposed Confessions’, the ‘Ode to Memory’ with Greek[‘oi rheontes’], ‘The Ballad of Oriana’ with ‘The Dying Swan’, ‘Recollections of The Arabian Nights’ with ‘The Poet’. Their worst fault is affectation. Perhaps the utmost that can be said for them is that they display a fine but somewhat thin vein of original genius, after deducing what they owe to Coleridge, to Keats and to other poets. This is seen in the magical touches of description, in the exquisite felicity of expression and rhythm which frequently mark them, in the pathos and power of such a poem as ‘Oriana’, in the pathos and charm of such poems as ‘Mariana’ and ‘A Dirge’, in the rich and almost gorgeous fancy displayed in ‘The Recollections’.

The poems of 1833 are much more ambitious and strike deeper notes. Here comes in for the first time that Greek[spondai_otaes’], that high seriousness which is one of Tennyson’s chief characteristics–we see it in ‘The Palace of Art’, in ”none’ and in the verses ‘To J. S.’ But in intrinsic merit the poems were no advance on their predecessors, for the execution was not equal to the design. The best, such as ”none’, ‘A Dream of Fair Women’, ‘The Palace of Art’, ‘The Lady of Shalott’–I am speaking of course of these poems in their first form–were full of extraordinary blemishes. The volume was degraded by pieces which were very unworthy of him, such as ‘O Darling Room’ and the verses ‘To Christopher North’, and affectations of the worst kind deformed many, nay, perhaps the majority of the poems. But the capital defect lay in the workmanship. The diction is often languid and slipshod, sometimes quaintly affected, and we can never go far without encountering lines, stanzas, whole poems which cry aloud for the file. The power and charm of Tennyson’s poetry, even at its ripest, depend very largely, often mainly, on expression, and the couplet which he envied Browning,

The little more, and how much it is, The little less, and what worlds away,

is strangely applicable to his own art. On a single word, on a subtle collocation, on a slight touch depend often his finest effects: “the little less” reduces him to mediocrity, “the little more” and he is with the masters. To no poetry would the application of Goethe’s test be, as a rule, more fatal–that the real poetic quality in poetry is that which remains when it has been translated literally into prose.

Whoever will compare the poems of 1832 with the same poems as they appeared in 1842 will see that the difference is not so much a difference in degree, but almost a difference in kind. In the collection of 1832 there were three gems, ‘The Sisters’, the lines ‘To J. S.’ and ‘The May Queen’. Almost all the others which are of any value were, in the edition of 1842, carefully revised, and in some cases practically rewritten. If Tennyson’s career had closed in 1833 he would hardly have won a prominent place among the minor poets of the present century. The nine years which intervened between the publication of his second volume and the volumes of 1842 were the making of him, and transformed a mere dilettante into a master. Much has been said about the brutality of Lockhart’s review in the ‘Quarterly’. In some respects it was stupid, in some respects it was unjust, but of one thing there can be no doubt–it had a most salutary effect. It held up the mirror to weaknesses and deficiencies which, if Tennyson did not care to acknowledge to others, he must certainly have acknowledged to himself. It roused him and put him on his mettle. It was a wholesome antidote to the enervating flattery of coteries and “apostles” who were certainly talking a great deal of nonsense about him, as Arthur Hallam’s essay in the ‘Englishman’ shows. During the next nine years he published nothing, with the exception of two unimportant contributions to certain minor periodicals.[1] But he was educating himself, saturating himself with all that is best in the poetry of Ancient Greece and Rome, of modern Italy, of Germany and of his own country, studying theology, metaphysics, natural history, geology, astronomy and travels, observing nature with the eye of a poet, a painter and a naturalist. Nor was he a recluse. He threw himself heartily into the life of his time, following with the keenest interest all the great political and social movements, the progress and effects of the Reform Bill, the troubles in Ireland, the troubles with the Colonies, the struggles between the Protectionists and the Free Traders, Municipal Reform, the advance of the democracy, Chartism, the popular education question. He travelled on the Continent, he travelled in Wales and Scotland, he visited most parts of England, not as an idle tourist, but as a student with note-book in hand. And he had been submitted also to the discipline which is of all disciplines the most necessary to the poet, and without which, as Goethe says, “he knows not the heavenly powers”: he had “ate his bread in sorrow”. The death of his father in 1831 had already brought him face to face, as he has himself expressed it, with the most solemn of all mysteries. In 1833 he had an awful shock in the sudden death of his friend Arthur Hallam, “an overwhelming sorrow which blotted out all joy from his life and made him long for death”. He had other minor troubles which contributed greatly to depress him,–the breaking up of the old home at Somersby, his own poverty and uncertain prospects, his being compelled in consequence to break off all intercourse with Miss Emily Selwood. It is possible that ‘Love and Duty’ may have reference to this sorrow; it is certain that ‘The Two Voices’ is autobiographical.

Such was his education between 1832 and 1842, and such the influences which were moulding him, while he was slowly evolving ‘In Memoriam’ and the poems first published in the latter year. To the revision of the old poems he brought tastes and instincts cultivated by the critical study of all that was best in the poetry of the world, and more particularly by a familiarity singularly intimate and affectionate with the masterpieces of the ancient classics; he brought also the skill of a practised workman, for his diligence in production was literally that of Sir Joshua Reynolds in the sister art–‘nulla dies sine linea’. Into the composition of the new poems all this entered. He was no longer a trifler and a Hedonist. As Spedding has said, his former poems betrayed “an over-indulgence in the luxuries of the senses, a profusion of splendours, harmonies, perfumes, gorgeous apparel, luscious meals and drinks, and creature comforts which rather pall upon the sense, and make the glories of the outward world to obscure a little the world within”. Like his own ‘Lady of Shalott’, he had communed too much with shadows. But the serious poet now speaks. He appeals less to the ear and the eye, and more to the heart. The sensuous is subordinated to the spiritual and the moral. He deals immediately with the dearest concerns of man and of society. He has ceased to trifle. The the [Greek: spondai_otaes,] the high seriousness of the true poet, occasional before, now pervades and enters essentially into his work. It is interesting to note how many of these poems have direct didactic purpose. How solemn is the message delivered in such poems as ‘The Palace of Art’ and ‘The Vision of Sin’, how noble the teaching in ‘Love and Duty’, in ‘Oenone’, in ‘Godiva’, in ‘Ulysses’; to how many must such a poem as ‘The Two Voices’ have brought solace and light; how full of salutary lessons are the political poems ‘You ask me, why, though ill at ease’ and ‘Love thou thy Land’, and how noble is their expression! And, even where the poems are less directly didactic, it is such refreshment as busy life needs to converse with them, so pure, so wholesome, so graciously human is their tone, so tranquilly beautiful is their world. Who could lay down ‘The Miller’s Daughter, Dora, The Golden Year, The Gardener’s Daughter, The Talking Oak, Audley Court, The Day Dream’ without something of the feeling which Goethe felt when he first laid down ‘The Vicar of Wakefield?’ In the best lyrics in these volumes, such as ‘Break, Break’, and ‘Move Eastward’, ‘Happy Earth’, the most fastidious of critics must recognise flawless gems. In the two volumes of 1842 Tennyson carried to perfection all that was best in his earlier poems, and displayed powers of which he may have given some indication in his cruder efforts, but which must certainly have exceeded the expectation of the most sanguine of his rational admirers. These volumes justly gave him the first place among the poets of his time, and that supremacy he maintained–in the opinion of most–till the day of his death. It would be absurd to contend that Tennyson’s subsequent publications added nothing to the fame which will be secured to him by these poems. But this at least is certain, that, taken with ‘In Memorium’, they represent the crown and flower of his achievement. What is best in them he never excelled and perhaps never equalled. We should be the poorer, and much the poorer, for the loss of anything which he produced subsequently, it is true; but would we exchange half a dozen of the best of these poems or a score of the best sections of ‘In Memoriam’ for all that he produced between 1850 and his death?

[Footnote 1: In ‘The Keepsake’, “St. Agnes’ Eve”; in ‘The Tribute’, “Stanzas”: “Oh! that ’twere possible”. Between 1831 and 1832 he had contributed to ‘The Gem’ three, “No more,” “Anacreontics,” and “A Fragment”; in ‘The Englishman’s Magazine’, a Sonnet; in ‘The Yorkshire Literary Annual’, lines, “There are three things that fill my heart with sighs”; in ‘Friendship’s Offering’, lines, “Me my own fate”.]


The poems of 1842 naturally divide themselves into seven groups:–


‘A Spirit Haunts’.
‘Recollections of the Arabian Nights’. ‘Adeline’.
‘The Dying Swan’.
‘A Dream of Fair Women’.
‘The Sea-Fairies’.
‘The Deserted House’.
‘Love and Death’.
‘The Merman’.
‘The Mermaid’.
‘The Lady of Shalott’.
‘The Death of the Old Year’.
‘St. Agnes.’
‘Sir Galahad’.
‘The Day Dream’.
‘Will Waterproof’s Monologue’.
‘Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere’. ‘The Talking Oak’.
‘The Poet’s Song’.


‘Mariana in the South.’
‘The Sisters’.
‘Locksley Hall’.
‘Edward Gray’.


‘A Character’.
‘The Poet’.
‘The Poet’s Mind’.
‘The Two Voices’.
‘The Palace of Art’.
‘The Vision of Sin’.
‘St. Simeon Stylites’.


(a) Classical.

‘The Lotos Eaters’.

(b) English

‘The Miller’s Daughter’.
‘The May Queen’.
‘Morte d’Arthur’.
‘The Gardener’s Daughter’.
‘Audley Court’.
‘Walking to the Mail’.
‘Edwin Morris’.
‘The Golden Year’.


‘Lady Clara Vere de Vere’.
‘Edward Gray’.
‘Lady Clare’.
‘The Lord of Burleigh’.
‘The Beggar Maid’.


‘Ode to Memory’.
‘Sonnet to J. M. K’.
‘To———with the Palace of Art’. ‘To J.S.’
‘To E. L. on his Travels in Greece’. ‘To——–after reading a Life and Letters’. ‘”Come not when I am Dead’.”
‘A Farewell’.
“‘Move Eastward, Happy Earth’.”
“‘Break, Break, Break’.”


‘”You ask me.”‘
‘”Of old sat Freedom.”‘
‘”Love thou thy Land.”‘
‘The Goose.’

In surveying these poems two things must strike every one–their very wide range and their very fragmentary character. There is scarcely any side of life on which they do not touch, scarcely any phase of passion and emotion to which they do not give exquisite expression. Take the love poems: compare ‘Fatima’ with ‘Isabel’, ‘The Miller’s Daughter’ with ‘Locksley Hall’, ‘The Gardener’s Daughter’ with ‘Madeline’, or ‘Mariana’ with Cleopatra in the ‘Dream of Fair Women’. When did love find purer and nobler expression than in ‘Love and Duty?’ When has sorrow found utterance more perfect than in the verses ‘To J. S ‘., or the passion for the past than in ‘Break, Break, Break’, or revenge and jealousy than in ‘The Sisters?’ In ‘The Two Voices’, ‘The Palace of Art’ and ‘The Vision of Sin’ we are in another sphere. They are appeals to the soul of man on subjects of momentous concern to him. And each is a masterpiece. What is proper to philosophy and what is proper to poetry have never perhaps been so happily blended. They have all the sensuous charm of Keats, but the prose of Hume could not have presented the truths which they are designed to convey with more lucidity and precision. In that superb fragment the ‘Morte d’Arthur’ we have many of the noblest attributes of Epic poetry. ”none’ is the perfection of the classical idyll, ‘The Gardener’s Daughter’ and the idylls that follow it of the romantic. ‘Sir Galahad’ and ‘St. Agnes’ are in the vein of Keats and Coleridge, but Keats and Coleridge have produced nothing more exquisite and nothing so ethereal. ‘The Lotos* Eaters’ is perhaps the most purely delicious poem ever written, the ‘ne plus ultra’ of sensuous loveliness, and yet the poet who gave us that has given us also the political poems, poems as trenchant and austerely dignified in style as they are pregnant with practical wisdom. There is the same versatility displayed in the trifles.

But all is fragmentary. No thread strings these jewels. They form a collection of gems unset and unarranged. Without any system or any definite scope they have nothing of that unity in diversity which is so perceptible in the lyrics and minor poems of Goethe and Wordsworth. Capricious as the gyrations of a sea-gull seem the poet’s moods and movements. We have now the reveries of a love-sick maiden, now the picture of a soul wrestling with despair and death; here a study from rural life, or a study in character, there a sermon on politics, or a descent into the depths of psychological truth, or a sketch from nature. But nothing could be more concentrated than the power employed to shape each fragment into form. What Pope says of the ‘Aeneid’ may be applied with very literal truth to these poems:–

Finish’d the whole, and laboured every part With patient touches of unwearied art.

In the poems of 1842 we have the secret of Tennyson’s eminence as a poet as well as the secret of his limitations. He appears to have been constitutionally deficient in what the Greeks called ‘architektonike’, combination and disposition on a large scale. The measure of his power as a constructive artist is given us in the poem in which the English idylls may be said to culminate, namely, ‘Enoch Arden’. ‘In Memoriam’ and the ‘Idylls of the King’ have a sort of spiritual unity, but they are a series of fragments tacked rather than fused together. It is the same with ‘Maud’, and it is the same with ‘The Princess’. His poems have always a tendency to resolve themselves into a series of cameos: it is only the short poems which have organic unity. A gift of felicitous and musical expression which is absolutely marvellous; an instinctive sympathy with what is best and most elevated in the sphere of ordinary life, of ordinary thought and sentiment, of ordinary activity with consummate representative power; a most rare faculty of seizing and fixing in very perfect form what is commonly so inexpressible because so impalpable and evanescent in emotion and expression; a power of catching and rendering the charm of nature with a fidelity and vividness which resemble magic; and lastly, unrivalled skill in choosing, repolishing and remounting the gems which are our common inheritance from the past: these are the gifts which will secure permanence for his work as long as the English language lasts.

In his power of crystallising commonplaces he stands next to Pope, in subtle felicity of expression beside Virgil. And, when he says of Virgil that we find in his diction “all the grace of all the muses often flowering in one lonely word,” he says what is literally true of his own work. As a master of style his place is in the first rank among English classical poets. But his style is the perfection of art. His diction, like the diction of Milton and Gray, resembles mosaic work. With a touch here and a touch there, now from memory, now from unconscious assimilation, inlaying here an epithet and there a phrase, adding, subtracting, heightening, modifying, substituting one metaphor for another, developing what is latent in the suggestive imagery of a predecessor, laying under contribution the most intimate familiarity with what is best in the literature of the ancient and modern world, the unwearied artist toils patiently on till his precious mosaic work is without a flaw. All the resources of rhetoric are employed to give distinction to his style and every figure in rhetoric finds expression in his diction: Hypallage as in

_The pillard dusk_ Of sounding sycamores.

–_Audley Court_.

Paronomasia as in

The seawind sang _Shrill, chill_ with flakes of foam.

–_Morte d’Arthur_.

Oxymoron as

_Behold_ them _unbeheld, unheard Hear_ all.


Hyperbaton as in

The _dew-impearled_ winds of dawn.

–‘Ode to Memory’.

Metonymy as in

The _bright death_ quiver’d at the victim’s throat.

–‘Dream of Fair Women’.

or in

For some three _careless moans_ The summer pilot of an empty heart.

–‘Gardener’s Daughter’.

No poet since Milton has employed what is known as Onomatopoeia with so much effect. Not to go farther than the poems of 1842, we have in the ‘Morte d’Arthur’:–

So all day long the noise of battle _rolled Among the mountains by the winter sea_;


_Dry clashed_ his harness in the icy caves And _barren chasms_, and all to left and right The _bare black cliff clang’d round_ him, as he bas’d His feet _on juts of slippery crag that rang Sharp-smitten with the dint of armed heels_–

or the exquisite

I heard the _water lapping on the crag_, And the _long ripple washing in the reeds_.

So in ‘The Dying Swan’,

And _the wavy swell of the soughing reeds_.

See too the whole of ‘Oriana’ and the description of the dance at the beginning of ‘The Vision of Sin.’

Assonance, alliteration, the revival or adoption of obsolete and provincial words, the transplantation of phrases and idioms from the Greek and Latin languages, the employment of common words in uncommon senses, all are pressed into the service of adding distinction to his diction. His diction blends the two extremes of simplicity and artificiality, but with such fine tact that this strange combination has seldom the effect of incongruity. Longinus has remarked that “as the fainter lustre of the stars is put out of sight by the all-encompassing rays of the sun, so when sublimity sheds its light round the sophistries of rhetoric they become invisible”.[1] What Longinus says of “sublimity” is equally true of sincerity and truthfulness in combination with exquisitely harmonious expression. We have an illustration in Gray’s ‘Elegy’. Nothing could be more artificial than the style, but what poem in the world appeals more directly to the heart and to the eye? It is one thing to call art to the assistance of art, it is quite another thing to call art to the assistance of nature. And this is what both Gray and Tennyson do, and this is why their artificiality, so far from shocking us, “passes in music out of sight”. But this cannot be said of Tennyson without reserve. At times his strained endeavours to give distinction to his style by putting common things in an uncommon way led him into intolerable affectation. Thus we have “the knightly growth that fringed his lips” for a moustache, “azure pillars of the hearth” for ascending smoke, “ambrosial orbs” for apples, “frayed magnificence” for a shabby dress, “the secular abyss to come” for future ages, “the sinless years that breathed beneath the Syrian blue” for the life of Christ, “up went the hush’d amaze of hand and eye” for a gesture of surprise, and the like. One of the worst instances is in ‘In Memoriam’, where what is appropriate to the simple sentiment finds, as it should do, corresponding simplicity of expression in the first couplet, to collapse into the falsetto of strained artificiality in the second:–

To rest beneath the clover sod
That takes the sunshine and the rains, _Or where the kneeling hamlet drains
The chalice of the grapes of God_.

An illustration of the same thing, almost as offensive, is in ‘Enoch Arden’, where, in an otherwise studiously simple diction, Enoch’s wares as a fisherman become

Enoch’s _ocean spoil_
In ocean-smelling osier.

But these peculiarities are less common in the earlier poems than in the later: it was a vicious habit which grew on him.

But, if exception may sometimes be taken to his diction, no exception can be taken to his rhythm. No English poet since Milton, Tennyson’s only superior in this respect, had a finer ear or a more consummate mastery over all the resources of rhythmical expression. What colours are to a painter rhythm is, in description, to the poet, and few have rivalled, none have excelled Tennyson in this. Take the following:–

And ghastly thro’ the drizzling rain _On the bald street strikes the blank day_.

–‘In Memoriam’.

See particularly ‘In Memoriam’, cvii., the lines beginning “Fiercely flies,” to “darken on the rolling brine”: the description of the island in ‘Enoch Arden’; but specification is needless, it applies to all his descriptive poetry. It is marvellous that he can produce such effects by such simple means: a mere enumeration of particulars will often do it, as here:–

No gray old grange or lonely fold,
Or low morass and whispering reed, Or simple style from mead to mead,
Or sheep walk up the windy wold.

–‘In Memoriam’, c.

Or here:–

The meal sacks on the whitened floor, The dark round of the dripping wheel,
The very air about the door Made misty with the floating meal.

–‘The Miller’s Daughter’.

His blank verse is best described by negatives. It has not the endless variety, the elasticity and freedom of Shakespeare’s, it has not the massiveness and majesty of Milton’s, it has not the austere grandeur of Wordsworth’s at its best, it has not the wavy swell, “the linked sweetness long drawn out” of Shelley’s, but its distinguishing feature is, if we may use the expression, its importunate beauty. What Coleridge said of Claudian’s style may be applied to it: “Every line, nay every word stops, looks full in your face and asks and begs for praise”. His earlier blank verse is less elaborate and seemingly more spontaneous and easy than his later. [2] But it is in his lyric verse that his rhythm is seen in its greatest perfection. No English lyrics have more magic or more haunting beauty, more of that which charms at once and charms for ever.

In his description of nature he is incomparable. Take the following from ‘The Dying Swan’:–

Some blue peaks in the distance rose, And white against the cold-white sky,
Shone out their crowning snows.
One willow over the river wept,
And shook the wave as the wind did sigh; Above in the wind was the swallow,
Chasing itself at its own wild will,

or the opening scene in ”none’ and in ‘The Lotos Eaters’, or the meadow scene in ‘The Gardener’s Daughter’, or the conclusion of ‘Audley Court’, or the forest scene in the ‘Dream of Fair Women’, or this stanza in ‘Mariana in the South’:–

There all in spaces rosy-bright
Large Hesper glitter’d on her tears, And deepening through the silent spheres, Heaven over Heaven rose the night.

A single line, nay, a single word, and a scene is by magic before us, as here where the sea is looked down upon from an immense height:–

The _wrinkled_ sea beneath him _crawls_.

–‘The Eagle’.

Or here of a ship at sea, in the distance:–

And on through zones of light and shadow _Glimmer away to the lonely deep_.

–‘To the Rev. F. D. Maurice’.

Or here of waters falling high up on mountains:–

Their thousand _wreaths of dangling water-smoke_.

–‘The Princess’.

Or of a water-fall seen at a distance:–

And _like a downward smoke_ the slender stream Along the cliff _to fall and pause and fall_ did seem.

Or here again:–

We left the dying ebb that _faintly lipp’d The flat red granite_.

Or here of a wave:–

Like a wave in the wild North Sea
_Green glimmering toward the summit_ bears with all _Its stormy crests that smoke_ against the skies Down on a bark.


That beech will _gather brown_,
This _maple burn itself away_.

–‘In Memoriam’.

The _wide-wing’d sunset_ of the misty marsh.

–‘Last Tournament’.

But illustrations would be endless. Nothing seems to escape him in Nature. Take the following:–

Like _a purple beech among the greens Looks out of place_.

–‘Edwin Morris’.


Delays _as the tender ash delays
To clothe herself, when all the woods are green_.

–‘The Princess’.

As _black as ash-buds in the front of March_.

–‘The Gardener’s Daughter’.

A gusty April morn
That _puff’d_ the swaying _branches into smoke_.

–‘Holy Grail’.

So with flowers, trees, birds and insects:–

The fox-glove _clusters dappled bells_.

–‘The Two Voices’.

The sunflower:–

_Rays round with flame its disk of seed_.

–‘In Memoriam’.

The dog-rose:–

_Tufts of rosy-tinted snow_.

–‘Two Voices’.

A _million emeralds_ break from the _ruby-budded lime_.


In gloss and hue the chestnut, _when the shell Divides threefold to show the fruit within_.

–‘The Brook’.

Or of a chrysalis:–

And flash’d as those
_Dull-coated_ things, _that making slide apart Their dusk wing cases, all beneath there burns A Jewell’d harness_, ere they pass and fly.

–‘Gareth and Lynette’.

So again:–

Wan-sallow, as _the plant that feeds itself, Root-bitten by white lichen_.


And again:–

All the _silvery gossamers_
That _twinkle into green and gold_.

–‘In Memoriam’.

His epithets are in themselves a study: “the _dewy-tassell’d_ wood,” “the _tender-pencill’d_ shadow,” “_crimson-circl’d_ star,” the “_hoary_ clematis,” “_creamy_ spray,” “_dry-tongued_ laurels”. But whatever he describes is described with the same felicitous vividness. How magical is this in the verses to Edward Lear:–

Naiads oar’d
A _glimmering shoulder_ under _gloom_ Of _cavern pillars_.

Or this:–

She lock’d her lips: she left me where I stood: “Glory to God,” she sang, and past afar, Thridding the sombre boskage of the wood, Toward the morning-star.

–‘A Dream of Fair Women’.

But if in the world of Nature nothing escaped his sensitive and sympathetic observation,–and indeed it might be said of him as truly as of Shelley’s ‘Alastor’

Every sight
And sound from the vast earth and ambient air Sent to his heart its choicest impulses,

–he had studied the world of books with not less sympathy and attention. In the sense of a profound and extensive acquaintance with all that is best in ancient and modern poetry, and in an extraordinarily wide knowledge of general literature, of philosophy and theology, of geography and travel, and of various branches of natural science, he is one of the most erudite of English poets. With the poetry of the Greek and Latin classics he was, like Milton and Gray, thoroughly saturated. Its influence penetrates his work, now in indirect reminiscence, now in direct imitation, now inspiring, now modifying, now moulding. He tells us in ‘The Daisy’ how when at Como “the rich Virgilian rustic measure of ‘Lari Maxume'” haunted him all day, and in a later fragment how, as he rowed from Desenzano to Sirmio, Catullus was with him. And they and their brethren, from Homer to Theocritus, from Lucretius to Claudian, always were with him. I have illustrated so fully in the notes and elsewhere [1] the influence of the Greek and Roman classics on the poems of 1842 that it is not necessary to go into detail here. But a few examples of the various ways in which they affected Tennyson’s work generally may be given. Sometimes he transfers a happy epithet or expression in literal translation, as in:–

On either _shining_ shoulder laid a hand,

which is Homer’s epithet for the shoulder–

[Greek: ana phaidimps omps]

–‘Od’., xi., 128.

It was the red cock _shouting_ to the light,

exactly the

[Greek: heos eboaesen alektor] (Until the cock _shouted_).

–‘Batrachomyomachia’, 192.

And all in passion utter’d a ‘dry’ shriek,

which is the ‘sicca vox’ of the Roman poets. So in ‘The Lotos Eaters’:–

His voice was _thin_ as voices from the grave,

which is Theocritus’ voice of Hylas from his watery grave:–

[Greek: araia d’ Iketo ph_ona]

(_Thin_ came the voice).

So in ‘The Princess’, sect. i.:–

And _cook’d his spleen_,

which is a phrase from the Greek, as in Homer, ‘Il’., iv., 513:–

[Greek: epi naeusi cholon thumalgea pessei]

(At the ships he cooks his heart-grieving spleen).

Again in ‘The Princess’, sect. iv.:–

_Laugh’d with alien lips_,

which is Homer’s (‘Od’., 69-70)–

[Greek: did’ aedae gnathmoisi gelps_on allotrioisi]

So in ‘Edwin Morris’–

All perfect, finished _to the finger nail_,

which is a phrase transferred from Latin through the Greek; ‘cf.’, Horace, ‘Sat’., i., v., 32:–

_Ad unguem_ Factus homo

(A man fashioned to the finger nail).

“The _brute_ earth,” ‘In Memoriam’, cxxvii., which is Horace’s

_Bruta_ tellus.

–‘Odes’, i., xxxiv., 9.

So again:–

A bevy of roses _apple-cheek’d_

in ‘The Island’, which is Theocritus’ [Greek: maloparaeos]. The line in the ‘Morte d’Arthur’,

This way and that, dividing the swift mind,

is an almost literal translation of Virgil’s ‘Aen’., iv., 285:–

Atque animum nunc huc celerem nunc dividit illuc

(And this way and that he divides his swift mind).

Another way in which they affect him is where, without direct imitation, they colour passages and poems as in ‘Oenone’, ‘The Lotos Eaters’, ‘Tithonus’, ‘Tiresias’, ‘The Death of Oenone’, ‘Demeter and Persephone’, the passage beginning “From the woods” in ‘The Gardener’s Daughter’, which is a parody of Theocritus, ‘Id.’, vii., 139 ‘seq.’, while the Cyclops’ invocation to Galatea in Theocritus, ‘Id.’, xi., 29-79, was plainly the model for the idyll, “Come down, O Maid,” in the seventh section of ‘The Princess’, just as the tournament in the same poem recalls closely the epic of Homer and Virgil. Tennyson had a wonderful way of transfusing, as it were, the essence of some beautiful passage in a Greek or Roman poet into English. A striking illustration of this would be the influence of reminiscences of Virgil’s fourth ‘Aeneid’ on the idyll of ‘Elaine and Guinevere’. Compare, for instance, the following: he is describing the love-wasted Elaine, as she sits brooding in the lonely evening, with the shadow of the wished-for death falling on her:–

But when they left her to herself again, Death, like a friend’s voice from a distant field, Approaching through the darkness, call’d; the owls Wailing had power upon her, and she mix’d Her fancies with the sallow-rifted glooms Of evening and the moanings of the wind.

How exactly does this recall, in a manner to be felt rather than exactly defined, a passage equally exquisite and equally pathetic in Virgil’s picture of Dido, where, with the shadow of her death also falling upon her, she seems to hear the phantom voice of her dead husband, and “mixes her fancies” with the glooms of night and the owl’s funereal wail:–

Hinc exaudiri voces et verba vocantis Visa viri, nox quum terras obscura teneret; Solaque culminibus ferali carmine bubo
Saepe queri, et longas in fletum ducere voces.

–‘Aen’., iv., 460.

(From it she thought she clearly heard a voice, even the accents of her husband calling her when night was wrapping the earth with darkness; and on the roof the lonely owl in funereal strains kept oft complaining, drawing out into a wail its protracted notes.)

Similar passages, though not so striking, would be the picture of Pindar’s Elysium in ‘Tiresias’, the sentiment pervading ‘The Lotos Eaters’ transferred so faithfully from the Greek poets, the scenery in ”none’ so crowded with details from Homer, Theocritus and Callimachus. Sometimes we find similes suggested by the classical poets, but enriched by touches from original observation, as here in ‘The Princess’:–

As one that climbs a peak to gaze
O’er land and main, and sees a great black cloud Drag inward from the deeps, a wall of night Blot out the slope of sea from verge to shore. …
And quenching lake by lake and tarn by tarn Expunge the world,

which was plainly suggested by Homer, iv., 275:–

[Greek: hos d’ hot apo skopiaes eide nephos aipolos anaer erchomenon kata ponton hupo Zephuroio i_oaes tps de t’ aneuthen eonti, melanteron aeute pissa, phainet ion kata ponton, agei de te lailapa pollaen.]

(As when a goat-herd from some hill-peak sees a cloud coming across the deep with the blast of the west wind behind it; and to him, being as he is afar, it seems blacker, even as pitch, as it goes along the deep, bringing with it a great whirlwind.)

So again the fine simile in ‘Elaine’, beginning

Bare as a wild wave in the wide North Sea,

is at least modelled on the simile in ‘Iliad’, xv., 381-4, with reminiscences of the same similes in ‘Iliad’, xv., 624, and ‘Iliad’, iv., 42-56. The simile in the first section of the ‘Princess’,

As when a field of corn
Bows all its ears before the roaring East,

reminds us of Homer’s

[Greek: hos d’ ote kinaesae Zephyros Bathulaeion, elthon labros, epaigixon, epi t’ aemuei astachuessin]

(As when the west wind tosses a deep cornfield rushing down with furious blast, and it bows with all its ears.)

Nothing could be more happy than such an adaptation as the following–

Ever fail’d to draw
The quiet night into her blood,

from Virgil, ‘Aen’., iv., 530:–

Neque unquam Solvitur in somnos _oculisve aut pectore noctem Accipit_.

(And she never relaxes into sleep, or receives the night in eyes or bosom),

or than the following (in ‘Enid’) from Theocritus:–

Arms on which the standing muscle sloped, As slopes a wild brook o’er a little stone, Running too vehemently to break upon it.

[Greek: en de mues stereoisi brachiosin akron hyp’ _omon estasan, aeute petroi oloitrochoi ous te kylind_on cheimarrhous potamos megalais periexese dinais.]

–‘Idyll’, xxii., 48 ‘seq.’

(And the muscles on his brawny arms close under the shoulder stood out like boulders which the wintry torrent has rolled and worn smooth with the mighty eddies.)

But there was another use to which Tennyson applied his accurate and intimate acquaintance with the classics. It lay in developing what was suggested by them, in unfolding, so to speak, what was furled in their imagery. Nothing is more striking in ancient classical poetry than its pregnant condensation. It often expresses in an epithet what might be expanded into a detailed picture, or calls up in a single phrase a whole scene or a whole position. Where in ‘Merlin and Vivian’ Tennyson described

The _blind wave feeling round his long sea hall In silence_,

he was merely unfolding to its full Homer’s [Greek: kuma k_ophon]–“dumb wave”; just as the best of all comments on Horace’s expression, “Vultus nimium lubricus aspici,” ‘Odes’, I., xix., 8, is given us in Tennyson’s picture of the Oread in Lucretius:–

How the sun delights
To _glance and shift about her slippery sides_.

Or take again this passage in the ‘Agamemnon’, 404-5, describing Menelaus pining in his desolate palace for the lost Helen:–

[Greek: pothoi d’ uperpontias phasma doxei dom_on anassein.]

(And in his yearning love for her who is over the sea a phantom will seem to reign over his palace.)

What are the lines in ‘Guinevere’ but an expansion of what is latent but unfolded in the pregnant suggestiveness of the Greek poet:–

And in thy bowers of Camelot or of Usk Thy shadow still would glide from room to room, And I should evermore be vex’d with thee In hanging robe or vacant ornament,
Or ghostly foot-fall echoing on the stair–

with a reminiscence also perhaps of Constance’s speech in ‘King John’, III., iv.

It need hardly be said that these particular passages, and possibly some of the others, may be mere coincidences, but they illustrate what numberless other passages which could be cited prove that Tennyson’s careful and meditative study of the Greek and Roman poets enabled him to enrich his work by these felicitous adaptations.

He used those poets as his master Virgil used his Greek predecessors, and what the elder Seneca said of Ovid, who had appropriated a line from Virgil, might exactly be applied to Tennyson: “Fecisse quod in multis aliis versibus Virgilius fecerat, non surripiendi causa sed palam imitandi, hoc animo ut vellet agnosci”.[4]

He had plainly studied with equal attention the chief Italian poets, especially Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto and Tasso. On a passage in Dante he founded his ‘Ulysses’, and imitations of that master are frequent throughout his poems. ‘In Memoriam’, both in its general scheme as well as in numberless particular passages, closely recalls Petrarch; and Ariosto and Tasso have each influenced his work. In the poetry of his own country nothing seems to have escaped him, either in the masters or the minor poets.[5] To apply the term plagiarism to Tennyson’s use of his predecessors would be as absurd as to resolve some noble fabric into its stones and bricks, and confounding the one with the other to taunt the architect with appropriating an honour which belongs to the quarry and the potter. Tennyson’s method was exactly the method of two of the greatest poets in the world, Virgil and Milton, of the poet who stands second to Virgil in Roman poetry, Horace, of one of the most illustrious of our own minor poets, Gray.

An artist more fastidious than Tennyson never existed. As scrupulous a purist in language as Cicero, Chesterfield and Macaulay in prose, as Virgil, Milton, and Leopardi in verse, his care extended to the nicest minutiae of word-forms. Thus “ancle” is always spelt with a “c” when it stands alone, with a “k” when used in compounds; thus he spelt “Idylls” with one “l” in the short poems, with two “l’s” in the epic poems; thus the employment of “through” or “thro’,” of “bad” or “bade,” and the retention or suppression of “e” in past participles are always carefully studied. He took immense pains to avoid the clash of “s” with “s,” and to secure the predominance of open vowels when rhythm rendered them appropriate. Like the Greek painter with his partridge, he thought nothing of sacrificing good things if, in any way, they interfered with unity and symmetry, and thus, his son tells us, many stanzas, in themselves of exquisite beauty, have been lost to us.

[Footnote 1: ‘De Sublimitate,’ xvii.]

[Footnote 2: Tennyson’s blank verse in the _Idylls of the King_ (excepting in the _Morte d’Arthur_ and in the grander passages), is obviously modelled in rhythm on that of Shakespeare’s earlier style seen to perfection in _King John_. Compare the following lines with the rhythm say of _Elaine_ or _Guinevere_;–

But now will canker sorrow eat my bud, And chase the native beauty from his cheek, And he will look as hollow as a ghost;
As dim and meagre as an ague’s fit: And so he’ll die; and, rising so again, When I shall meet him in the court of heaven I shall not know him: therefore never, never Must I behold my pretty Arthur more.

–_King John_, III., iv.]

[Footnote 3: ‘Illustrations of Tennyson’.]

[Footnote 4: Seneca, third ‘Suasoria’.]

[Footnote 5: For fuller illustrations of all this, and for the influence of the ancient classics on Tennyson, I may perhaps venture to refer the reader to my ‘Illustrations of Tennyson’. And may I here take the opportunity of pointing out that nothing could have been farther from my intention in that book than what has so often been most unfairly attributed to it, namely, an attempt to show that a charge of plagiarism might be justly urged against Tennyson. No honest critic, who had even cursorily inspected the book, could so utterly misrepresent its purpose.]


Tennyson’s place is not among the “lords of the visionary eye,” among seers, among prophets, but not the least part of the debt which his countrymen owe to him is his dedication of his art to the noblest purposes. At a time when poetry was beginning to degenerate into what it has now almost universally become–a mere sense-pampering siren, and when critics were telling us, as they are still telling us, that we are to understand by it “all literary production which attains the power of giving pleasure by its form as distinct from its matter,” he remained true to the creed of his great predecessors. “L’art pour art,” he would say, quoting Georges Sand, “est un vain mot: l’art pour le vrai, l’art pour le beau et le bon, voila la religion que je cherche.” When he succeeded to the laureateship he was proud to remember that the wreath which had descended to him was

greener from the brows
Of him that utter’d nothing base,

and he was a loyal disciple of that poet whose aim had been, in his own words, “to console the afflicted, to add sunshine to daylight by making the happy happier, to teach the young and the gracious of every age to see, to think, to feel, and therefore to become more actively and securely virtuous”. [1] Wordsworth had said that he wished to be regarded as a teacher or as nothing, but unhappily he did not always distinguish between the way in which a poet and a philosopher should teach. He forgot that the didactic element in a poem should be, to employ a homely illustration, what garlic should be in a salad, “scarce suspected, animate the whole,” that the poet teaches not as the moralist and the preacher teach, but as nature and life teach us. He taught us when he wrote ‘The Fountain’ and ‘The Highland Reaper, The Leach-gatherer’ and ‘Michael’, he merely wearied us when he sermonised in ‘The Excursion’ and in ‘The Prelude’. Tennyson never makes this mistake. He is seldom directly didactic. Would he inculcate subjugation to the law of duty–he gives us the funeral ode on Wellington, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’, and ‘Love and Duty’. Would he inculcate resignation to the will of God, and the moral efficacy of conventional Christianity–he gives us ‘Enoch Arden’. Would he picture the endless struggle between the sensual and the spiritual, and the relation of ideals to life–he gives us the ‘Idylls of the King’. Would he point to what atheism may lead–he gives us ‘Lucretius’. Poems which are masterpieces of sensuous art, such as mere aesthetes, like Rosetti and his school, must contemplate with admiring despair, he makes vehicles of the most serious moral and spiritual teaching. ‘The Vision of Sin’ is worth a hundred sermons on the disastrous effects of unbridled profligacy. In ‘The Palace of Art’ we have the quintessence of ‘The Book of Ecclesiastes’ and much more besides. Even in ‘The Lotos Eaters’ we have the mirror held up to Hedonism. On the education of the affections and on the purity of domestic life must depend very largely, not merely the happiness of individuals, but the well-being of society, and how wide a space is filled by poems in Tennyson’s works bearing influentially on these subjects is obvious. And they admit us into a pleasaunce with which it is good to be familiar, so pure and wholesome is their atmosphere, so tranquilly beautiful the world in which the characters move and the little dramas unfold themselves. They preach nothing, but deep into every heart must sink their silent lessons. “Upon the sacredness of home life,” writes his son, “he would maintain that the stability and greatness of a nation largely depend; and one of the secrets of his power over mankind was his true joy in the family duties and affections.” What sermons have we in ‘The Miller’s Daughter’, in ‘Dora’, in ‘The Gardener’s Daughter’ and in ‘Love and Duty’. ‘The Princess’ was a direct contribution to a social question of momentous importance to our time. ‘Maud’ had an immediate political purpose, while in ‘In Memoriam’ he became the interpreter and teacher of his generation in a still higher sense.

Since Shakespeare no English poet has been so essentially patriotic, or appealed so directly to the political conscience of the nation. In his noble eulogies of the English constitution and of the virtue and wisdom of its architects, in his spirit-stirring pictures of the heroic actions of our forefathers and contemporaries both by land and sea, in his passionate denunciations of all that he believed would detract from England’s greatness and be prejudicial to her real interests, in his hearty sympathy with every movement and with every measure which he believed would contribute to her honour and her power, in all this he stands alone among modern poets. But if he loved England as Shakespeare loved her, he had other lessons than Shakespeare’s to teach her. The responsibilities imposed on the England of our time–and no poet knew this better–are very different from those imposed on the England of Elizabeth. An empire vaster and more populous than that of the Caesars has since then been added to our dominion. Millions, indeed, who are of the same blood as ourselves and who speak our language have, by the folly of common ancestors, become aliens. But how immense are the realms peopled by the colonies which are still loyal to us, and by the three hundred millions who in India own us as their rulers: of this vast empire England is now the capital and centre. That she should fulfil completely and honourably the duties to which destiny has called her will be the prayer of every patriot, that he should by his own efforts contribute all in his power to further such fulfilment must be his earnest desire. It would be no exaggeration to say that Tennyson contributed more than any man who has ever lived to what may be called the higher political education of the English-speaking races. Of imperial federation he was at once the apostle and the pioneer. In poetry which appealed as probably no other poetry has appealed to every class, wherever our language is spoken, he dwelt fondly on all that constitutes the greatness and glory of England, on her grandeur in the past, on the magnificent promise of the part she will play in the future, if her sons are true to her. There should be no distinction, for she recognises no distinction between her children at home and her children in her colonies. She is the common mother of a common race: one flag, one sceptre, the same proud ancestry, the same splendid inheritance. “How strange England cannot see,” he once wrote, “that her true policy lies in a close union with her colonies.”

Sharers of our glorious past,
Shall we not thro’ good and ill
Cleave to one another still?
Britain’s myriad voices call,
Sons be welded all and all
Into one imperial whole,
One with Britain, heart and soul!
One life, one flag, one fleet, one Throne!

Thus did the poetry of Tennyson draw closer, and thus will it continue to draw closer those sentimental ties–ties, in Burke’s phrase, “light as air, but strong as links of iron,” which bind the colonies to the mother country; and in so doing, if he did not actually initiate, he furthered, as no other single man has furthered, the most important movement of our time. Nor has any man of genius in the present century–not Dickens, not Ruskin–been moved by a purer spirit of philanthropy, or done more to show how little the qualities and actions which dignify humanity depend, or need depend, on the accidents of fortune. He brought poetry into touch with the discoveries of science, and with the speculations of theology and metaphysics, and though, in treating such subjects, his power is not, perhaps, equal to his charm, the debt which his countrymen owe him, even intellectually, is incalculable.

[Footnote 1: See Wordsworth’s letter to Lady Beaumont, ‘Prose Works’, vol. ii., p. 176.]




To the Queen
Claribel: a Melody
To—-(“Clear-headed friend, whose joyful scorn”) Madeline
Song–The Owl
Second Song to the Same
Recollections of the Arabian Nights Ode to Memory
Song (“A spirit haunts the year’s last hours”) Adeline
A Character
The Poet
The Poet’s Mind
The Sea-Fairies
The Deserted House
The Dying Swan
A Dirge
Love and Death
The Ballad of Oriana
The Merman
The Mermaid
Sonnet to J. M. K.
The Lady of Shalott
Mariana in the South
The Miller’s Daughter
Fatima *
The Sisters
To—–(“I send you here a sort of allegory”) The Palace of Art
Lady Clara Vere de Vere
The May Queen
New Year’s Eve
The Lotos-Eaters
Dream of Fair Women
The Blackbird
The Death of the Old Year
To J. S.
“You ask me, why, tho’ ill at ease” “Of old sat Freedom on the heights”
“Love thou thy land, with love far-brought” The Goose
The Epic
Morte d’Arthur
The Gardener’s Daughter; or, The Pictures Dora
Audley Court
Walking to the Mail
Edwin Morris; or, The Lake
St. Simeon Stylites
The Talking Oak
Love and Duty
The Golden Year
Locksley Hall
The Two Voices
The Day-Dream:–Prologue
The Sleeping Palace
The Sleeping Beauty
The Arrival
The Revival
The Departure
St. Agnes
Sir Galahad
Edward Gray
Will Waterproofs Lyrical Monologue To—-, after reading a Life and Letters To E.L., on his Travels in Greece
Lady Clare
The Lord of Burleigh
Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere: a Fragment A Farewell
The Beggar Maid
The Vision of Sin
“Come not, when I am dead”
The Eagle
“Move eastward, happy earth, and leave” “Break, break, break”
The Poet’s Song


The “How” and the “Why”
Supposed Confessions
The Burial of Love
To—-(“Sainted Juliet! dearest name !”) Song (“I’ the glooming light”)
Song (“The lintwhite and the throstlecock”) Song (“Every day hath its night”)
Nothing will Die
All Things will Die
Hero to Leander
The Mystic
The Grasshopper
Love, Pride and Forgetfulness
Chorus (“The varied earth, the moving heaven”) Lost Hope
The Tears of Heaven
Love and Sorrow
To a Lady Sleeping
Sonnet (“Could I outwear my present state of woe”) Sonnet (“Though Night hath climbed her peak of highest noon”) Sonnet (“Shall the hag Evil die with child of Good”) Sonnet (“The pallid thunderstricken sigh for gain”) Love
The Kraken
English War Song
National Song
We are Free
[Greek: oi rheontes]
“Mine be the strength of spirit, full and free” To–(“All good things have not kept aloof) Buonaparte
Sonnet (“Oh, Beauty, passing beauty! sweetest Sweet!”) The Hesperides
Song (“The golden apple, the golden apple, the hallowed fruit”) Rosalind
Song (“Who can say”)
Sonnet (“Blow ye the trumpet, gather from afar”) Poland
To–(“As when with downcast eyes we muse and brood”) O Darling Room
To Christopher North
The Skipping Rope



This dedication was first prefixed to the seventh edition of these poems in 1851, Tennyson having succeeded Wordsworth as Poet Laureate, 19th Nov., 1850.

Revered, beloved [1]–O you that hold A nobler office upon earth
Than arms, or power of brain, or birth Could give the warrior kings of old,

Victoria, [2]–since your Royal grace To one of less desert allows
This laurel greener from the brows Of him that utter’d nothing base;

And should your greatness, and the care That yokes with empire, yield you time
To make demand of modern rhyme
If aught of ancient worth be there;

Then–while [3] a sweeter music wakes, And thro’ wild March the throstle calls, Where all about your palace-walls
The sun-lit almond-blossom shakes–

Take, Madam, this poor book of song; For tho’ the faults were thick as dust
In vacant chambers, I could trust
Your kindness. [4] May you rule us long.

And leave us rulers of your blood
As noble till the latest day!
May children of our children say,
“She wrought her people lasting good; [5]