What is Ulysses searching for in "Ulysses"?
Ulysses is in a curious position: his former life at home is fading (he has a "still hearth" and an "aged wife") and boring, but he is far from ready to die ("I will drink life to the lees). He is aware that his body is growing old and and his heart is weakening due to "time and fate," but his will remains strong and steadfast. He desires one last great voyage with his mariners to accomplish "some work of noble note" before "Death closes all." He wants to reach a place that is "beyond the utmost bond of human thought" and to "seek a newer world." Is he looking for a journey at the limits of human experience in order to fulfill his identity as adventurer, fighting off weakness and death for as long as he can? Or does he seek to prepare himself for the afterlife where his soul will not be obliterated in the "eternal silence" but will instead remain to "strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield" even beyond the grave? He does not know what "may" happen after death, but what he searches for is the fullest active life possible for a "heroic heart" along with other such men. He observes: "Death closes all: but something ere the end, / Some work of noble note, may yet be done."
What does the sea mean to the speaker of "Break, break, break"?
The speaker, sitting by the shore and watching the sea break upon the crags, observes that it is loud, forceful, and indefatigable. Mired in his grief, he admires the sea's volume and vitality, yet he has trouble expressing what the sea means to him: "I would that my tongue could utter / the thoughts that arise in me." In the third stanza he wishes for "the sound of a voice that is still." His grief has paralyzed his tongue and, it seems, his body's movement. He can only sit mutely and reflect on the loss of his loved one while the sea and others, such as the sailor and the boy and girl on the shore, freely laugh, sing, and shout. Words no longer suffice for the speaker (such inability of words to mitigate grief is also seen in "In Memoriam"). Ultimately the sea, as it continues to break on the crags, serves as a contrasting reminder of what he has lost ("the tender grace of a day that is dead").
How does Tennyson use legend and myth in his poetry?
Many of Tennyson's works reuse figures from myth and legend and imagine their thoughts at crisis points or in difficult situations. "Ulysses" concerns the Homeric hero's desire for a final journey in contrast with the less interesting life he has back at home, and "The Lotos-Eaters" describes the point in Homer's Odyssey when Ulysses must forcibly remove his men from the isle because they want to remain there forever rather than to keep adventuring. "Tithonus" draws on the Greek myth of the man who was doomed to grow old forever without dying. Tennyson changes or adds details when he needs to; for example, Tennyson's Tithonus is the one who made the request for eternal life, not his beloved, in order to further deepen the irony of unintended consequences of getting what one wished for.
"Godiva" comes from an Anglo-Saxon myth rooted in history; the key here is Godiva's thoughtful consideration of her choices. "The Lady of Shalott" and "Morte d'Arthur" are based on the English and French Arthurian romances of the 14th century.
Tennyson used figures that were heroic in stature and was thus able to display their laudable characteristics, such as fortitude, virtue, courage, heroism, and strength of will. Other times the figures convey a moral lesson to the reader or to engage reflection on something like life and death ("Tithonus") or artistic creativity ("The Lady of Shalott"). Tennyson made the past relevant, providing anchors of nobility in the face of a rapidly modernizing society.
Considering the many poems that apparently deal with the death of Arthur Henry Hallam, how does Tennyson resolve or attempt to resolve his grief?
Many of Tennyson's most critically lauded and beloved poems were written to deal with his grief over the death of his friend. Although one might not notice the autobiographical influence on each poem, "Tithonus" and "Ulysses" are important examples along with "The Two Voices," In Memoriam, and "Break, break, break." In these poems Tennyson expresses a variety of emotions reflecting grief and his experience of loss: he is depressed, confused, resentful, and disillusioned. He contemplates suicide and ponders the deep questions of the meaning of life and what happens to the soul after death. He deeply questions his religious faith. Yet, by the time he finished In Memoriam, he had come to terms with his grief and found a way to find pleasure in life, a way to live with his sorrow. He particularly took comfort in his belief thats Hallam's soul had achieved a state of transcendence and that his own grief had been instructive to him. He regained anchors for his religious faith and took comfort in his belief that God has a plan for all souls. Importantly, Tennyson knew he could never forget Hallam or be truly healed of his grief, but that it was possible to live his own sublunary life and find meaning within it.
What role does Christmas play in Tennyson's poems?
Christmas is not only a religious and culturally important holiday for Tennyson, anchoring strong traditions despite the changes in modern life; it is also personally meaningful to him. The holiday was a poignant reminder for him of his loss of Arthur Henry Hallam. Several of the cantos in "In Memoriam" deal with his evolving feelings of grief. In Canto XXVIII, the first Christmas after Hallam's death, Tennyson writes, "This year I slept and woke with pain, / I almost wish'd no more to wake." The bells are filled with sorrow. In the next canto he wonders how he can be merry when his friend is not going to come to the festivities. In the following canto, he remembers the merry songs sung last year when Hallam was alive, and saw sorrow reflected in the "rainy cloud" of Nature as well. The next year, however, while a sense of quiet and calm prevails, Hallam's family and friends are not displaying their grief openly. They are beginning to move past it as much as they can, and Tennyson wonders, "O grief, can grief be changed to less?" Finally, in the third Christmas the poet is back to feelings of sadness, but it is because he has left his family home and moved somewhere new where the bells are unfamiliar. Christmas, then, still has the potential to inspire feelings of nostalgia and mourning even though the poet is gradually finding a way to manage his loss. It is a resonant and deeply meaningful holiday for him.
How does Tennyson portray women in his poetry?
Many of Tennyson's poems that depict women reproduce Victorian gender roles, not counting the dawn goddess in "Tithonus." The women are often pure, beautiful, and sad, like the Lady of Shalott. They mourn for their lost lover (Mariana and the speaker of "Tears, Idle Tears") or for the cherished heroic manly ideal (Shalott). Their grief is one of their defining features, as it is for many of the men. Yet, Tennyson also portrays some women as heroic. Godiva is a heroine to her people and is deeply concerned about virtue and chastity even while she breaks the taboo. Princess Ida is the most progressive of Tennyson's women, seeking gender equality across various spheres, but she is no radical feminist; her story ends with a traditional embrace of motherhood and marriage, though it may be a reluctant embrace.
How might one classify the many poems in "In Memoriam"?
Critics have identified several different types of poems within Tennyson's long and complicated magnum opus. The first twenty-seven are examples of Tennyson's perturbation of spirit; he is emotional, confused, and governed by his feelings. He then moves into a more intellectual engagement with several questions regarding the nature of his grief and the fate of a soul once one dies. This series moves into his religious doubt. Finally, he begins to work through his sorrow and begins to understand how his religious faith can coexist with the scientific findings of the day. He achieves more objectivity when it comes to assessing life and death.
The poem groups in "In Memoriam" also differ in their treatment of how Tennyson employs the role of poetry. The earlier poems tend to use poetry mainly to release emotion. They then function as a way to take one's mind away from engaging with the difficulties of existence. Later, the poems employ manifestations of the mind's self-realization, being places to explore ideas through poetry rather than a more dry, philosophical mode. Finally, the poems serve a prophetic or mission-imparting message; poetry can elevate the mind and bring one to transcendence. That Tennyson deals with all of these different elements in this work is one of the reasons it is so beloved and critically acclaimed.
What role does memory play in "In Memoriam"?
Tennyson is beset by his memories of Hallam. They arise to his mind unrelated to any particular place, and they are summoned by encountering locations where the two spent time together. In particular, Tennyson associates Hallam with the Tennyson home at Somersby and is grieved when he moves away, because it seems like the grief is fresh again. He visits Hallam's old home and visits Cambridge where they attended school, noting that a new student's name is on the door.
Memories of Hallam change as "In Memoriam" proceeds. His memory is at first overwhelming to Tennyson, who cannot fathom how he is to go on living. As the years tick on, however, the memory of Hallam does not sting so much. At one point the poet begins to forget what his friend's face looks like. The memories and the sorrow they bring become manageable over time, and Tennyson finds it possible to never forget Hallam even while he lives out his own life.
Why is Canto 95 often considered the climax of "In Memoriam"?
In Canto 95, Tennyson and friends commune on the Somersby lawn where Tennyson had spent so much time with Hallam. When left alone, Tennyson feels compelled to read old letters from his friend and then seems to experience a trance of sorts. His thoughts "whirl'd / About empyreal heights," and he felt "the deep pulsations of the world." Afterward he felt it impossible to put into words what happened. This is seen by critics to be the climax of the poem, for Tennyson seems to realize in the subsequent poems that Hallam's soul has progressed to a higher plane and possesses knowledge he himself cannot yet attain. This restores Tennyson's faith in God, for he has come to see that the soul has a purpose. Later poems, especially Canto CVI, are joyous and optimistic. His sorrow is not completely gone, of course, but his confidence that man has a purpose and that Tennyson will be reunited with Hallam once more permeates most of the rest of the work.
Does Tennyson successfully fuse heroic drama with domestic comedy in "The Princess"?
There are many aspects of heroic drama in "The Princess." The heroine, the Princess, is intelligent, composed, and courageous. Her plan to facilitate an evolved social order in which men and women are equal is treated by Tennyson as noble. As the poem progresses it becomes darker, and Ida is portrayed as a heroic figure under assault by forces of ignorance and misogyny. Nevertheless, the poem also has elements of the domestic and the comedic. It begins lightly and is fashioned as a love story. There are idyllic picnics, bawdy songs, and flirtations. Tennyson appears to work hard to fuse these two genres, and whether or not he succeeded has been debated by critics for decades. The domestic comedy looks inferior to Ida's heroism. The end of the poem suggests that it is impossible to fully reconcile Ida's feminist heroism with her traditional comedic role. Critic James Kincaid writes that "the poem insists on being true to both sets of values and thus cannot escape giving a curious sense that its solution is both a victory and a defeat." Since Walter, at the end, complains that "I wish she had not yielded!" the reader might infer that Tennyson recognizes he has not fused the two genres but has left them to contrast one another.