Camelot and King Arthur’s Court, Knights of the Round Table, Guinevere, Sir Lancelot, Sir Galahad, and the search for the Holy Grail. … Our imaginations soar with history and legend immortalized in “Idylls of the King,” written 1859-85 by poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. Alfred Lord Tennyson embellished the medieval legend of the Lady of the Lake who gave the sword Excalibur to the courageous young King Arthur.
Born Aug. 6, 1809, Alfred Lord Tennyson was the son of an Anglican clergyman. As a young poet, Tennyson came to the attention of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834).
Samuel Taylor Coleridge had written in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” 1798:
He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
Alfred Lord Tennyson recorded the courage of the British cavalry in “The Charge of the Light Brigade” during the Crimean War. British soldiers were mistakenly ordered to ride to their deaths fighting in the Crimean War against Russia at the Battle of Balaclava, 1854:
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
‘Charge for the guns!’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred …
Over a half-million died in the Crimean War.
When the British alliance eventually won, Russia feared British Canada might try to claim Russian Alaska, so they sold the Alaskan Territory to the United States in 1867.
Alfred Lord Tennyson was honored by Queen Victoria as poet-laureate. Tennyson wrote in “Enoch Arden,” 1864, line 222: “Cast all your cares on God; that anchor holds.”
Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote: “Bible reading is an education in itself.”
In 1850, Tennyson married Emily Sellwood, to whom he had been engaged for a long time. He wrote: “The peace of God came into my life before the altar when I wedded her.”
Tennyson wrote in “Maud,” 1855, part II, sec. iv, st. 3:
Oh, Christ, that it were possible,
For one short hour to see,
The souls we loved, that they might tell us,
What and where they be.
Tennyson’s “In Memoriam,” 1850, chapter XXVII, stanza 4, has the line:
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
Tennyson wrote “In Memoriam,” 1850, chapter XXXI:
When Lazarus left his charnel-cave,
And home to Mary’s house returned,
Was this demanded – if he yearned
To hear her weeping by his grave?
‘Where wert thou, brother, those four days?’
There lives no record of reply,
Which, telling what it is to die,
Had surely added praise to praise.
From every house the neighbors met,
The streets were filled with joyful sound;
A solemn gladness even crowned
The purple brows of Olivet.
Behold a man raised up by Christ;
The rest remained unrevealed;
He told it not, or something sealed
The lips of that Evangelist.
The Library of Congress has a line from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “In Memoriam” displayed in the Jefferson Building’s Main Reading Room above the figure of History: “One God, one law, one element, and one far-off Divine event, to which the whole Creation moves.”
Queen Victoria once said: “Next to the Bible, ‘In Memoriam’ is my comfort.”
Alfred Lord Tennyson was referred to by U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Josiah Brewer in his lecture “The Promise and Possibilities of the Future,” 1905: “Some think … that we are mere atoms of matter tossed to and fro. … Speaker Reed once said … great events of history were brought about by an intelligent and infinite Being. … If you will reflect a little you will be led to the conclusion that, as Tennyson writes ‘Through the ages one increasing purpose runs.'”
Justice David Josiah Brewer continued: “If there be a ‘purpose running’ through the life of the world, is it not plain that one thought in the divine plan was that in this republic should be unfolded and developed in the presence of the world the Christian doctrine of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man?”
Alfred Lord Tennyson’s verse echoed an older poet Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), who wrote in “The Monastery”, 1830, chapter XII:
Oh, on that day, that wrathful day,
When man to judgment wakes from clay,
Be Thou, O Christ, the sinner’s stay
Though heaven and earth shall pass away.
In “Crossing the Bar,” 1889, st. 3, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote:
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.
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