Tennyson's Poems

Tennyson's Poems Summary

In "Ulysses," the hero based on Homer's Odysseus confronts his impending death and ruminates on wanting to leave his home behind, since people there are weak and complacent, to undertake a new heroic journey. He considers his noble deeds thus far and is not content to sit idly without making his last years meaningful.

In "Tithonus," the title character became the lover of the goddess of the dawn and was granted immortal life, but not eternal youth. As he ages he laments the slow and unceasing decay of his body and his exemption from the natural cycle of life and death. He wishes ardently for a natural death and envies those mortals who die. He remembers happier times with her when he was content to enjoy each morning, like she still does.

In "Break, break, break," the speaker watches the sea breaking on the rocks and wishes he could express his deep grief over the loss of a friend. Others shout and play and choose action, but he is silent and immobile.

In "Crossing the Bar," the night has come: it is time to die and cross the bar into, he hopes and expects, the afterlife where he will see his Pilot face to face.

In "Tears, Idle Tears," a poem found within "The Princess," the speaker is filled with tears of which she does not know the source. She thinks of the days that have passed, friends who are gone, and lost kisses, and she is filled with sweet and poignant grief.

"The Charge of the Light Brigade" commemorates the doomed charge of six hundred British soldiers in the Crimean War. Because someone made a mistake, they were ordered to charge a much bigger army. They fight nobly on the hellish battlefield and ride into "the mouth of Hell." Horses and comrades fall, and only a few return.

In "Mariana," the titular character waits alone in a moated grange for her lover to return. The house and grounds decay, as does her mental state. Everything is broken, torpid, sluggish, endless, timeless. She finally acknowledges that he will not come.

In "The Lotos-Eaters," the men from Ulysses's fantastic journeys arrive on the island of the Lotos-Eaters. When they imbibe that delicious and intoxicating plant, they are immersed in a dreamy, peaceful state that makes them desire to remain forever, never to return to the toil and strife of their former lives. They are content with their "Choric Song."

In "Godiva," the heroine is the wife of an earl who has laid a heavy tax on the townspeople. She implores him to get rid of it, but he scoffs at her and jeers that he will only do it if she rides naked through the town. She instructs the townspeople, who already love her, to close their doors and windows and not look outside all morning. She undresses and mounts her horse and undertakes her famous ride. One villager cannot resist the urge to peek at her, but his eyes drop out of his head, and he is blinded. The earl removes the tax, and his wife is beloved for her heroism.

In "The Vision of Sin," Tennyson depicts a youth journeying to a house where pleasure, indolence, and sin reign. The poem is told as a dream, and the speaker says an old man appears and recites a monologue regarding various sins. At the end of the poem, the speaker recounts that he hears a voice in the dream that asks God in an anguished voice if there is any hope. The reply comes in a language he cannot understand.

In "The Kraken," the mythological massive sea beast sleeps at the bottom of the sea. One day he will rise to the surface and die in a blazing, glorious fashion, and this is the only time he will be seen by men and angels.

In "The Two Voices," the speaker wrestles with an internal voice that encourages him to end his suffering over a friend's death by taking his own life. The voices offer arguments for either continuing to live or committing suicide. It appears that the speaker vanquishes the insidious voice and chooses life.

In The Princess: A Medley, friends at an outdoor party weave a tale of a prince and a princess. The long poem is told by the prince, who hears that the princess he is betrothed to wants to break the engagement because she is committed to female education and to remaining apart from men. The prince remembers his childhood love for her and is determined to win her. He and two friends disguise themselves as women and enter the university. They remain there for a short time but are discovered. At one point the prince saves the princess's life, but she feels only cold fury toward him. He is forced to fight her brother, her champion, for her. He loses and lingers in a coma. The princess feels an obligation to nurse him, and as she does, she feels her heart thaw. Her grand experiment has failed, however, and she becomes saddened. At the end the prince tells her they will have an equal marriage and bring out the best in each other.

In "Morte d'Arthur," King Arthur is dying from a grievous wound sustained on the battlefield. All of the Knights of the Round Table are dead save Sir Bedivere. The King instructs Sir Bedivere to take his sword Excalibur and throw it into the lake, but it takes the equivocating knight a few struggles to accomplish this. Then Sir Bedivere takes King Arthur to the barge on which he is to be borne away to the afterlife, and he laments the passing of the king. Arthur instructs him to have faith and live his life.

In "The Lady of Shalott," the Lady is isolated in a tower alongside the river that leads to Camelot. A curse placed upon her dictates that she cannot look out the window or leave her tower. Thus, she weaves her magic web from the images she sees reflected in her mirror. She is happy at first, but one day she sees the handsome and bold Sir Lancelot in the mirror and hears him singing. She crosses the room and looks down at him, and then the mirror cracks and the web flies out the window. She leaves the tower and finds a little boat where she inscribes her name on the prow. She lays down in it and sings her mournful song as the boat is carried down the river. She dies, and the townspeople are disconcerted by her. Sir Lancelot sees her in the boat and murmurs that she had a pretty face.

In Memoriam deals with the poet's extreme grief regarding the death of his friend, Arthur Henry Hallam. Many of the poems deal with Tennyson's lack of faith, and others ponder the state of the individual soul after death. The poems trace a movement from utter grief and hopelessness to acceptance and hope for the future.