Notes towards a commentary on Tennyson’s allegory
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92) wrote two versions of ‘The Lady of Shalott’. Tennyson’s poem ‘The Lady of Shalott’ exists as both a 20-stanza poem published in 1832, and the revised version of 19 stanzas – which is the one readers are most familiar with – which was published in 1842. The poem, partly inspired by Arthurian legend (hence the presence of the knight, Lancelot) and partly by the epic sixteenth-century poem The Faerie Queene written by Edmund Spenser, remains popular, although the precise meaning of the poem remains elusive. So, a few words of analysis about this enchanting poem may help to clarify things.
The Lady of Shalott
On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.
Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot. Read the rest of this entry
On Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s early triumph
‘Mariana’ was Tennyson’s first great poem. Published in his 1830 volume Poems, Chiefly Lyrical when Tennyson was still an undergraduate student at Cambridge, it has become one of his best-loved poems and a timeless poem about unrequited love and the abandoned lover. Here is ‘Mariana’, followed by a few words of analysis about it.
‘Mariana in the Moated Grange’
(Shakespeare, Measure for Measure)
With blackest moss the flower-plots
Were thickly crusted, one and all:
The rusted nails fell from the knots
That held the pear to the gable-wall.
The broken sheds look’d sad and strange:
Unlifted was the clinking latch;
Weeded and worn the ancient thatch
Upon the lonely moated grange.
She only said, ‘My life is dreary, Read the rest of this entry
A summary of a classic late poem
‘Crossing the Bar’ was one of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s last poems, composed in 1889, just three years before the end of a long life and prolific career. (He would be UK Poet Laureate for 42 years in total, a record still unsurpassed.) Given its elegiac tone, ‘Crossing the Bar’ has often been analysed or interpreted as Tennyson’s elegy for himself: it describes his anticipation of the ‘crossing’ he must make from life to death.
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. Read the rest of this entry