Authors: Alfred, Lord Tennyson

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English poet

Author Works


Poems by Two Brothers, 1827 (with Charles Tennyson and Frederick Tennyson)

Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, 1830

Poems, 1832 (imprinted 1833)

Poems, 1842

The Princess, 1847

In Memoriam, 1850

Maud, and Other Poems, 1855

Idylls of the King, 1859-1885

Enoch Arden, and Other Poems, 1864

The Holy Grail, and Other Poems, 1869 (imprinted 1870)

Gareth and Lynette, 1872

The Lover’s Tale, 1879

Ballads and Other Poems, 1880

Tiresias, and Other Poems, 1885

Locksley Hall Sixty Years After, Etc., 1886

Demeter, and Other Poems, 1889

The Death of Œnone, and Other Poems, 1892


Queen Mary, pb. 1875

Harold, pb. 1876

Becket, wr. 1879, pb. 1884

The Falcon, pr. 1879 (one act)

The Cup, pr. 1881

The Foresters, wr. 1881, pr., pb. 1892

The Promise of May, pr. 1882

The Devil and the Lady, pb. 1930 (unfinished)


The Letters of Alfred Lord Tennyson: Volume 1, 1821-1850, 1981 (Cecil Y. Lang and Edgar F. Shannon, editors)

The Letters of Alfred Lord Tennyson: Volume 2, 1851-1870, 1987 (Lang and Shannon, editors)

The Letters of Alfred Lord Tennyson: Volume 3, 1871-1892, 1990 (Lang and Shannon, editors)


The Works of Tennyson, 1907-1908 (9 volumes; Hallam, Lord Tennyson, editor)


Alfred Tennyson (TEHN-uh-suhn), the fourth son of the Rev. G. C. Tennyson, rector of the parish at Somersby in Lincolnshire, was born in 1809. His literary output began at the age of six, with blank verse scribbled on a slate, and culminated some seventy-five years later with the much-quoted “Crossing the Bar.” In between came poetry that is sometimes magnificent, often vapid and mawkish, but always characteristic of an age alternately self-confident and self-conscious, the age of Victoria.{$I[AN]9810000318}{$I[A]Tennyson, Alfred, Lord}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Tennyson, Alfred, Lord}{$I[tim]1809;Tennyson, Alfred, Lord}

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

(Library of Congress)

Somersby was a quiet village with fewer than a hundred inhabitants. Tennyson’s father was talented (a dabbler in poetry, painting, architecture, and music), and his mother, whose maiden name was Elizabeth Fytche, was noted for her gentleness and sweet disposition. In this setting Tennyson’s talent developed early. While he was attending Louth Grammar School he broke into print with Poems by Two Brothers, a collection which actually contained the works of three members of a talented family–Alfred, Frederick, and Charles. This juvenile volume shows the influence of George Gordon, Lord Byron, whom Alfred admired so greatly that when he heard of his death he took a lonely, sad walk and carved into the sandstone, “Byron is dead.”

In 1828 Tennyson went to Trinity College, Cambridge. There he took an interest in politics and became a member of the Apostles, a club of young literary men. Among these friends was Arthur Henry Hallam, whose later death at the age of twenty-three so affected Tennyson that he published nothing for ten years. Hallam is elegized in In Memoriam, a loose collection of philosophical lyrics that seems to be groping for, but never quite reaching, the handhold of faith. At Cambridge Tennyson won the chancellor’s medal for his poem “Timbuctoo,” and it was there he brought out in 1830 his first important volume, Poems, Chiefly Lyrical. Although some of the reviews of this book were unkind, perhaps justifiably so, and although the influence of another Romantic poet, John Keats, is very evident, the volume marked the beginning of a career almost unmatched in popularity for a poet during his lifetime.

Two years later came another volume, which included “The Lady of Shalott” and “The Lotus Eaters,” two poems in the smooth, melancholy tone of Tennyson at his best. Then came Hallam’s death and the ten years of silence. Hallam was Tennyson’s close friend and the fiancé of his sister Emily; when Tennyson heard the news of his unexpected death in Vienna, he was shocked and shaken. Later he began working on In Memoriam, a labor that lasted for seventeen years. Not until 1842 did Tennyson publish again, bringing out two volumes, one of which contained “Morte d’Arthur,” the beginning of a series on the Arthurian legends which became Idylls of the King. Also in 1842 appeared “Locksley Hall,” one of Tennyson’s most popular poems.

Tennyson’s most auspicious year was 1850. After unwise speculation had left him penniless and two bouts with nervous prostration had damaged his health, his affairs took a threefold upsurge: He married Emily Sellwood, he published In Memoriam, and he was appointed poet laureate to succeed William Wordsworth. Outstanding among his “official” poems as laureate is his “Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington,” a stiff but moving tribute. The laureateship became the first step toward elevation to the peerage, an honor bestowed on him by an admiring Queen Victoria. Tennyson had twice refused this honor (tendered to him first through William Gladstone and then through Benjamin Disraeli), but he accepted it in 1883, becoming baron of Aldworth and Farrington. Even before he became a peer, Tennyson’s popularity had been great (ten thousand copies of the first series of Idylls of the King, published in 1859, were sold within a few weeks), but now this tall, gaunt man, the idealized figure of a poet, became almost a living legend. After his death there was a reaction against his sentimentality and “Victorianism,” but poems like “The Lotus Eaters,” “Tithonus,” and “Ulysses” still ring strong and true.

Tennyson’s life was quiet and unhurried. Most of it he spent at his home, Farringford, on the Isle of Wight and, after 1867, at Blackdown in Surrey, where he lived in a house which he named Aldworth. In this later period he tried his hand at poetic dramas: Queen Mary, Harold, and Becket. Only the last became a success on the stage. In 1889, Demeter, and Other Poems came out, twenty thousand copies of which were sold within a week. On his eightieth birthday, Tennyson received tributes from all over the world. Though the end of his life was not far away, he still had the strength to write a romantic play, The Foresters, a drama on the Robin Hood theme, which was produced at Daly’s Theatre in New York in 1892. Tennyson died at eighty-three at his home, Aldworth House, and was buried in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.

BibliographyHair, Donald S. Domestic and Heroic in Tennyson’s Poetry. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981. Hair explores a central concern of all Tennyson’s poetry: the importance of the family as a center of values. In examining the major poems and several minor pieces, Hair shows how heroic qualities emerge from domestic situations and are linked to domestic values. The final section on Idylls of the King provides an extended discussion of Tennyson’s method of elevating domestic values to heroic status.Hood, James W. Divining Desire: Tennyson and the Poetics of Transcendence. Aldershot, Vt.: Ashgate, 2000. Hood examines religious transcendence in the works of Tennyson. Includes bibliography and index.Howe, Elisabeth A. The Dramatic Monoglogue. New York: Twayne, 1996. This study of dramatic monologues looks at the works of Tennyson, Robert Browning, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound. Includes bibliography and index.Jordan, Elaine. Alfred Tennyson. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Jordan devotes individual chapters to the English idylls, the dramatic monologues, and the major poems (The Princess, In Memoriam, Maud, and Idylls of the King) to illustrate her thesis that Tennyson was intensely interested in gender issues and was ambivalent regarding the validity of patriarchal methods of governing society.Levi, Peter. Tennyson. London: Macmillan, 1994. This biography studies the life and work of Tennyson.Martin, Robert Bernard. Tennyson: The Unquiet Heart. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. This critical biography attempts to get behind the public mask created by the poet and his family in order to explore the psychological tensions out of which Tennyson’s greatest poetry came. Includes important supplementary material on the Tennyson family and an excellent select bibliography.Ormond, Leonée. Alfred Tennyson: A Literary Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. A biographical study that examines Tennyson’s life as a poet and writer. Includes bibliography and index.Potter, Lois, ed. Playing Robin Hood: The Legend as Performance in Five Centuries. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1998. This study of the legend of Robin Hood examines how the story has been presented in literature, including in Tennyson’s The Foresters. Includes bibliography and index.Shaw, W. David. Alfred Lord Tennyson: The Poet in an Age of Theory. New York: Twayne, 1996. An introductory biography and critical study of selected works by Tennyson. Includes bibliographical references and index.Smith, Elton Edward. Tennyson’s “Epic Drama.” Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1997. Smith examines the dramatic works of Tennyson. Includes bibliography and index.Thorn, Michael. Tennyson. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. A biography of Tennyson that covers his life and works. Includes bibliography and index.Tucker, Herbert F. Tennyson and the Doom of Romanticism. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988. Focusing on the poems written during the first half of the poet’s career, Tucker traces the influence of the poetic tradition, especially the Romantic poets, on Tennyson before he became his country’s laureate and in the years immediately following his rise to fame after the publication of In Memoriam. Contains an exceptionally good bibliography.Tucker, Herbert F., ed. Critical Essays on Alfred, Lord Tennyson. New York: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1993. A collection of essays on Tennyson. Includes index and bibliography.
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