Top Alfred, Lord Tennyson Poems

The prolific English poet focused heavily on death, loss and nature

The works of Victorian-era English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson contain some of the most-quoted phrases in Western literature. 

The poet laureate of Great Britain and Ireland, Tennyson developed his talent as a poet at Trinity College, when he was befriended by Arthur Hallam and members of the Apostles literary club. When his friend Hallam died suddenly at the age of 24, Tennyson wrote one of his longest and most moving poems "In Memoriam." That poem became a favorite of Queen Victoria's.

 

Here are some of Tennyson's best-known poems, with an excerpt from each one. 

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Perhaps Tennyson's most famous poem, "The Charge of the Light Brigade" contains the quotable line "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." It tells the historical story of the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War, where the British Light Brigade suffered heavy casualties.The poem begins:

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred. 

In Memoriam

Written as a eulogy of sorts for his great friend Arthur Hallam, this moving poem has become a staple of memorial services. The famous line "Nature, red in tooth and claw," makes its first appearance in this poem, which begins:

Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove

A Farewell

Many of Tennyson's works are focused on death; in this poem he ponders how everyone dies, but nature will continue after we're gone.

Flow down, cold rivulet, to the sea
Thy tribute wave deliver:
No more by thee my steps shall be
For ever and for ever

Break, Break, Break

This is another Tennyson poem where the narrator is struggling to express his grief about a lost friend. The waves break relentlessly on the beach, reminding the narrator that time moves on.

Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.
 

Crossing the Bar

This 1889 poem uses the analogy of the sea and the sand to represent death. It's said that Tennyson requested this poem be included as the final entry in any collections of his work after his death. 

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal

This Tennyson sonnet is so lyrical that many songwriters have tried to put it to music. It ponders, through the use of natural metaphors (flowers, stars, fireflies) what it means to remember someone. 

Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font:
The fire-fly wakens: waken thou with me.

The Lady of Shalott

Based on an Arthurian legend, this poem tells the story of a lady who is under a mysterious curse. Here's an excerpt:

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by

The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls

This rhyming, lyrical poem is a somber reflection on how one is remembered.

After hearing a bugle call echo around a valley, the narrator considers the "echoes" that people leave behind.  

The splendor falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story;
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.

Ulysses

Tennyson's interpretation of the mythological Greek king finds him wanting to return to traveling, even after many years away from home. This poem contains the famous and oft-quoted line  "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

Here is the opening to Tennyson's "Ulysses."

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race