The Lady of Shalott
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Size: 1.57" wide x 59.84" long x 90.16" tall
If there were a contest for the title "greatest Victorian poet," Tennyson would in death, as in life, obtain the prize. He had the finest ear of any English poet, admitting to know the metrical value of every word in the English language except "scissors." In addition, his ability to evoke a closely rendered scene was unsurpassed. Therefore, although those who sought to attack Tennyson called him "the stupidest of the English poets," he remains the only one ennobled for his poetry. Tennyson was born at Somersby rectory in Lincolnshire, the son of the rector there, and was educated at Louth Grammar School and Trinity College, Cambridge. His earliest published verse, Poems Chiefly Lyrical (1830) and Poems (1833), were considered too sentimental by many critics. Signs of future greatness could be detected in some of the poems in these collections, however. In 1842, a new volume entitled Poems was published. This work, consisting of heavily revised poems from the two earlier collections as well as many new poems, helped to establish Tennyson's fame. His masterpiece, In Memoriam (1850), crowned his fame. The work is a tribute to his close friend Arthur Henry Hallam, whose sudden death in 1833 was a crucial event in the poet's life. The year it was published he succeeded Wordsworth as poet laureate of England. Thereafter, he became tremendously popular and held the respect and admiration of the nation, including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. From that point, Tennyson also became the poet of the establishment, and for the next 40 years he was the Parnassian idol whom younger poets would vainly seek to topple. In many of his poems, including "Ulysses," "The Princess," and "Idylls of the King" (1859--1885), Tennyson trumpeted the creed of the benevolent tyrant. It was this embrace of an authoritarian universe that, as much as his versecraft, had earned him the respect of the British monarchs. His lifelong fascination with King Arthur was the inspiration for Idylls of the King, a series of 12 narrative poems published over a period of 26 years. In 1888, Tennyson chronologically arranged these 12 poems, thus depicting the full story of Arthur and his vision of the perfect state. Tennyson's last poem, "Crossing the Bar," was a 16-line lyric written while crossing from Lymington to the Isle of Wight. It was included in a collection entitled Demeter and Other Poems published in 1889. Tennyson's most characteristic form of poetry was the idyl, a poem of country life. These poems frequently take the form of dramatic reveries that tell a story. Mood is often created through the power of richly described settings. All of Tennyson's work reflects his talent for achieving fine shades of poetic expression, and his lyrics express the emotions and experiences shared by all people. His work is also notable for its heroic quality. In 1883, Tennyson was awarded the title of Baron Tennyson by Queen Victoria; his full title was Baron of Aldworth and Farringford. When he died in 1892, he was buried in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. Tennyson's letters show almost nothing of the vividness and brilliance of his poetry, but Cecil Y. Lang and Edgar F. Shannon have been publishing them for their sidelights. More important for an understanding of Tennyson's poetry, the century-long ban on publishing the contents of Tennyson's notebooks, held by Trinity College in Cambridge, was lifted not long ago; an edition of In Memoriam, incorporating these variants, was brought out by Susan Shatto and Marion Shaw in 1982.