E212-R Alfred Tennyson Questions
E212-R ALFRED TENNYSON QUESTIONS


"The Lady of Shalott" (1204-08), "The Lotos-Eaters" (1208-13), "Ulysses" (1213-15), and In Memoriam A.H.H. (1230-80); read at least the following: Prologue (1231), 1-3, 5, 7, 11, 14-15, 28, 34, 39, 54-56, 75, 108, 118, 123-24, 126, 130-31, Epilogue.

"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?

"Ulysses"

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?

In Memoriam A.H.H, "Prologue"

17. This poem was added late in the composing stages as an affirmation of Tennyson's religious faith. What do you think of the quality or steadfastness of Tennyson's affirmation?

18. What relationship between faith and knowledge does the speaker posit?

19. How does this Prologue recast or sum up the whole of In Memoriam A.H.H.? In other words, how does the speaker characterize the poetry he has been writing and editing for around 17 years?

Lyric 1

20. Why does Love need to "clasp" Grief? (9) What's the penalty if Love does not do so? What is the central problem set forth by this lyric?

Lyric 2

21. How is the yew tree correlated with the speaker's state of mind? Why does the speaker envy the yew tree — what qualities or "perspective" (to personify the tree for a moment) does the tree have that he lacks?

Lyric 3

22. What do Sorrow and the speaker argue about? Why does it make sense for the speaker to treat Sorrow momentarily as an external force with whom he can converse?

Lyric 5

23. What does this lyric argue or explore about the relationship between words and grief? How does the poem question romantic notions about the powers of expressive language?

24. How does the speaker's exploration of expressive theory affect your relationship as a reader to In Memoriam A.H.H.?

Lyric 7

25. How does the speaker's state of mind color the description he provides?

Lyric 11

26. How does the speaker's own calmness compare to the natural calm he describes? How does natural calm compare to Arthur Hallam's calmness in death?

27. How does this poem amount to the speaker's preparation for accepting his friend's death, insofar as such acceptance is possible?

Lyric 14

28. How does this poem set forth the importance of coming to terms with the material fact of death, as one might say Lyric 11 does as well?

Lyric 15

29. How does the natural setting correlate with the speaker's state of mind?

30. Review the reference to molten glass in Job 37:18 and Revelations 15:2. What do these biblical passages add to your understanding of the poem?

Lyric 28

31. How can you connect this lyric to the importance of memory in Wordsworth's poetics, as we gather from "Preface to Lyrical Ballads"?

32. What associations do the church bells bring back to the speaker? Why are those memories important to the speaker's process of grieving?

Lyric 34

33. What alternative reason for writing poetry does the speaker set forth as a possibility in this lyric? Does he accept that possibility or reject it? What advantages would accrue to him if he were to become a "wild poet"?

Lyric 39

34. How does "sorrow" function as a Victorian censor of romantic expression in this lyric?

Lyric 54

35. What is the speaker saying about poetry's power to render the world morally or intellectually intelligible? You might examine the final stanza with this question in view.

Lyric 55

36. How might you tie this lyric to Wordsworth's comments about science in "Preface to Lyrical Ballads"? The central question here is "what kind of knowledge does science give us, and how does that knowledge affect our emotional wellbeing?"

Lyric 56

37. Why would it be worse for humans than for animals if Nature's self-description should turn out to be true? What effect does the answer given in the last stanza have upon the emotional movement of In Memoriam as a whole (as you gather from our selections)?

Lyric 75

38. How does this lyric compare to Shakespeare's handling of the theme of "poetic immortality" in his Sonnets'?

Lyric 108

39. How does the speaker characterize his attitude towards Arthur Hallam? What feeling is he exploring in this lyric?

Lyric 118

40. What two kinds of "evolution" does this lyric explore? What seems to be the speaker's attitude towards early formulations about evolution — for instance Charles Lyell's theory of uniformitarianism in the 1830's text Elements of Geology? (Uniformitarianism is the theory that posits the steady, long-term application of natural forces as an explanation for earth's transformations as we see them reflected in geological features?)

41. Where does the speaker's conception of God come into play in this poem, if at all?

Lyric 123

42. What attitude towards scientific knowledge does the speaker take in this lyric? What is the speaker's "dream," as he calls it in the final stanza? Why can't he accept the perpetual change that he has just described in the first two stanzas?

Lyric 124

43. What does the poem set forth as evidence that God exists? What kinds of evidence fail to convince him of God's existence?

44. What is the relationship or similarity between faith and doubt as this lyric handles those states?

45. Relate this poem's ending to Carlyle's doctrine of humankind's need for "mystery." Is Tennyson's solution to religious doubt Carlylean, or more conventionally Christian?

Lyric 126

46. What are the "court" and the "faithful guard" in this lyric? From what is the speaker being protected while he is in the court?

Lyric 130

47. To what extent is this lyric a nature poem? What progress does it mark in the speaker's state of mind as he grieves for Arthur Hallam?

Lyric 131

48. Comment on the way Tennyson describes human life as a process, a "flow." What is the thematic value of the metaphor of water employed in this lyric?

Epilogue

49. How does Tennyson connect his sister's wedding with the passing of his friend Arthur Hallam? What do the two events have in common?

50. Do you find this selection from the final part of In Memoriam convincing? In other words, do you believe that Tennyson has come full circle in his process of grieving and accepted Arthur Hallam's death as part of God's providence? Has he dealt finally with the religious doubts that arose partly his from his response to Arthur's passing?

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.