“Tis better to have loved and lost
Than to have never loved at all”
This line by poetic genius Alfred Lord Tennyson in the poem, In Memoriam, is a line that strums the heartstrings of many. I still remember the first time when I read the poem way back in Class 9 in a chapter of my English textbook. Back then, when I felt the pangs of first love, this line just tore through my heart and he became my favourite poet of all time.
On his 210th birth anniversary, let’s dive a bit into the life of this ingeniously prolific British poet:
- Born on August 6, 1809, in Somersby Lincolnshire England, this poet gave birth to some of the best clichés the world has ever heard. “Theirs not to reason why/ Theirs but to do and die”, “If I had a flower for every time I thought of you/ I could walk through my garden forever”, “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”, etc, are some of the most well-known quotes by him. The words by Tennyson are so primed for the cultural zeitgeist that he is ranked in the most quoted person in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.
- Fame and creativity, however, did not come easy for him for in his early years he was often condemned as being ‘an obscure poet’. This hit home so hard that Tennyson did not pen down another poem for nine years.
- It is also said that he was the original ‘airy-fairy’ poet. The term ‘airy-fairy’ is now often used in a derogatory way usually referring to something light and insubstantial. Tennyson used this line in one of his earliest poems, ‘Lilian’ whose first line reads, “Airy, fairy Lilian.” This phrase was taken up as a term of reproach for anything which was not grounded in reality or a bit fluffy.
- When Tennyson attended Trinity College, Cambridge he became a member of a secret society, Cambridge Apostles. However, as with many secret societies, membership in Cambridge Apostles is hardly a secret these days.
- His noteworthy poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade, appears in the season six episode, Sacrifice of the Angels in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. We find Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney) and Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig) reciting the poem’s third verse as their Starfleet prepares to enter a battle.
- In 1850, Tennyson was awarded the title of Poet Laureate and he held the title for 42 years. He became the longest-serving poet laureate of all time during Queen Victoria’s reign.
- Tennyson’s poetry covered diverse topics as medieval legends, historical events, everyday life, and nature. TS Eliot, the twentieth-century poet even described Tennyson as “the saddest poet”.