Alfred Lord Tennyson

Photograph of Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate for 42 years and author of ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’, In Memoriam A.H.H and ‘The Lady of Shalott’.
Alfred Lord Tennyson, British Library

Biography

Tennyson was the grand old man of Victorian poetry, holding the Laureateship for 42 years and famous for In Memoriam A.H.H.The Idylls of The King and Maud, and Other Poems – the last of which includes ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’.

He was born at Somersby Rectory, near Lincoln in 1809, the fourth of 12 children, and taught by his father to love poetry from an early age. In 1827, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he found the teaching dull but made strong friendships, notably with Arthur Hallam, who wrote to Gladstone that he was ‘promising fair to be the greatest poet of our generation, perhaps of our century’. In 1829, he won the Chancellor’s Gold Medal for his poem ‘Timbuctoo’.

He left Cambridge after the death of his father, and published two collections of poems in the early 1830s, which included ‘The Lady of Shalott’, ‘Mariana in the South’ and ‘The Lotos-Eaters’. Undeservedly venomous criticism discouraged him, but he rallied and improved the weaker poems. In October 1833, the sudden death of Hallam plunged him into a period of deep depression and mourning. Over the next 17 years he continually worked on and revisd a poetic tribute to his friend, which he published as In Memoriam A.H.H. in 1850. The poem became one of the best known and best loved of the period, with Queen Victoria saying that next to the Bible, it was her greatest comfort following the death of Prince Albert. The month after the publication of In Memoriam, Tennyson married Emily Sellwood, and in November he was appointed Poet Laureate.

Tennyson wrote many of his most famous poems, such as ‘Morte d’Arthur’, ‘Ulysses’ and ‘St Simeon Stylites’ in the period between Hallam’s death and the publication of In Memoriam. In 1847 he published The Princess, a long narrative poem on the subject of women’s education.

The Tennysons moved to the Isle of Wight in 1853. The Crimean War inspired him to write ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’, which appeared first in The Examinerin December 1854. In 1859, he published the first four poems in his Arthurian poem cycle Idylls of the King; the twelfth and final poem in the cycle would not be published until 1885. Queen Victoria granted Tennyson a barony in 1883. He died in 1892.

Name
Alfred Tennyson
Occupation
Poet
Born
6 August 1809, Somersby, Lincolnshire, England
Died
6 October 1892, Lurgashall, Sussex, England
Gender
Male
Literary period
Victorian
Genre
Victorian Literature

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‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’: making poetry from war

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Dr Seamus Perry explains how Tennyson transformed a catastrophic episode in the Crimean war into one of the 19th-century’s most successful poems, using rhythm, repetition and vocabulary to convey both the folly of the cavalry charge and the bravery of the soldiers.

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When Tennyson died in 1892, 11,000 people applied for tickets to his funeral in Westminster Abbey. Dr Stephanie Forward considers the poet's huge popularity in the second half of the 19th century, and the decline of his reputation in the 20th.

In Memoriam A.H.H.: composition and reception

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In Memoriam A.H.H., a tribute to Tennyson’s beloved friend Arthur Henry Hallam, was a defining poem of the Victorian period. Dr Stephanie Forward explores Tennyson’s composition process, and considers how the poem was received during Tennyson’s lifetime and into the 20th century.

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Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade: A Close Reading

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A close reading of Tennyson's 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'.

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