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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.'

'In Memoriam A.H.H. Section 5

I sometimes hold it half a sin

To put in words the grief I feel;

For words, like Nature, half reveal

And half conceal the Soul within.

But, for the unquiet heart and brain,

A use in measured language lies;

The sad mechanic exercise,

Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.

In words, like weeds, I'll wrap me o'er,

Like coarsest clothes against the cold:

But that large grief which these enfold

Is given in outline and no more.'

'Sweet is true love that is given in vain, and sweet is death that takes away pain.'

'Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,

Tears from the depths of some divine despair

Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,

In looking on the happy autumn fields,

And thinking of the days that are no more.'

'I will drink life to the lees.'

'Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true.'

'Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.'

'There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.'

'A lie that is half-truth is the darkest of all lies.'

'Once in a golden hour

I cast to earth a seed.

Up there came a flower,

The people said, a weed.'

'No man ever got very high by pulling other people down. The intelligent merchant does not knock his competitors. The sensible worker does not work those who work with him. Don't knock your friends. Don't knock your enemies. Don't knock yourself.'

'Sometimes the heart sees what's invisible to the eye.'

'Half the night I waste in sighs,

Half in dreams I sorrow after

The delight of early skies;

In a wakeful dose I sorrow

For the hand, the lips, the eyes,

For the meeting of the morrow,

The delight of happy laughter,

The delight of low replies.'

'I hold it true, whate'er befall;

I feel it when I sorrow most;

'Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all.'

'Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?'

'Be near me when my light is low,

When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick

And tingle; and the heart is sick,

And all the wheels of Being slow.

Be near me when the sensuous frame

Is rack'd with pangs that conquer trust;

And Time, a maniac scattering dust,

And Life, a fury slinging flame.

Be near me when my faith is dry,

And men the flies of latter spring,

That lay their eggs, and sting and sing

And weave their petty cells and die.

Be near me when I fade away,

To point the term of human strife,

And on the low dark verge of life

The twilight of eternal day.'

'The words “far, far away” had always a strange charm.'

'The quiet sense of something lost'

'Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die'

''Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’

We are not now that strength which in old days

Mov’d earth and heaven, that which we are, we are:

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.'

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