Book Review: Selected Poems (Tennyson)

Selected Poems, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

This sort of book is one that is easy to appreciate.  If you are one of those rare contemporary readers of poetry–since most contemporary readers of poetry happen to be poets themselves–this is a book that will likely pique your interest.  Like many similar collections that exist of poets [1], this book is short and straightforward and provides a selection of curated poems from a famous Victorian poet whose work is still remembered and recognized today.  If you enjoy reading poetry and have a few minutes to kill, this is an easy book to read, one that will provide a sample of great poems from the past by which contemporary poets and their efforts may be judged, and from which one may gain an appreciation of the poetic skill and deep melancholy and remarkable ambiguity of this notable poet.  Such a work may inspire one to write one’s own poems in response, or at least they will provide a bit of enjoyment at the poetic skill of this once well-known writer.  If poetry is not your cup of tea, you will undoubtedly find other things to read, or not read at all.

Anyway, the contents of this book take up a little bit more than 100 small pages.  The complete poems included in this work are:  “The Outcast,” “Mariana,” “The Lady Of Shalott,” “The Lotos-eaters,” “Ulysses,” “Morte d’Arthur,” “Break, Break, Break…,” “Locksley Hall,” “The Golden Year,” “The Charge Of The Light Brigade,” “Titonus, ” “Northern Farmer – New Style,” “To E. FitzGerald,” “Crossing The Bar,” and “June Bracken And Heather.”  In addition to these complete poems there are selections included from “The Princess,” “In Memoriam A.H.H.,” “Ode On The Death Of The Duke Of Wellington,” “Maud:  A Monodrama,” and “Merlin And Vivien.”  On top of this the editor includes a chronology of Tennyson’s life and times that examines his own life and works along with the poetic and social and political context of his time, which is a helpful addition to students of the Victorian world.  These poems could no doubt be more extensive, and one might always wish for more selections and perhaps even complete collections of what is selected from, but readers will be able to recognize that there is no filler material here and that all of these poems are worth reading and some of them are undeniable classics.

Even though this is a fairly small collection of poems, it is large enough to demonstrate that Tennyson had some characteristic approaches to poetry that are well worth reflecting on.  He frequently mentions the events of his own time and seems especially concerned with death and melodrama, and even contemporary politics.  Wherever contemporary events mix with death–as in the Charge Of The Light Brigade or his various memoria poetry–he can be trusted to provide some comment.  He is likewise somewhat cynical about contemporary culture (his “Northern Farmer – New Style” is particularly savage in this vein) and deeply nostalgic not only with regards to his own life but with regards to history as a whole, demonstrating a deep interest in the Greek epic poetry as well as the Arthurian cycle.  Not all contemporary readers are likely to share the same degree of historical knowledge or respect and regard for the past as Tennyson did, which makes it somewhat remarkable that his poetry still endures, largely because of its beauty and melancholy, I think.  Even for his time, though, Tennyson looked both backward and forward and was a voice full of irony and reflection rather than the sort of poet whose bumptious presentism makes it hard to appreciate later on.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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