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Alfred Tennyson


Alfred Tennyson was born in Somersby in 1809 and was the son of a clergyman, who was really cultivated but devoted to drinking. He was educated at Trinity College in Cambridge, where he started to experience the contradictions of his time. In Cambridge he became interested in poetry and he also met Arthur Hallam, who was to become his closest friend and inspire much of his poetry, indeed he published in 1830 his first important collection of verse, “Poems, Chiefly Lyrical”.

He left Cambridge without getting a degree in order to travel with his friend but in 1833 Hallam died in Vienna and Tennyson spent several years mourning his loss. In 1850 he published “In Memoriam A.H.H.” voicing his regrets for Hallam's death, and in the same year, after Wordsworth's death, he was made Poet Laureate, that is to say he was the Queen's favourite poet, indeed he enjoyed considerable financial success. In 1884 he was given the title of Baron for his literary merits and sat in the House of Lords as a politician. He died in 1892 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Tennyson's remarkable works are dramatic monologues, including “Poems” but also “Morte d'Arthur” and “Ulysses”, the former has an allegorical meaning and presents King Arthur's knights and their brotherhood destroyed by the absence of a true leader: indeed the poet wondered about the existence of outstanding values in his age, characterised by obsessive materialism and certainty, but he couldn't find any answer; while the latter is a personal version of the legend of Ulysses.
In 1847 Tennyson wrote a narrative poem “The Princess”, which was particularly appreciated by the public because he supported women's right to be educated.
Moreover “Im Memoriam” is one of the finest elegies in English literature, which is composed by 131 sections of a varying number of stanzas and a single metre. Most of the sections are complete poems about death and life, and the element of unity is the grief of the poet for his friend's loss.

“Ulysses” is a dramatic monologue that takes inspiration from Dante, which placed Ulysses in Hell because he is a deceitful and an overreacher who follows knowledge at any cost. Tennyson uses Ulysses and his son Telemachus to represent two kinds of life: while Ulysses stands for an adventurous life, characterised by an intense way of feeling which is almost Romantic, Telemachus embodies the typical Victorian man, devoted to responsibilities and social duties.

As for his style, Tennyson was a true Victorian, indeed he felt the need for balance and regularity, he used many onomatopoeia and kennings, that is to say pictorial descriptions of something which is not named directly. Tennyson's works are characterised by long and complex phrases. These rich images derive from the desire to secure dignity, richness and variety, and to slow down the pace of reading by making the reader stop and study them carefully.
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