Poeme'en - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Adam Broadhurst, singer and songwriter with the best band in the world (and the /G-f house band) Under A Banner, is also a fan of a certain poet...

Po-et-ry – The very word rolled out with quick dactylic clatter like a homespun pontoon into a sea of prejudices. To me the word gives rise to worlds I cannot reach; the fringes of prismatic dreams I only dreamed of dreaming; the sacred and bucolic splendour of an England that never was; vortices of mist wrapped kimono-like around Far Eastern pinnacles while lotus flowers open in time lapse haste to a piano as fragile as magic glass. I could, of course, go on. I could cite a dozen or more less oblique references to the one-inch-punch power of the Haiku; the character forming juvenile forms of shape poems, nursery rhymes, limericks and that first time I peered at the poetic polaroid purloined from within a Pullman and captured forever - that freeze frame of a Whitsun wedding with Phillip Larkin – awestruck. I could go on; I just might.

I just might because this stuff –po-et-ry- (whether rolled out sing song in grateful recollection or spat out in customarily held mockery) is made of the very essence of everything else. It’s become, in my mind at least, something of a cliché to say ‘poetry is all around us’ yet, like every grandiose cliché, it is an immutable and self-evident king of truths. So then, what’s not to like? The purpose of the remainder of this article is to nudge open just one of an infinite number of doors in an infinite number of vaulted cathedrals of po-et-ry and, in doing so, answer the previous question by proxy. Let’s look, then, at a little of all there is out there on those liquorice limbs of the po-et-tree to love, never mind like.

The cathedral door I’ve elected to have us peer around was first opened for me by pastor’s son Alfred Tennyson, the first poet Laureate to have been granted a handsome stipend to finance a career in verse. Alfred Lord Tennyson spent a fair portion of his annual salary on port and tobacco; I, for one, am glad he did. There was something in that viscous and fortified wine which fortified the lines he first ‘rolled around’ in his head before scrawling them by lamp and candle light enveloped by the pipe smoke that failed in its insidious mission to kill him. I think poetry itself kept him alive.

Grief could have curtailed Alfred’s life of love and achievement too. In the July of 1833 his twenty two year old best friend and fellow poet Arthur Henry Hallam, whilst travelling in Vienna, died of a sudden and unexpected cerebral haemorrhage. To cut a very long and doubtlessly very painful story pitifully short, Tennyson never quite recovered from the loss of his friend. He did, though, draw upon the brief but illuminating years he spent in Hallam’s company to forge some lines of poetry which were so pointedly epoch, era and life-defining they insinuated themselves into the collective lexical toolkit of English speaking people the world over. Lines such as ‘She’s all red in tooth and claw’ and ‘It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’ are so oft quoted without due reference to the big man from Lincolnshire that their efficacy and brilliance are proven ipso facto.

Invaluable contributions to his ever-morphing mother tongue aside, Tennyson’s poetry surely exists to be read and enjoyed. When the eminent Victorian poet and critic Matthew Arnold said of Tennyson’s work that (it) ‘dawdled with life’s painted shell’ he meant it as an attack. For me this is a supreme compliment: to hold all of life and nature’s sublime magnificence in one’s sweeping hands and to steadily dreamily play with and re-translate its unfathomable patterns with metred fluidity and a hitherto unseen confidence of expression is pleasing to the reader when the resultant lines find their intended and unintended marks.

I urge anyone who’s never delved into and between Tennyson’s lines in poems such as The Lotos Eaters, The Palace of Art, The Lady of Shalott and the aforementioned In Memoriam A.H.H to track down a copy and languidly bend open the book’s spine as you roll the wine (or port) glass’ stem between thumb and forefinger as you wade out into the ‘slumberous sheets of foam’ and have those hallowed hollows illuminated while you, too, dawdle with life’s painted shell.

I shouldn’t by rights still be enthused by some of these poems I’ve now read some thirty or forty times. However, in spite of having taught The Lotos Eaters, The Lady of Shalott and several others to A-Level English literature students for the last seven years, I still-incredibly-read these poems for pleasure. It’s quite telling that, when given the long-awaited choice of whether or not to still attend church in my early teens, I elected to stay at home on Sunday; I probably even read some poetry.

When presented with the inevitable decision of whether or not to still read the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson once professional duty is dispensed with I shall still, when seized by the desire, do some dawdling of my own amongst the flotsam, jetsam, mountains, seas, gardens, glades, people and histories laid out in the mostly iambic beading of Tennyson’s accumulated works. I will still, for a short time, walk pace for pace with him along the scorched perimeters of mental cartography he laid out for successive generations of the lost then found.

I may even, one day, visit his tomb in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, and I do not undertake pilgrimages lightly. Nor do I make recommendations lightly: Please go and enjoy yourself as you explore the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Image - Britannica.

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