The Effectiveness of Tennyson’s Portrayal of Loss in “Tears, Idle Tears”

January 16, 2019 by Essay Writer

In « Tears, Idle tears », the victorian poet, Lord Alfred Tennyson gives through his poem a retrospective glance back at what he has lost in the past, but also the way people might feel when faced with loss. Lord Tennyson wrote this poem after visiting an Abbey, so we could only assume that the traditionally gloomy atmosphere of such place would be the inspiration behind this poem, and that perhaps it was a way for Lord Tennyson to retrospectively wonder about his own sadness, as the tone of the speaker seems pensive, as if the reader was witnessing the speaker’s train of thought (« I know what they mean », « thinking »).

The poem’s setting is not clearly defined, the only indication is that it may have been written in fall as it is said on verse 4, « in looking on the happy autumn-fields ». Autumn is a season that usually is associated with a melancholic and dreamy atmosphere, thus putting the reader in a similar mood. Nostalgia is one of the main themes of this poem, an idea that is conveyed by the regret of fleeting time that the author seems to look back on with great regret. Indeed, time is a really recurrent element throughout the poem: every stanza ends with these words « the days that are no more » which suggests that the days the speaker is thinking about are only alive in his mind as they have already passed and that it is with great sorrow and regret that he is reminiscing them. The repetition of those words could also be interpreted as some kind of obsession from the speaker, as if the nostalgia and regret were so great that it slowly drove him mad, constantly tormenting him. Grief is also is an important theme of the poem, the speaker seems to deal with the loss of « friend » and of a lover as well, perhaps (« on lips that are for others »). He is struggling to cope with this loss. Grief is associated to the idea of life and death: « underworld », « dying eyes », « death » and « Death in Life » are all linked to the idea of loss and mourning caused by death. The mood of this poem is melancholic and makes the reader empathize with the speaker because of the utter sadness and despair the speaker seems to be struggling with finding meaning to. The first stanza is an introduction to the speaker’s melancholic introspection.

On the second stanza, the fourth verse: « sinks with all we love below the verge » is a euphemistic metaphor for the burial of loved ones, the use of the verb « sink » is associated with the imagery of water or a boat, it could maybe be a way for the speaker to cope with loss in a more comforting manner than the harsh reality of burying the body of a dead loved one that was once filled with life. It makes the reader empathize with the speaker’s grief in a more bearable way. This second stanza is about remembering his friends that are now dad.

In the third stanza, nature also seems to be a way to convey the speaker’s melancholy. The stanza starts with « Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns », the use of the onomatopoeia « Ah » could be interpreted a a cry of despair from the speaker caused by the weight and pain of grief. It still seems like the speaker is in a retrospective mood, thinking aloud, thus making the reader feel like he is diving into someone’s mind, a mind clouded by the constant regret of loss and past time. The « dark summer dawns » is both an oxymoron and a simile, it shows that thinking about those « days that are no more » brings a bitter sweet feeling, « summer » is linked to warmth and happiness, perhaps because of the nostalgia coming from much simpler days, « days that are no more », days not yet stained by the pain of grief. On the other hand, the adjective « dark » casts a shadow on those memories, maybe in a menacing way, foreshadowing the loss that is coming this way. This shows the reader how memories can be a source of pain because of how they are filled with regret.

The speaker watches the sun turn into a « glimmering square » through a window. This narrowing light could be an imagery to the despair caused by grief, and how the speaker might be progressively losing hope. Stanza four is centered around the remembering of a lost lover: « dear as remembered kisses after death » this simile shows that the speaker’s tears were as dear as kisses, because they are now the only thing they can hold on to after the passing of their lover. It makes the reader realize the strength of love, even if tinted by regret, love still lives on, in memory, even though the loved one has passed away.

In this poem ‘Tears, Idle tears’, Lord Tennyson delivers an emphatically powerful description of grief and loss, showing deep regret linked to the nostalgia of memories and how it affects us. It is with very touching vulnerability that the speaker bears his mind’s retrospection of bittersweet memories to a reader that can only empathize with those fresh tears still haunted by the reminiscence of fleeting time and harrowing loss.

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