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My Understanding of Alfred Lord Tennyson's Poem

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For my literature analysis, I chose the work, “Tears, Idle Tears,” written by Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1847 (Tennyson, 1847). The poem is non-rhyming, and in blank verse, with the same phrase at the end of each fifth line, “the days that are no more.” There are repeated words that give the poem cadence and rhythm; “sad,” and “fresh,” in the second verse, to “sad” and “strange” in the third verse, and the repeating of the phrase, “the days that are no more.”

My first impression upon reading this poem is that the author is inexplicably saddened by looking at autumn fields, which he describes as “happy,” a statement that causes one to wonder why something he views as joyful is causing sadness. The tone says to me that the sadness is drawn from the end of spring and summertime, and the change to the gloomier times of autumn and winter. Words in his description, such as “fresh,” “glittering,” and “glimmering,” bring to mind the new growth and brighter times of spring and summer. In contrast, comparisons of the scene as “sad,” and “death in life,” and phrases such as “the days that are no more,” make me think of the landscape becoming more desolate as it does when seasons change.

The author also seems to me to be comparing the scene to another sad event that isn’t quite outlined in the poem, which seems to be of lost or unrequited love, or the death of loved ones. This I interpret from the passages that state, “sinks with all we love,” “dear as remembered kisses after death,” and “on lips that are for others; deep as love, deep as first love, and wild with all regret.” The overall tone of the poem is melancholy, with the author recalling the good of what was before being replaced with the bleakness of what is to come. The back and forth action brings the reader into the author’s inner turmoil. The passage that most caught my interest is the final paragraph, in which the author creates a very deep feeling of loss.

This poem was written in 1847, which falls in the Realist Period. The major themes of this period were Darwinism, Industrialization, Individualism, and the Age of Doubt. Darwinism is based on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, a theory that is still rejected by religious sects of the present. Industrialization was brought about by the Industrial Revolution, during which a distinct differentiation between the upper and lower classes became apparent. Individualism is the exploration into individuality, which meant realistically and accurately representing subjects. The Age of Doubt was caused by the anxiety over the comfort of the past, reality of the present and unknown of the future (Western Governors University, n.d., s. 6.21).

During the Realist Period, there were intense changes throughout Europe and the United States that affected political, economic and social areas alike. One of the largest contributors was the Industrial Revolution. Because of the class differentiation this caused between the rich and poor, artists sought to capture the dismal plight of the less fortunate of the time.

The dramatic changes that were occurring affected all aspects of life during the realist period. Realist literature, like other arts of the period, was focussed on capturing real life situations. Authors moved away from the idealized romantic themes of the prior period, aptly referred to as the Romantic Period. Realist themes in literature included straightforward representations of everyday life, emphasis of scientific theories, Naturalism and Darwinism, representations of social, economic, and physical effects of urbanization and the industrial revolution, reflections on cultures such as dialect, physical locations and traditions, social issues, such as labor, class, race and gender, and expanded creation of the individual characters, including insight into their thoughts and psychological state.

Notable authors of the Realist period include European author, Charles Dickens, American authors, Mark Twain, Kate Chopin and William Dean Howells, Russian authors, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and the French author, Honoré de Balzac, touted as the best known novelist of the Realist movement, who wrote ‘The Human Comedy (La Comédiehumaine).’ (Western Governors University, n.d., s. 6.09)

Following the Realist movement, society saw the rise of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Art Nouveau and Pictorialism. These affected visual art rather than literary forms. Impressionism was an art movement in which artists strove to capture their first visual impression of their subject with less detail and more emphasis on the effects of light and colors. Post-Impressionism utilized Impressionists’ techniques with lights and colors, but placed more emphasis on line, form, expression, structure and symbolic content. Art Nouveau was based on twisting lines, curves, and plants and flowers. Pictorialism arose from photography and included lens coatings, special filters, darkroom manipulation, and creative printing procedures (Western Governors University, n.d., s. 6.21).

Alfred Lord Tennyson was born in England in 1809. He was one of 11 children and grew up with his four sisters and six brothers. Tennyson’s father earned a good income as a church rector, but still struggled due to his large family. Tennyson’s father was an alcoholic and drug addict, who threatened his family with violence.

Tennyson began writing poetry at the age of 8. His first works were published in 1827, but he did not reach a large audience until 1840. ‘Tears, Idle Tears’ was part of a longer poem entitled ‘The Princess.’ The poem delved into the relationship between men and women and argued for women’s education, though the point was not strategically evident due to Tennyson’s style. ‘Tears, Idle Tears’ helps to make up the song in the middle of ‘The Princess,’ which the princess commissions one of her maids to sing to pass the time between her studies. ‘The Princess’ is one of Tennyson’s notable works during the high point of his career, which peaked with the publication of his work, ‘In Memoriam.’ From this work, we gained the well known phrase, “’Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all.” Tennyson is considered one of the most well-loved Victorian era poets. (Biography.com Editors)

‘Tears, Idle Tears’ represents the Realist themes of individualism, and the age of doubt. Individualism, because the author is exploring his innermost thoughts. The age of doubt perspective, because he is mourning the loss of what has come before and saddened by what is to come. The author also describes the physical realities of the scene before him, both currently and before the change to autumn.

This work is relevant today as an example of the works of one of the top Victorian era poets. Tennyson is revered as a talented poet who dug deeply into questions of humanity. His work brings inspiration and comfort to his audience.

Upon researching deeper into the origin of this poem and the author’s beginnings, I feel that my initial impression of the poem is relatively accurate. I found that the poem was, indeed, part of a larger story, though not in the way I exactly pictured it. This piece, as part of the larger poem, ‘The Princess,’ was part of a song that the Princess asks that one of her maids sing to pass the time between studies. This suggests that the singer is female, whereas I was looking at the words throught the author, Tennyson’s, viewpoint. My analysis of the sadness of the singer being brought on by the change of seasons was common throughout other analyses I viewed in my research.

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My Understanding of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Poem. (2019, September 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 3, 2021, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/my-understanding-of-alfred-lord-tennysons-poem/
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