The Poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson and Pre-Raphaelite Art

Why haven't I done this before? Here I have chosen some of my favorite Alfred Lord Tennyson poems along with some beautiful Pre-Raphaelite paintings and illustrations. I even threw in Julia Margaret Cameron!

A sketch of The Merman by John William Waterhouse

               The Merman

    WHO would be
    A merman bold,
    Sitting alone
    Singing alone
    Under the sea,
    With a crown of gold,
    On a throne?
        I would be a merman bold,
    I would sit and sing the whole of the day;
    I would fill the sea-halls with a voice of power;
    But at night I would roam abroad and play
    With the mermaids in and out of the rocks,
    Dressing their hair with the white sea-flower;
    And holding them back by their flowing locks
    I would kiss them often under the sea,
    And kiss them again till they kiss'd me
        Laughingly, laughingly;
    And then we would wander away, away,
    To the pale-green sea-groves straight and high,
        Chasing each other merrily.
    There would be neither moon nor star;
    But the wave would make music above us afar --
    Low thunder and light in the magic night --
        Neither moon nor star.
    We would call aloud in the dreamy dells,
    Call to each other and whoop and cry
        All night, merrily, merrily.
    They would pelt me with starry spangles and shells,
    Laughing and clapping their hands between,
        All night, merrily, merrily,
    But I would throw to them back in mine
    Turkis and agate and almondine;
    Then leaping out upon them unseen
    I would kiss them often under the sea,
    And kiss them again till they kiss'd me
        Laughingly, laughingly.
    O, what a happy life where mine
    Under the hollow-hung ocean green!
    Soft are the moss-beds under the sea;
    We would live merrily, merrily.
    Alfred, Lord Tennyson

                           Sketch Mermaid by JW Waterhouse, 1892    

    The Mermaid by JW Waterhouse, 1900

     The Mermaid

    WHO would be
    A mermaid fair,
    Singing alone,
    Combing her hair
    Under the sea,
    In a golden curl
    With a comb of pearl,
    On a throne?
        I would be a mermaid fair;
    I would sing to myself the whole of the day;
    With a comb of pearl I would comb my hair;
    And still as I comb'd I would sing and say,
    'Who is it loves me? who loves not me?'
    I would comb my hair till my ringlets would fall
            Low adown, low adown,
    From under my starry sea-bud crown
            Low adown and around,
    And I should look like a fountain of gold
            Springing alone
        With a shrill inner sound
            Over the throne
        In the midst of the hall;
    Till that great sea-snake under the sea
    From his coiled sleeps in the central deeps
    Would slowly trail himself sevenfold
    Round the hall where I sate, and look in at the gate
    With his large calm eyes for the love of me.
    And all the mermen under the sea
    Would feel their immortality
    Die in their hearts for the love of me.
    But at night I would wander away, away,
        I would fling on each side my low-flowing locks,
    And lightly vault from the throne and play
        With the mermen in and out of the rocks;
    We would run to and fro, and hide and seek,
        On the broad sea-wolds in the crimson shells,
    Whose silvery spikes are nighest the sea.
    But if any came near I would call and shriek,
    And adown the steep like a wave I would leap
        From the diamond-ledges that jut from the dells;
    For I would not be kiss'd by all who would list
    Of the bold merry mermen under the sea.
    They would sue me, and woo me, and flatter me,
    In the purple twilights under the sea;
    But the king of them all would carry me,
    Woo me, and win me, and marry me,
    In the branching jaspers under the sea.
    Then all the dry-pied things that be
    In the hueless mosses under the sea
    Would curl round my silver feet silently,
    All looking up for the love of me.
    And if I should carol aloud, from aloft
    All things that are forked, and horned, and soft
    Would lean out from the hollow sphere of the sea,
    All looking down for the love of me.
    Alfred, Lord Tennyson
     Illustration of The Mermaid from The poetical works of Alfred Tennyson
    Sea Fairies by Emma Florence Harrison 

    The Sea Maidens by Evelyn De Morgan

    Mariana by Julia Margaret Cameron


    WITH blackest moss the flower-plots
      Were thickly crusted, one and all:
    The rusted nails fell from the knots
      That held the pear to the gable-wall.
    The broken sheds look'd sad and strange:        
      Unlifted was the clinking latch;
      Weeded and worn the ancient thatch
    Upon the lonely moated grange.
        She only said, 'My life is dreary,
          He cometh not,' she said; 
        She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
          I would that I were dead!'
    Her tears fell with the dews at even;
      Her tears fell ere the dews were dried;
    She could not look on the sweet heaven, 
      Either at morn or eventide.
    After the flitting of the bats,
      When thickest dark did trance the sky,
      She drew her casement-curtain by,
    And glanced athwart the glooming flats. 
        She only said, 'The night is dreary,
          He cometh not,' she said;
        She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
          I would that I were dead!'
    Upon the middle of the night, 
      Waking she heard the night-fowl crow:
    The cock sung out an hour ere light:
      From the dark fen the oxen's low
    Came to her: without hope of change,
      In sleep she seem'd to walk forlorn, 
      Till cold winds woke the gray-eyed morn
    About the lonely moated grange.
        She only said, 'The day is dreary,
          He cometh not,' she said;
        She said, 'I am aweary, aweary, 
          I would that I were dead!'
    About a stone-cast from the wall
      A sluice with blacken'd waters slept,
    And o'er it many, round and small,
      The cluster'd marish-mosses crept. 
    Hard by a poplar shook alway,
      All silver-green with gnarl├Ęd bark:
      For leagues no other tree did mark
    The level waste, the rounding gray.
        She only said, 'My life is dreary, 
          He cometh not,' she said;
        She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
          I would that I were dead!'
    And ever when the moon was low,
      And the shrill winds were up and away, 
    In the white curtain, to and fro,
      She saw the gusty shadow sway.
    But when the moon was very low,
      And wild winds bound within their cell,
      The shadow of the poplar fell 
    Upon her bed, across her brow.
        She only said, 'The night is dreary,
          He cometh not,' she said;
        She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
          I would that I were dead!' 
    All day within the dreamy house,
      The doors upon their hinges creak'd;
    The blue fly sung in the pane; the mouse
      Behind the mouldering wainscot shriek'd,
    Or from the crevice peer'd about. 
      Old faces glimmer'd thro' the doors,
      Old footsteps trod the upper floors,
    Old voices call'd her from without.
        She only said, 'My life is dreary,
          He cometh not,' she said; 
        She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,'
          I would that I were dead!'
    The sparrow's chirrup on the roof,
      The slow clock ticking, and the sound
    Which to the wooing wind aloof 
      The poplar made, did all confound
    Her sense; but most she loathed the hour
      When the thick-moted sunbeam lay
      Athwart the chambers, and the day
    Was sloping toward his western bower. 
        Then, said she, 'I am very dreary,
          He will not come,' she said;
        She wept, 'I am aweary, aweary,
          O God, that I were dead!'
    Mariana illustrated by J.E. Millais from The Poetical Works of Alfred Tennyson, 1882 Edition
    Mariana painted by J.E. Millais, 1851
    Of course, this collection would not be complete without The Lady of Shalott, one of many Tennyson masterpieces. 
    J.W. Waterhouse painted three versions of her while Holman-Hunt joined in along with William Breakspeare and Sidney Harold Meteyard...
                      J.W Waterhouse painted the most recognizable depiction of The Lady of Shalott in 1888

    Part I

    On either side the river lie
    Long fields of barley and of rye,
    That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
    And through the field the road runs by
                To many-towered 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
    Through 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 veiled
    Slide the heavy barges trailed
    By slow horses; and unhailed
    The shallop flitteth silken-sailed
    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 towered Camelot:
    And by the moon the reaper weary,
    Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
    Listening, whispers "'Tis the fairy
                Lady of Shalott."

    Part II

    There she weaves by night and day
    A magic web with colours gay.
    She has heard a whisper say,
    A curse is on her if she stay
                To look down to Camelot.
    She knows not what the curse may be,
    And so she weaveth steadily,
    And little other care hath she,
                The Lady of Shalott.

    And moving through a mirror clear
    That hangs before her all the year,
    Shadows of the world appear.
    There she sees the highway near
                Winding down to Camelot:  
     There the river eddy whirls,
    And there the curly village-churls,
    And the red cloaks of market girls,
                Pass onward from Shalott.

    Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
    An abbot on an ambling pad,
    Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
    Or long-haired page in crimson clad,
                Goes by to towered Camelot;
    And sometimes through the mirror blue
    The knights come riding two and two:
    She hath no loyal knight and true,
                The Lady of Shalott.

    But in her web she still delights
    To weave the mirror's magic sights,
    For often through the silent nights
    A funeral, with plumes and lights
                And music, went to Camelot:
    Or when the moon was overhead,
    Came two young lovers lately wed;
    "I am half sick of shadows," said
                The Lady of Shalott.

    Part III

    A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
    He rode between the barley-sheaves,
    The sun came dazzling through the leaves,  
     And flamed upon the brazen greaves
                Of bold Sir Lancelot.
    A red-cross knight for ever kneeled
    To a lady in his shield,
    That sparkled on the yellow field,
                Beside remote Shalott.

    The gemmy bridle glittered free,
    Like to some branch of stars we see
    Hung in the golden Galaxy.
    The bridle bells rang merrily
                As he rode down to Camelot:
    And from his blazoned baldric slung
    A mighty silver bugle hung,
    And as he rode his armour rung,
                Beside remote Shalott.

    All in the blue unclouded weather
    Thick-jewelled shone the saddle-leather,
    The helmet and the helmet-feather
    Burned like one burning flame together,
                As he rode down to Camelot.
    As often through the purple night,
    Below the starry clusters bright,
    Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
                Moves over still Shalott.

    His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;   
     On burnished hooves his war-horse trode;
    From underneath his helmet flowed
    His coal-black curls as on he rode,
                As he rode down to Camelot.
    From the bank and from the river
    He flashed into the crystal mirror,
    "Tirra lira," by the river
                Sang Sir Lancelot.
    She left the web, she left the loom,
    She made three paces through the room,
    She saw the water-lily bloom,
    She saw the helmet and the plume,
                She looked down to Camelot.
    Out flew the web and floated wide;
    The mirror cracked from side to side;
    "The curse is come upon me," cried
                The Lady of Shalott.

    Part IV

    In the stormy east-wind straining,
    The pale yellow woods were waning,
    The broad stream in his banks complaining,
    Heavily the low sky raining
                Over towered Camelot;
    Down she came and found a boat
    Beneath a willow left afloat,
    And round about the prow she wrote  
     The Lady of Shalott.

    And down the river's dim expanse
    Like some bold seer in a trance,
    Seeing all his own mischance —
    With a glassy countenance
                Did she look to Camelot.
    And at the closing of the day
    She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
    The broad stream bore her far away,
                The Lady of Shalott.

    Lying, robed in snowy white
    That loosely flew to left and right —
    The leaves upon her falling light —
    Through the noises of the night
                She floated down to Camelot:
    And as the boat-head wound along
    The willowy hills and fields among,
    They heard her singing her last song,
                The Lady of Shalott.

    Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
    Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
    Till her blood was frozen slowly,
    And her eyes were darkened wholly,
                Turned to towered Camelot.
    For ere she reached upon the tide  
     The first house by the water-side,
    Singing in her song she died,
                The Lady of Shalott.

    Under tower and balcony,
    By garden-wall and gallery,
    A gleaming shape she floated by,
    Dead-pale between the houses high,
                Silent into Camelot.
    Out upon the wharfs they came,
    Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
    And round the prow they read her name,
                The Lady of Shalott.

    Who is this? and what is here?
    And in the lighted palace near
    Died the sound of royal cheer;
    And they crossed themselves for fear,
                All the knights at Camelot:
    But Lancelot mused a little space;
    He said, "She has a lovely face;
    God in his mercy lend her grace,
                The Lady of Shalott."

     The Lady of Shalott by William A. Breakspeare (1872-1903)

    Sidney Harold Meteyard - I Am Half-Sick of Shadows," Said the Lady of Shalott 1913
      Please feel free to leave comments,


Stanley said…
Great idea! Tennyson's poems with beautiful paintings. I really enjoyed this.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Stanley, so glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for commenting.
Hermes said…
Good idea, really enjoyed the post.
Kimberly Eve said…
Thanks Hermes. Don't know why I didn't think of it before.

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