E212-M Alfred Tennyson Questions

"The Lady of Shalott" (1204-08), "The Lotos-Eaters" (1208-13), "Ulysses" (1213-15).

"The Lady of Shalott"

1. What effect do the poem's rhyme scheme, metre, and presentation of imagery have on the themes it pursues? How do these elements help move the plot forward?

2. This poem employs metaphors of weaving, singing, and reflection (the "mirror" and "shadows") — what significance do those metaphors have in establishing the poem's meaning?

3. How does the poem's descriptive quality change when Sir Lancelot enters the scene? How is his appearance connected with what the Lady has called a "curse"? Why does the sight of Lancelot induce her to leave her loom and "look down to Camelot" (110)?

4. How do the Lady's death and the villagers' perceptions of her raise the issue of art's relation to life? What statement, if any, do you think the poem as a whole makes about that relation? Why, for example, must the Lady die "singing in her song" (152) — why is it impossible that she should arrive safely at her destination?

"The Lotos-Eaters"

5. Characterize the nature description of the poem's first five stanzas. What effect does the natural setting have upon Odysseus' men?

6. Where is Odysseus in this poem? What is his relation to his crew? If you have studied Homer's Odyssey, how stands Odysseus in relation to his crew in that work?

7. The first several stanzas are written in the Spenserian stanza, which you may recall from The Faerie Queene. Why is that an appropriate choice in conveying the poem's initial atmosphere and the men's attitude before the Choric Song begins?

8. In the "Choric Song," what lesson or sentiment do the Mariners draw from their situation within the poem's natural setting? What is their primary complaint?

9. What view of the gods do the Mariners set forth? How does that view differ from the ones that you have found in any studies you have made of ancient Greek texts?

10. Consider the back-and-forth structure of argument (or complaint) and resolution in "the Choric Song." What allows the Mariners to arrive at their resolutions? What role does memory play?

11. Consider the Mariners' concluding tone and rhetoric in Section 8. How is their hexameter-couplet rhetoric both powerful and yet a misuse of language within the context of Greek heroism? What, in other words, has happened to the bond between speech, sensory perception, and action?


12. What is the basic situation when the poem begins? At what point in his career does Ulysses (i.e. Odysseus, hero of Homer's Odyssey) find himself, and in what state of mind is he?

13. What is Ulysses' attitude towards his son Telemachus and towards the domestic realm that the young man will be left to tend? How does Ulysses understand his own people?

14. At what point does Ulysses begin addressing his old crew members rather than addressing himself in thought? How does his internal commentary on his past experiences and current state of mind differ from the rhetoric he aims at the crew?

15. To what extent is Tennyson's Ulysses like Homer's Odysseus? How does he differ from the Greek hero in Homer's epic?

16. How indebted is Tennyson's construction of Ulysses to Dante's treatment of the epic hero in Canto 26 of Inferno? How does Dante cast Ulysses — what was the epic hero's sin? Is that sin something we need to consider in understanding Ulysses in Tennyson's poem?

Edition: Abrams, M. H. et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vols. 2A-C. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 2000. ISBN 2A = 0393975681, 2B = 039397569X, 2C = 0393975703.