Selected Poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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Notes on Selected Poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. This set of Tower Notes is 65 pages long and is sold as a fully illustrated PDF file.

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The poems covered are: Mariana, The Lady of Shalott, The Lotos-Eaters, Ulysses, Tithonus, St Agnes' Eve, 'Break, break, break', Locksley Hall, To Virgil, The Brook, Godiva, Crossing the Bar.

A free sample, text only, is provided below, taken from the beginning and middle of the notes.

INTRODUCTION: TENNYSON AND PURITY

The first volume of Tennyson’s poetry that was deemed worthy of notice by the influential Quarterly Review was his Poems of 1832. His efforts, including early versions of The Lady of Shalott and The Lotos-Eaters , were famously butchered by the same critic (John Wilson Croker) who was reputed to have sent Keats to an early death with his review of Endymion . The common ground between the two poets was not lost on Croker, who immediately makes the comparison in his most sarcastic terms, calling the young Tennyson, ‘another and a brighter star of that galaxy or milky way of poetry of which the lamented Keats was the harbinger’ ( Quarterly Review , Spring 1833). Like Keats, Tennyson is indeed one of the most sensuous of English poets, and yet one of the inescapable themes of his work is a denial of the senses. Very often this is a denial of natural beauty, or even passion itself, its richness seemingly too laden with goodness for the human heart to bear.

That Tennyson was singularly aware of the comparison with Keats – and perhaps uncomfortable with it – is strongly implied by his publication in 1837 of St Agnes Eve , which makes for a fascinating comparison with the earlier poet’s much more famous Eve of St Agnes . Tennyson preserves the freezing cold of the opening, and even includes a verbal echo, which may have inspired the whole theme of the later poem. The pious frigidity of Keat’s ‘beadsman’ opens the earlier poem to provide a contrast with the warmth and sensuality of the love scenes which follow (Keats is also reminding his readers that St Agnes’ Eve is January 19th, in the very dead of winter):

his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem'd taking flight for heaven,

Tennyson responds with the nun of his poem soliloquising that:

My breath to heaven like vapour goes:
May my soul follow soon!

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Alfred, Lord Tennyson