ALFRED TENNYSON QUESTIONS FOR E212

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Assigned: "The Lady of Shalott" (1114-18); "The Lotos-Eaters" (1119-23); "Ulysses" (1123-25); from In Memoriam A.H.H. (1138-88) Prologue, 1-5, 54-56.

Of Interest: Literary History | DMOZ Links | Victorian Web | Author Image | The Lady of Shalott, Holman Hunt Sketch | D. G. Rossetti Shalott Sketch | Tennyson Page, Shalott Images | Wikipedia Entry, Arthur Henry Hallam

"The Lady of Shalott"

1. What effect do the poem's rhyme scheme, meter, 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 4

23. What role does sleep play in the psychology of sorrow?

Lyric 5

24. 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?

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

Lyric 54

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

Lyric 55

26. 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

27. 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)?

Edition: Greenblatt, Stephen et al, eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Vol. E. New York: Norton, 2006. ISBN Package 2 (Vols. DEF) 0-393-92834-9.