Thursday, August 06, 2009

Alfred Lord Tennyson – on the bicentenary of his birth

It will pass mostly unremarked. There will be no commemorative stamps, no service of thanksgiving, no minted coins; just as there were not for the quatercentenary of the sainted John Milton.

“Perhaps Tennyson does not deserve it,” Cranmer hears his communicants mutter under their cynical breath. “Who’s Tennyson?” muse some of his readers. “What the hell’s this weirdo on about today?” blogs the green-eyed god.

Alfred Tennyson was born on 6th August 1809, to become arguably the most popular and certainly the most prolific of the Victorian poets. He was Poet Laureate, succeeding William Wordsworth, from 1850 to 1892 – the longest tenure in the post’s history. His verse is pure melody – its musicality is a symphony of luxurious shapes and textures which beguile any who yield to the rhythmic imagery. And he was among the first generation of poets to leave audible and visual corporeal traces of himself — he was photographed and his voice recorded on wax cylinders reciting his own poetry.

According to the Oxford Book of Literary Quotations, he is (surprisingly) the most quoted English poet after Shakespeare. He created a number of phrases which have entered the vernacular, including: ‘Nature, red in tooth and claw’; '’Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all’; ‘Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do and die’; ‘Knowledge comes, but Wisdom lingers’; and ‘The old order changeth, yielding place to new’.

He twice refused the Peerage offered by Disraeli, only finally to accept it from Gladstone.

But Cranmer can forgive him this awry politicking.

Towards the end of his life, Lord Tennyson revealed that his religious beliefs defied convention. He wrote in In Memoriam - a work he publish anonymously after the death of his closest friend: ‘There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.’ The poem was a great favourite of Queen Victoria, who found it a source of solace after the death of Prince Albert in 1861. She said of it: "Next to the Bible, In Memoriam is my comfort."

In Maud, he wrote: ‘The churches have killed their Christ.’ In Locksley Hall Sixty Years After, he observed: ‘Christian love among the churches look'd the twin of heathen hate.’ And in his dramatic work Becket, he opined: ‘We are self-uncertain creatures, and we may, Yea, even when we know not, mix our spites and private hates with our defence of Heaven.’

The churches have killed their Christ.

Christian love among the churches look’d the twin of heathen hate.


There will doubtless be a little something on Radio 4, and the odd speech on the Isle of Wight. But that’s about it.


Blogger Jim Bartlet said...

Nothing weird here Cranmer. One has to sympathise with the green-eyed god.

6 August 2009 at 09:41  
Anonymous otacilia severa said...


Is it the wind of the dawn that I hear in the pines overhead?

No; but the voice of the deep as it hollows the cliffs of the land.

Is there a voice coming up with the voice of the deep from the strand,
One coming up with a Song in the flush of the glimmering red?

Love that is born of the deep coming up with the sun from the sea.

Love that can shape or can shatter a life till the life shall have fled?

Nay, let us welcome him, Love that can lift up a life from the dead.

Keep him away from the lone little isle. Let us be, let us be.

Nay, let him make it his own, let him reign in it - he, it is he,
Love that is born of the deep coming up with the sun from the sea.

(I think this is from Becket. One of my favourites.)

6 August 2009 at 10:47  
Anonymous Knighthawk said...

‘Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die.’

A poignant and appropriate quote for today Your Grace.

The funeral of WWI veteran Harry Patch, the last Tommy, who died aged 111, is due to take place in Wells Cathedral at noon.

6 August 2009 at 11:00  
Anonymous P Laureate said...

Your Grace has gone up in my estimation ten fold for honouring a poet laureate. All is not lost.
I noted your impressive wreath at poet's corner at the Abbey and hope your gratuitous gesture will not in the future only be restricted to the Victorian poets.

6 August 2009 at 11:19  
Anonymous P Laureate said...

@ Jim Bartlet
'Vex not thou poet's mind
with thy shallow wit:
Vex not thou poet's mind
For thou canst not fathom it '

6 August 2009 at 11:24  
Blogger Jim Bartlet said...

Seems I am in good company.

6 August 2009 at 12:45  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Confused, melancholic, grieving inordinately for a male friend, agnostic - why, they'd make him a bishop today!

6 August 2009 at 13:34  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

The voice of Lord Tennyson can be heard at on this page.

•Johnny Rottenborough’s August blog•

6 August 2009 at 13:52  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace,

That is typical of the Left-liberal establishment: celebrate Charles Darwin on a stamp but not the poet of 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'.

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.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
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.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air,
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

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

6 August 2009 at 14:11  
Blogger OldSouth said...

1809 was a very good year! Tennyson, Mendelssohn, Abraham Lincoln all born that year.

Thanks for reminding us all of Tennyson's life. My personal favorite is his elegaic 'Crossing the Bar':

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 crossed the bar.

6 August 2009 at 14:40  
Anonymous Hilary said...

'Yes,Alfred Tennyson's is a superb character, and will help give illustriousness, through the long roll of time, to our Nineteenth century.In its bunch of orbic names shining like a constellation of stars , his will be one of the brightest...I want him to realise that there is a great and ardent nation that absorbs his songs and has a respect and affection for him personally, as almost for no other foreigner...The readers of more than fifty millions of people in the New World not only owe to him some of their most agreeable harmless and healthy hours,but he has entered into the formative influences of character here,not only in the Atlantic cities,but inland and far West,out in Missouri,in Kansas and away in Oregon,in farmer's house and miner's cabin.
Best thanks,anyhow,to Alfred Tennyson-thanks and appreciation in America's name'--Walt Whitman 1892

6 August 2009 at 15:52  
Anonymous Ian R Thorpe said...

Well spoken Archbishop Cranmer you were ever a sensible man. I regard Tennyon the equal of Shakespeare as a lyric poet. Shakespeare was a peerless dramatist of course and there is more inspirational content in his work than in The Bible I wold say.

6 August 2009 at 17:09  
Anonymous Bandersnatch said...

Alfred's brother Septimus was an oddity too. There's a description of a visitor arriving at Somersby to find him lying on the hearthrug like a tweedy retriever. "Er, mornin'," said the visitor. Septimus raised his head and intoned, "I am Septimus, most morbid of the Tennysons."

6 August 2009 at 17:46  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

who took the picture(not the library)I would be interested to know because I think it may be a relative.

6 August 2009 at 21:10  
Anonymous Brian E. said...

I tend to prefer John Masefield myself!
But on second thoughts, in view of your recommendation, I'll give the matter further consideration if I can lay my hands on a copy of his more important works.
Blame my long gone grammar school and the GCE some 55 years ago.

6 August 2009 at 21:51  
Blogger Lord Lavendon said...

Have you been watching that Channel 4 series abour Bryon?

6 August 2009 at 23:30  
Anonymous no nonny said...

Byron was the pits!!!!! Don Juan tells it all -

I'd no idea Tennyson looked like that. Modern really - no wonder he was such a good prophet!
We have always had our hypocrites in the Church, though. Blake (and others) noticed, too. It's making me think: Perhaps one good thing about the modern trend is that the hypocrites no longer pretend to be Christian! They just appropriate Christian evangelical method- for marketing or marxism - and expect it to work through the inverted spirit!!! So we see them precisely as they are.

I've been revising stuff on the other Great Alfred - and, in contrast, I think he knew both the True Spirit and the method!!!! Maybe we've been heading downhill ever since...:)

Great post again, Your Grace. More good responses, too. Thanks for all the poetry, expecially the Light Brigade; that is special. I also like to think about Tennyson's Arthurian works.

7 August 2009 at 00:36  
Blogger ERIC SHACKLE said...

Greetings from Sydney, Australia.

You may like to see two stories I've written about the six Barons Tennyson.

They've been posted in the UK daily literary web magazine "Open Writing":

7 August 2009 at 02:21  
Anonymous raypraba said...

Nice to see you marking the bicentenary of Tennyson - and interesting comments! You might be interested in a poll which is being run to find people's favourite Tennyson poem

To help people make their choices, there are extracts from the shortlisted poems at

The BBC is running several programmes on Tennyson and his poetry on Radio 3 & 4 currently:

7 August 2009 at 19:47  
Anonymous len said...

'The Churches have Killed their Christ'

Religion has taken the vibrant life which is Christ and turned it into a dreary,book of rules and regulations, dogma and creeds.

Christ will never die , He lives forever,but religion will, for it hold no hope, no life.

Jesus said " I come that you might have life, and have it to the full!"( John 10:10)

7 August 2009 at 19:57  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, whisper it not here, Gladstone was born in 1809. No surprise that Tennyson accepted his peerage from Gladstone as they were long-standing acquaintances and in their youth vied for the affections of Arthur Hallam.

9 August 2009 at 13:59  
Blogger Ayrdale said...

"Come my friends, tis 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 bars of all the Western stars until I die..."

We continue to seek a newer world, as we did in 1965, when my English teacher, Brampton Clark M.A. first read those lines to us.

Never to be forgotten.

11 August 2009 at 02:31  
Blogger Ayrdale said...

Bars ? baths perhaps. It was 1965...

11 August 2009 at 02:32  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older