"I am aweary, aweary; / I would that I were dead!" (11-12 Tennyson) This excerpt from Mariana, provides evidence for an always present theme in the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson, that is death. Tennyson was a Victorian era poet unafraid to explore death, and mourning. In fact, many of Tennyson's most renowned poems are those about or centering on death, including "Mariana", "In Memoriam" and "The Charge of the Light Brigade." Besides Death, Tennyson explored other topics in his poetry in great depth, That is the relationship between science, and religion. Tennyson was a Poet Laureate under Queen Victoria and was more then willing to explore the topics of the day, science and religion. Besides that, Tennyson was patriotic and proud of England and wrote numerous poems about England, many were wrote even though being a Laureate did not always require it of him.
When close friend Arthur Henry Hallam died suddenly, Tennyson was just 24. Tennyson would spend the next ten years of his life writing poems dedicated to Hallam, and published them as "In Memoriam" in 1850 (SparkNote 1). Hallam's death would deal a serious blow to Tennyson's religious beliefs, and motivate him to pen these doubts, an through exploration of death, specifically Hallam's in his long poem "In Memoriam." Though he questioned religion at times, he reserved doubts of science as well. But, Tennyson did think of evolution as progress, and worried about this conflict with the bibles theory of creation, and felt that regardless of scientific discovery, he felt it was necessary to keep faith in God. (SparkNote 1).
Tennyson grew to have mixed feelings about scientific discovery. In his poems Tennyson did not marvel at natures great wonders, but instead feared what her wonders mean, especially for his christian faith. (123Helpme). Tennyson would find he faith weaken by scientific finding in geology and biology. He felt that nature was no longer God's creation, but an entirely separate force (123Helpme). Tennyson would toy with these ideas for much of his career, letting he doubt of God, and his fear of scientific revelation become evident in his poetry. This sentiment would reflect most Victorian Christians, whose faith in the bible was being challenged by Charles Darwin and his theory of Natural Selection.
Tennyson would continue with his troubles with religion in a poem called "Locksley Hall" in which the speaker feels tempted to abandon modern society, and go back to a barbaric lifestyle in the jungle. (SparkNote). Tennyson would even toy with the idea of a Godless world in "In Memoriam". However, by the end of "In Memoriam" Tennyson seems to arrive at the conclusion that we should have faith in scientific progression, and our religion. In a sequel to "Locksley Hall" Tennyson's speaker
has grown skeptical of science and has a re-affirmed belief in god. (SparkNote).
Tennyson would never let go of a theme of death, and in many poems he glorified death, or those characters that died that he wrote of. "The Charge of the Light Brigade" is one example. Tennyson would would deal with a troubled childhood often seemed to embrace optimism, but after Arthur Hallam's death, he began to write depressed and tragic poems. Yet, his poems also carried a theme of the need to persevere, and about what pessimism can do to the human spirit. (SparkNote 2). He would write about these themes for most of his career, and "The Charge of the Light Brigade" embodied those themes exactly, because as the British Cavalry rushed towards Russian Cannons, they kept charging, regardless of the impending doom that awaited them.
Tennyson would also include another theme, patriotism. Tennyson was Poet Laureate of England, a position that required him to write poems for the state. His poems often centered on Heroic sacrifice, Like "Charge of the Light Brigade." He also wrote "Idylls of the Kings" arguably one of his most recognized works, It centered around the chivalry of old age England, and it's heroic Knights of the Round Table. His poems about a queen reigning alone without her husband, Much like his Queen Victoria, and the heroic struggles of British knights painted the perfect patriotic picture. (Cliffnotes). Even in his patriotic poems, death, his prevailing theme, played significant roles as the ultimate form of patriotism, charging blindly for your country, or dying after living a life by the code of chivalry.
Most critics considered "Idylls of the Kings" one of his most important pieces of work.
The mystic past of King Arthur and his knights
Tennyson also used another theme. He wrote of lost love. In Mariana, he writes of woman whose love left her. She mourns her loss, and can not deal with the despair and depression. She contemplates suicide, and does do much more then that. The poem it self lacks any real progression, but instead focuses on the losses she has suffered. (Dempsey 1). This poem like others, such as "The Lady of Shalliot" describe a woman who has lost the ability to do anything short of yearn for their lover. (SparkNote) This depiction is common to Tennyson's love poems. He often has his characters as being unable to do anything without their partner, having lost all lust for life. Some feel that this might even be a relation to the loss of his own friend Hallam, whom he spent many years mourning.