Thursday, March 28, 2013


Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Lady of Shalott -- Painted by John William Waterhouse in1888

I fell in love with poetry in my teens. But poems had to be short: Yeats’s wandering Aengus, searching for the spirit who had called his name so they could pluck the golden apples of the sun. Wordsworth’s golden daffodils dancing in the breeze . . . (I liked Victorian poets even then.)

The poems had to be short so I could copy them into my poetry notebook and draw butterflies and flowers around them. Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Two Voices” inspired polite page flipping, as did “The Lotus-Eaters” and Idylls of the King. Early on I decided I didn’t like Tennyson—which has always amazed my husband: He read Morte d’Arthur in high school and still finds it wonderful. But back then, I thought Tennyson's poems were much too long.

It took a thirteen-year-old Victorian girl make me discover Tennyson—a character in the middle grade mystery series I’m writing. For some reason, she likes Alfred, LordTennyson. (Characters have a way of letting you know things like that.) I was surprised. I knew that L. M. Montgomery’s Anne in Anne of Green Gables liked Tennyson so much she and her friends acted out “The Lady of Shalott”. But my character? What was the poet's appeal for these young girls of yesteryear? I had to find out.

My husband recommended Morte d’Arthur, so I started with that. Was it only a week ago? I’m entranced: The soul-stirring lines. The sheer music in Tennyson’s poems, whether they rhyme or not. And when they do rhyme, the rhyme doesn’t feel forced. His verses flow so easily, and seem straight from the heart. And the stories they tell! I’ve been going through every poetry book on our shelves and online, finding more Tennyson, drowning in the beauty of his poetry. I’m hooked. I’m besotted!

I also have been reading biographical selections about Tennyson, and I’ll be going into his life a little in Part II. But for today, I leave you with an excerpt from Tennyson’s four-part poem, “The Lady of Shalott". (The full poem can be read at The Poetry Foundation's site HERE.)

A big thank you, too, to Jayne Ferst at A Novice Novelist for mentioning the Pre-Raphaelites art movement. The beautiful painting of The Lady of Shalott you see above was painted by John William Waterhouse in1888, a Pre-Raphaelite artist.

The excerpt, then: Enjoy! And, tell me: Has one of your characters ever made you discover a new author or artist? Who? What about a hobby or some other discovery? 

Part I
On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
       To many-tower'd Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
       The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
       Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
       The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow veil'd,
Slide the heavy barges trail'd
By slow horses; and unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd
       Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
       The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
       Down to tower'd Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers " 'Tis the fairy
       Lady of Shalott."


  1. Beautiful post. I will come back to it to enjoy them poem!

  2. Isn't it cool that your characters can teach you new things?

  3. Lovely stuff. Glad your girl led you to Tennyson.

  4. Julia, I'm glad you enjoyed that. The full poem is worth a good read. Because they are long, Tennyson's famous poems take a little time to read (which is probably why I put him off for so long.) But they are worth the time.

    Richard, Yes, I agree! It's one of the fun aspects of being a writer. You learn so many new things and make so many discoveries you might not have.

    Rosi, I am too. You sound like you are a Tennyson reader!

    Hi, Julie, nice to see you here. Beautiful is the word for his poetry, for sure!

  5. I've loved Tennyson since my college years.
    And for me the most interesting characters are the ones discovering.

  6. I first read Tennyson suring my Soph year in college. I think he might be the greatest post who ever lived...

  7. These are some great Tennyson lines:)

  8. Optimistic, you are probably not alone in your assessment of Tennyson. How nice that you discovered him so early. I wish I had.

    Hi, Mark, thanks for stopping by. Yes, I was captivated by them. They are just beautiful.

  9. I am immersing my senior students in Victorian England as they study The Importance of Being Earnest. Thanks for sharing Tennyson with us.

  10. After reading that poem, I think I like Tennyson's work. Your blog is so helpful and informative that I now want to actually read work by Tennyson.

  11. Hi, Denise, how nice for your students that they are studying Victorian playwrights. I remember The Importance of Being Ernest, and remember liking it, along with Barrie plays. The Victorian era is so interesting!

    Murees, I'm so glad this post turned you onto Tennyson. Thanks for stopping by.

  12. I'm a big Tennyson fan. Thanks for reminding me how great he is.
    And thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment too.

  13. AWESOME BLOG...thanks for taking the time to stop by my blog and comment on my post.


    Silver's Reviews

  14. I always enjoy his work. So descriptive. My father read this poem to me as a small child, thanks for the memories.

  15. Deborah, it's amazing how many Tennyson fans I've connect to with this post. I'm such a latecomer to him, I had no idea.

    Elizabeth, thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you like this blog.

    Glynis, so glad this post brought back fond memories. Hope you are getting all settled in now.

  16. Hi! Delighted to meet you on my site and find your blog. As you can imagine I am fascinated with the Victorian era...and also happen to love Tennyson, the people's poet! I'm your newest member:)

  17. Lovely. I'm a latecomer to Tennyson too. I've only delved into poetry, both reading and writing, since last spring.

  18. Hi, Sharon, Glad you found my blog, and thanks for following me. Yes, the Victorian era is such and interesting and evocative time.

    Theresa, thanks for stopping by. It's hard to believe you've only been delving into poetry since last spring. You write some nice poetry.

  19. Hi Elizabeth, I just read a FABULOUS book called "Song of the Sparrow" by Lisa Anne Sandell which is a lyric poem/novel (yes) written about Elaine of Ascolat, aka The Lady of Shallot. It takes place on the battlefield with Arthur, Lancelot and Gwen, and offers a riveting, fresh, lyricly written take on these characters.
    I was surprised and swept away. One of my favorite reads of the year and now I'm back into reading anything and everything I can get my hands on about the Arthurian legends.
    Sidenote: I found this book in a free library and it had been (gasp! scream! faint!)discarded. Shiver. Apparantly the absence of any dystopian vampire zombies caused it to be overlooked.
    Oh--also, your picture glyph does not take people to your lovely blog. It only brings me to a Google profile page where I am asked to leave you a you might want to rectify that so readers can find your blogs.
    (I am on a one-woman mission to cure this oversight.)
    Take Care and good writing!
    ~Just Jill

  20. I loved reading the Victorian poets while getting a M.A. in English. I also had a huge poster of the Lady Shallott on my wall. I like your blog! I'll be back to find other delights.

  21. Hi, Jill, "Song of the Sparrow" sounds like my kind of a book. Appreciated all your comments. Thanks for the tip about the glyph. I think I've fixed it now.

    Cathy, nice to meet you. Thanks for stopping by. I visited your blog and liked (an am following) it as well. I'd love to find a poster of the Lady of Shallott.