Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bicentennial of Tennyson

Speaking of bicentennials, today marks the 200th birthday of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Born August 6, 1809, Tennyson went on to become an important canonical poet not only in his native England, which granted him the title of Poet Laureate, but also worldwide. Among his most well-known works are "The Charge of the Light Brigade," "Ulysses," the lengthy In Memoriam A.H.H., and Idylls of the King.

Poe praised Tennyson's work profusely. His final assessment in 1845 was that Tennyson was "a poet, who (in our own humble, but sincere opinion,) is the greatest that ever lived." Years later, friend Lambert A. Wilmer recalled, "I never knew him to speak in warm terms of admiration of any poetical writer, except Alfred Tennyson." Poe even accused other poets of plagiarizing from Tennyson, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Perhaps ironically, a London critic in 1844 suggested Poe was the one trying to be like Tennyson: "Poe is a capital artist after the manner of Tennyson; and approaches the spirit of his original more closely than any of them."

In 1886, speculating on a trip to the United States, Tennyson mentioned to an interviewer a certain spot that he wanted to see. He said, "There is one spot in your country which I should like to visit — a spot, which as your poet, Fitz-Greene Halleck, finely expressed it, is hallowed ground, a pilgrim shrine, a mecca of the mind." The interviewer assumed he meant Mount Vernon, the home of American icon George Washington. "No," Tennyson responded. "I mean a long-neglected spot in the provincial town of Baltimore, where the greatest American genius lies buried. I mean the grave of Edgar Allan Poe." Years earlier, in 1875, Tennyson provided a poem to be read at the dedication of Poe's memorial monument:
Fate that once denied him,
And envy that once decried him,
And malice that belied him,
Now cenotaph his fame.
Happy 200th birthday, Lord Tennyson.

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