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Alfred Lord Tennyson Biography | Poet

Photo of Alfred Lord Tennyson

Born on August 6, 1809 at Somersby in Lincolnshire, England, Alfred LordTennyson was an outstanding Victorian poet. He wrote poetry that was intensely personal but he was also a strong supporter of social reform and covered some big social issues in his poetry. By the time of his death on October 6, 1892, at Aldworth in Surrey, Lord Tennyson had become very famous and was the most popular poet in Britain.

In childhood Alfred Tennyson admired the poetry of Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott. He began writing poetry under the influence of their lyrical qualities and expressive language. Like the Romantic poets, in his earliest poems Tennyson linked aspects of the natural world to a psychological or emotional state of mind.

Tennyson studied philosophy at Trinity College, Cambridge and in 1828 he won a university prize for poetry, the Chancellor’s Gold Medal. The following year he was invited to become a member of the society of Cambridge intellectuals known as The Apostles.

Tennyson experienced difficulty in reading and writing, because he was extremely short-sighted, so he worked on his poetry in his head. At Cambridge he was urged by members of The Apostles to put his poems into writing, after hearing him recite it from memory at their meetings.

Important friendships developed between Tennyson and other members of the club, but it was his friendship with Arthur Hallam which had most impact on him as a poet. At Cambridge, Hallam transcribed some poems from Tennyson's dictation and later he became engaged to Tennyson’s sister Emily.

A volume of poems by Tennyson, published in 1832, received some harsh reviews and this put the poet off publishing anything for the next nine years.

Tennyson wrote some of his most personal poems after 1833, following the sudden death of his dearest friend Hallam at the age of 22. As a way of dealing with his grief, Tennyson wrote a number of poems over the next ten years. These were collected together and published in 1850 as In Memoriam, the book which established his name as a serious poet.

The publication of a new volume of poems in 1842 gave Tennyson some financial stability. He was awarded an annual pension by the British government and, in 1850, he was appointed as Britain’s Poet Laureate.

In the 1850s Tennyson continued to enjoy success as a poet. He frequently used classical references in his poetry, which was influenced by his great interest in the works of Dante, Virgil and Homer. Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, was an admirer of his work and Tennyson wrote The Idylls of the King, a series of poems about the legendary King Arthur, as a tribute to Prince Albert. He was summoned to the royal court on several occasions and reluctantly accepted a peerage in 1884, when he gained the title of Lord Tennyson.

Lord Tennyson remained committed to highlighting social issues and urging the need for social reform. He wrote about the need for women to have an equal right to higher education. He also recommended diplomacy as a way of resolving international conflicts, rather than the use of military combat which often had disastrous results. This was made clear in his famous poem on The Charge of the Light Brigade.

In his long lifetime Alfred, Lord Tennyson gained the reputation in Britain of being the nation’s best loved poet. He had government patronage and was admired by the royal family. By the time of his death he had achieved the status of being widely known as a great poet. 

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