One of the most celebrated poets of the Victorian era, Alfred Tennyson is perhaps best known for his lengthy meditation on death and mourning, In Memoriam. Several verses of this poem betray his reading of Swedenborg, particularly the Swedish mystic’s On the Intercourse of the Soul and the Body, which Tennyson annotated thoroughly. Swedenborg’s emphasis upon the illusory nature of our physical form resonates in Tennyson’s view of death as just an ‘eternal process moving on’, through which ‘From state to state the spirit walks’ (LXXXII). This Swedenborgian refusal to view death as annihilation provides one of the most accomplished, and affecting, poems of the last 200 years.
The works in this volume trace nearly sixty years in the literary career of one of the nineteenth century’s greatest poets, and show the wide variety of poetic forms he mastered. This selection gives some of Tennyson’s most famous works in full, including Maud, depicting a tragic love affair, and In Memoriam, a profound tribute to his dearest friend. Excerpts from Idylls of the King show a lifelong passion for Arthurian legend, also seen in the dream-like ‘The Lady of Shalott’ and in ‘Morte d’Arthur’. Other works respond to contemporary events, such as ‘Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington’, written in Tennyson’s official role as Poet Laureate, or the patriotic ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, while ‘Locksley Hall’ provides a Utopian vision of the future, and the late poem ‘Crossing the Bar’ is a haunting meditation on his own mortality.
ALFRED LORD TENNYSON (1809-92). The most popular poet of the Victorian age and Poet Laureate from 1850. Like many of his contemporaries, Tennyson was a reader of Swedenborg. His elder brother Frederick, also a poet, and his sisters Mary and Emily were all members of the New Church. The influence of Swedenborg may be seen in In Memoriam (on life after death) and in The Princess (marriage and the relation of the sexes).
References: Peter Levi, Tennyson (Macmillan, 1993); Trobridge, Swedenborg: Life and Teaching; and Richard Lines, ‘Angels and Authors’.