Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) born on August 6, 1809, remains one of Britain’s most popular poets; he served as the Poet Laureate from 1850 until his death in 1892, the longest tenure of any English Poet Laureate. In 1883, he was elevated to the peerage, after twice declining the honour. In 1884, Queen Victoria created him Baron Tennyson, of Aldworth in the County of Sussex and of Freshwater in the Isle of Wight. Tennyson was the first author to be raised to the British peerage for his writing. His father was an Anglican clergyman and his mother was a vicar’s daughter. Tennyson’s first major award, the Chancellor’s Gold Medal, was bestowed in 1829 while he was a student at Cambridge, for his poem ‘Timbuktu” when he was 20 years old. But he had to leave Cambridge before taking his degree because of the death of his father in 1831. He spent the next six years looking after his widowed mother and his brothers and sisters. In 1833, Tennyson published his second book of poems, which included the original version “The Lady of Shalott,” but it met with such heavy criticism that he published nothing for the next ten years. The family’s fortunes declined, and they moved to more modest housing. In 1842, Tennyson’s two-volume Poems, which included the revised version of “The Lady of Shalott,” as well as some of his best-loved poems: “Locksley Hall.” “Ulysses,” and “Break, Break, Break.” This established him as a successful poet. In 1850, William Wordsworth, the Poet Laureate, died. Samuel Rogers refused the appointment, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Leigh Hunt were considered, but Tennyson was chosen. He served for 42 years until his death in 1892 at age 83. He was buried in Poets’ Corner, at Westminster Abbey. Lady Tennyson wrote music for her husband’s last poem “The Silent Voices” which was sung by the choir. He was laid between John Dryden and Robert Browning in front of Chaucer’s monument.
To read Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses” click:
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
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.
“Ulysses” from Poems – 1842, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson