The Words of Tennyson

Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson FRS (1809 – 1892) was one of the most popular British poets and was the Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland during much of Queen Victoria's reign. He was awarded the Chancellor's Gold Medal at Cambridge for one of his first pieces, ‘Timbuktu’, and published his first solo collection of poems, Poems Chiefly Lyrical in 1830. His verse soon proved popular and brought Tennyson to the attention of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and others. The medievalism and powerful visual imagery of Tennyson's early poetry was a major influence on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Much of his verse was based on classical mythological themes, such as 'Ulysses', although 'In Memoriam A.H.H.' was written to commemorate his friend Arthur Hallam, a fellow poet and student at Trinity College, Cambridge, after he died of a stroke at the age of 22.

A number of phrases from Tennyson's work have become commonplaces of the English language, including ''Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all', 'Theirs not to reason why,/Theirs but to do and die’, 'Nature, red in tooth and claw' (In Memoriam A.H.H.), 'My strength is as the strength of ten,/Because my heart is pure', 'To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield', 'Knowledge comes, but Wisdom lingers', and 'The old order changeth, yielding place to new'. He is the ninth most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

Here is a selection of some of his words:

'The red rose cries, “She is near, she is near;”

And the white rose weeps, “She is late;”

The larkspur listens, “I hear, I hear;”

And the lily whispers, “I wait.”’

'If I had a flower for every time I thought of you...I could walk through my garden forever.'

'The shell must break before the bird can fly.'

'Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all.'

'I am half-sick of shadows,' said The Lady of Shalott.'


Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,

Whispering “it will be happier”...'

'I remain

Mistress of mine own self

and mine own soul'

'I am a part of all that I have met.'