10 Most Famous Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson

Active in the nineteenth century, Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892) was the leading poet of the Victorian age who remains one of the most renowned poets in the English language and among the most frequently quoted writers. He was appointed the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom in 1850 and held the position for a record 42 years till his death in 1892. Tennyson was influenced by the writers of the Romantic Age before him as is evident from the richness of his imagery and descriptive writing. He used a wide range of subject matter ranging from medieval legends to classical myths and from domestic situations to observations of nature. Here are the 10 most famous poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson.



#10 Locksley Hall

Published:1842

Excerpt:-

Comrades, leave me here a little, while as yet 't is early morn:
Leave me here, and when you want me, sound upon the bugle-horn.

'T is the place, and all around it, as of old, the curlews call,
Dreary gleams about the moorland flying over Locksley Hall;

Locksley Hall, that in the distance overlooks the sandy tracts,
And the hollow ocean-ridges roaring into cataracts.

Many a night from yonder ivied casement, ere I went to rest,
Did I look on great Orion sloping slowly to the West.

Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro' the mellow shade,
Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.

Here about the beach I wander'd, nourishing a youth sublime
With the fairy tales of science, and the long result of Time;

When the centuries behind me like a fruitful land reposed;
When I clung to all the present for the promise that it closed:

When I dipt into the future far as human eye could see;
Saw the Vision of the world and all the wonder that would be.—

In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin's breast;
In the Spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest;

In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish'd dove;
In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

In this poem, the narrator takes leave from his friends to spend some time alone to muse about the past and the future at his childhood home, the fictional Locksley Hall. He has been rejected by a woman and he begins by an angry outburst at his former sweetheart and her husband. He then directs his tirade at other issues in society, primarily materialism taking precedence over love. He hypes up the beauty of the noble savage but ultimately gives preference to the progress civilization has made. He then turns his back on Locksley Hall and marches forth to meet his comrades. According to Tennyson, the poem represents “young life, its good side, its deficiencies, and its yearnings”. Locksley Hall contains several famous lines like “knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers”.


#9 The Eagle

Published:1851

Poem:-

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Synopsis:-

This poem is one of Lord Tennyson’s shortest pieces of literature. It consists of only two stanzas of three lines each. Literary scholars often cite the shortness of the poem to emphasize the deeper meaning in nature itself, that the readers have to find themselves. In the poem, Tennyson uses the technique of alliteration, which is repetition of similar sounds in the beginning of words, like in the words ‘clasps,’ ‘crag’ and ‘crooked’ in the first line. The hard ‘c’ sound is used to make the reader stop and consider the meaning of the line. In addition to alliteration, Tennyson uses personification (crooked ‘hands’) and simile (‘like a thunderbolt’) to enhance the reader’s experience of imagining an eagle.


#8 Tears, Idle Tears

Published:1847

Poem:-

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

         Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

         Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awaken'd birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

         Dear as remember'd kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feign'd
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more!

Synopsis:-

The Princess is a long narrative poem by Alfred Tennyson divided into multiple sections. This poem is the most well-known part of The Princess. It is written in blank verse, i.e. verse which is metrically regular but without rhyme. Tennyson was inspired to write the poem after a visit to Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire, an abbey that was abandoned in 1536. Tintern Abbey also features in another popular poem, written by William Wordsworth. Tennyson’s poem laments “the days that are no more” and describes the past as a “Death in Life”. It is regarded highly by critics for the quality of its lyric and has been set to music a number of times.



#7 Tithonus

Published:1860

Poem:-

The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan.
Me only cruel immortality
Consumes: I wither slowly in thine arms,
Here at the quiet limit of the world,
A white-hair'd shadow roaming like a dream
The ever-silent spaces of the East,
Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn.

         Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man—
So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,
Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem'd
To his great heart none other than a God!
I ask'd thee, 'Give me immortality.'
Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile,
Like wealthy men, who care not how they give.
But thy strong Hours indignant work'd their wills,
And beat me down and marr'd and wasted me,
And tho' they could not end me, left me maim'd
To dwell in presence of immortal youth,
Immortal age beside immortal youth,
And all I was, in ashes. Can thy love,
Thy beauty, make amends, tho' even now,
Close over us, the silver star, thy guide,
Shines in those tremulous eyes that fill with tears
To hear me? Let me go: take back thy gift:
Why should a man desire in any way
To vary from the kindly race of men
Or pass beyond the goal of ordinance
Where all should pause, as is most meet for all?

         A soft air fans the cloud apart; there comes
A glimpse of that dark world where I was born.
Once more the old mysterious glimmer steals
From thy pure brows, and from thy shoulders pure,
And bosom beating with a heart renew'd.
Thy cheek begins to redden thro' the gloom,
Thy sweet eyes brighten slowly close to mine,
Ere yet they blind the stars, and the wild team
Which love thee, yearning for thy yoke, arise,
And shake the darkness from their loosen'd manes,
And beat the twilight into flakes of fire.

         Lo! ever thus thou growest beautiful
In silence, then before thine answer given
Departest, and thy tears are on my cheek.

         Why wilt thou ever scare me with thy tears,
And make me tremble lest a saying learnt,
In days far-off, on that dark earth, be true?
'The Gods themselves cannot recall their gifts.'

         Ay me! ay me! with what another heart
In days far-off, and with what other eyes
I used to watch—if I be he that watch'd—
The lucid outline forming round thee; saw
The dim curls kindle into sunny rings;
Changed with thy mystic change, and felt my blood
Glow with the glow that slowly crimson'd all
Thy presence and thy portals, while I lay,
Mouth, forehead, eyelids, growing dewy-warm
With kisses balmier than half-opening buds
Of April, and could hear the lips that kiss'd
Whispering I knew not what of wild and sweet,
Like that strange song I heard Apollo sing,
While Ilion like a mist rose into towers.

         Yet hold me not for ever in thine East:
How can my nature longer mix with thine?
Coldly thy rosy shadows bathe me, cold
Are all thy lights, and cold my wrinkled feet
Upon thy glimmering thresholds, when the steam
Floats up from those dim fields about the homes
Of happy men that have the power to die,
And grassy barrows of the happier dead.
Release me, and restore me to the ground;
Thou seëst all things, thou wilt see my grave:
Thou wilt renew thy beauty morn by morn;
I earth in earth forget these empty courts,
And thee returning on thy silver wheels.

Synopsis:-

In Greek mythology Tithonus was the lover of Eos, the goddess of the dawn. Eos asked the king of the gods, Zeus, to make Tithonus immortal, but forgot to ask for eternal youth, which resulted in him living forever as a helpless old man. In Tennyson’s poem, Tithonus is old and troubled with the pains brought about by old age. He yearns for death and begs his lover Eos to take back the boon of immortality. The poem emphasizes on the inevitability of death and of the necessity of accepting it as such. It is often contrasted with another famous poem by Tennyson, Ulysses, which explores the human spirit that refuses to accept death.


#6 Break, Break, Break

Published:1842

Poem:-

Break, break, break,
         On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
         The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman's boy,
         That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
         That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
         To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish'd hand,
         And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break
         At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
         Will never come back to me.

Synopsis:-

An elegy is a poem written to praise, and express sorrow for, someone who is dead. Break, Break, Break can be classified as an elegy that describes Alfred Tennyson’s feelings of loss after the death of his dear friend Arthur Hallam. It also touches themes of nostalgia and isolation. The word “break” here is used to describe the breaking of the waves of the sea against the shore. Among other things, the poem is known for Tennyson’s masterful handling of rhythm with the insistent beat of Break, Break, Break emphasizing the relentless sadness of the subject matter.



#5 The Lady of Shalott

Published:1833

Excerpt:-

Part I

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
       To many-tower'd Camelot;
The yellow-leaved waterlily
The green-sheathed daffodilly
Tremble in the water chilly
       Round about Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens shiver.
The sunbeam showers break and quiver
In the stream that runneth ever
By the island in the river
       Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
       The Lady of Shalott.

Underneath the bearded barley,
The reaper, reaping late and early,
Hears her ever chanting cheerly,
Like an angel, singing clearly,
       O'er the stream of Camelot.
Piling the sheaves in furrows airy,
Beneath the moon, the reaper weary
Listening whispers, ' 'Tis the fairy,
       Lady of Shalott.'

The little isle is all inrail'd
With a rose-fence, and overtrail'd
With roses: by the marge unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken sail'd,
       Skimming down to Camelot.
A pearl garland winds her head:
She leaneth on a velvet bed,
Full royally apparelled,
       The Lady of Shalott.

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

The most famous of Tennyson’s early poems, The Lady of Shalott is loosely based on the legend of Elaine of Astolat who dies of her unrequited love for British knight Sir Lancelot. In Tennyson’s poem, the Lady of Shalott suffers from a mysterious curse by which she must see the outside world only through a mirror. She sees Sir Lancelot as he rides by and is deeply affected. Being “half-sick of shadows” she looks out of her window, bringing about the curse. She leaves her tower and finds a boat to travel down the river to Camelot. She dies before reaching her destination and, among the people who see her dead body, is Lancelot, who thinks “she has a lovely face”. The poem was hugely popular among artists and several paintings depict scenes from it. It continues to be a part of popular culture.


#4 Crossing the Bar

Published:1889

Poem:-

Sunset and evening star,
      And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
      When I put out to sea,

   But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
      Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
      Turns again home.

   Twilight and evening bell,
      And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
      When I embark;

   For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
      The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
      When I have crost the bar.

Synopsis:-

Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote this renowned short poem after suffering a serious illness while at sea, crossing the Solent strait from Aldworth to Farringford on the Isle of Wight. Written three years before he died, the poem describes Tennyson’s accepting attitude towards death. The metaphor of “crossing the bar” represents travelling serenely and securely from life through death; while the Pilot is a metaphor for God, whom the narrator expects to meet face to face after he dies. Shortly before Tennyson died, he told his son Hallam to put Crossing the Bar at the end of all editions of his poetry collections.



#3 The Charge of the Light Brigade

Published:1854

Poem:-

I
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.

II
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
   Someone had blundered.
   Theirs not to make reply,
   Theirs not to reason why,
   Theirs but to do and die.
   Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.

III
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
   Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
   Rode the six hundred.

IV
Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
   All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
   Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
   Not the six hundred.

V
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
   Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
   Left of six hundred.

VI
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
   All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
   Noble six hundred!

Synopsis:-

The Charge of the Light Brigade was a charge of British light cavalry led by Lord Cardigan against Russian forces during the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854, in the Crimean War. It was originally intended to send the Light Brigade to pursue a retreating Russian force but miscommunication led to them launching a suicidal attack against a different and heavily defended position. Weeks after news of the assault reached Britain, Tennyson, the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom at the time, wrote this poem to commemorate the heroism of the Light Brigade for bravely carrying out their orders regardless of the obvious outcome. The poem has since remained hugely popular and it is Tennyson’s most famous work as Poet Laureate.


#2 In Memoriam A.H.H.

Published:1850

Excerpt:-

Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
   Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
   By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove;
 
Thine are these orbs of light and shade;
   Thou madest Life in man and brute;
   Thou madest Death; and lo, thy foot
Is on the skull which thou hast made.
 
Thou wilt not leave us in the dust:
Thou madest man, he knows not why,
He thinks he was not made to die;
And thou hast made him: thou art just.
 
Thou seemest human and divine,
   The highest, holiest manhood, thou.
   Our wills are ours, we know not how;
Our wills are ours, to make them thine.
 
Our little systems have their day;
   They have their day and cease to be:
   They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Lord, art more than they.

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

A.H.H., or Arthur Henry Hallam, was a close friend of Tennyson. He was also engaged to Alfred’s sister, Emilia Tennyson. Hallam died of a stroke at the young age of 22 in 1833. His death had a deep impact on Tennyson, who wrote many lyrics, over the next 17 years, related to the death of his dear friend. These were ultimately published as a single lengthy poem titled In Memoriam A.H.H. in 1850. The poem consists of 131 sections, a prologue, and an epilogue; and is primarily an elegiac work. It contains the elements of a traditional elegy like mourning for the dead and praise of his virtues, while also including philosophical reflection on faith and science. In Memoriam was an enormous critical and popular success. It was a favourite of Queen Victoria who was “soothed & pleased” by it after the death of her husband Prince Albert. It is considered one of the great poems of the 19th century.


#1 Ulysses

Published:1842

Poem:-

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.

Synopsis:-

Ulysses, or Odysseus, was the legendary Greek king of Ithaca who is the central character of Homer’s epic, the Odyssey. In Tennyson’s poem, Ulysses has returned to his kingdom after his long and famous journey. However, he is discontented and restless with domestic life after his exciting travels. So, despite his old age, he calls on his fellow mariners to join him on another quest. Several critics consider elements of the poem to be autobiographical. Tennyson wrote Ulysses soon after the death of his dear friend Hallam, and he himself said that the poem “gave my feeling about the need of going forward and braving the struggle of life”. Ulysses is one of the most well-known poems in English literature and is also one of the most quoted. T. S. Eliot called it a “perfect poem”.



5 thoughts on “10 Most Famous Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson”

    • Well, you have the “Lotus-eaters” also made by Tennyson which tie into THE EPIC, “Ulysses”. As of recent, none, people have very diffrent styles comapred to Tennyson due to just the simple fact of time periods. Hope that helped

      Reply

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