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Golden Age in Tennyson's Poems

Categories: AgeKing ArthurPoems

Why does Alfred Lord Tennyson Make Arthurian world look like the Golden Age? In this essay, I will talk about five poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson, and how he makes them reflect upon the Victorian period. The five poems are: “Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinnevere,” “The Coming of Arthur, ” “The Lady of Shalott,” “Sir Galahad,” “Morte d’Arthur. ” I will debate how Tennyson speaks badly of this age throe those five poems. “Sir Galahad” is a poem about a knight who belongs to the Knights of the Round Table and lives in the Golden Age.

This poem describes the perfections, and imperfections of an ideal knight. Alfred Lord Tennyson speaks of the duties that a knight has as very hard and that every knight should go through a rough time in his life. This poem describes Sir Galahad as a perfect knight, because he does not follow his heart or soul, but follows the command of his King, and shows loyalty and honour to his country.

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Sir Galahad is a virgin, who can avoid the temptations of losing his virginity: “Nor maiden’s hand in mine. ”

By acting in this way, we can see that Sir Galahad is spiritually trapped because he has committed himself to serving the king. However, Tennyson also shows us the suffering that this knight is going throe, as we get the impression that his should is trapped in his body. This poem creates a cold, and a dark atmosphere and seems to be set in the winter season: “Between dark stems the forest glows”.

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The poem “Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinnevere” is written, and set in an opposite format to one of “Sir Galahad.

“This poem is a far more realistic. We get that impression in the first line of this poem. “Like souls that balance joy and pain”. Tennyson is telling us that we all pass through times of joy and pain in our lives. This poem is also related to the nature of the world, which makes it more realistic to the Golden Age. Firstly, Tennyson talks about the season, which is spring. He describes it as “a sun-lit fall of rain” meaning that spring has both rain and sun. The other natures in this poem are about the animals.

It shows how small two can be compared to its predator. This is another sign of nature. The poem “Sir Galahad” describes how a knight does not wish to lose all his worldly worth and also how he must resist the temptations he goes through in his quest. However, the poem “Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinnevere”, does not mention a great deal about Sir Lancelot being a knight and all the qualities he has. Instead it shows that this knight cannot resist the temptation to lose his virginity and his knighthood by kissing Queen Guinnevere.

The poem “Sir Galahad” touches a point on religion: “I hear a noise of hymns”. Tennyson could be indicating that on the quests of Sir Galahad, he should always keep the remembrance of the name of God. Tennyson may be also saying that if he remembers God on his quests, he shall be seeking help from God and shall be successful in his quests: “Until I find the Holy Grail,” and “Three angels, bear the Holy Grail. ” However, Tennyson is also telling us that it is a religious quest because as we know, the Holy Grail is known to be the cup used by Jesus on the Last Supper.

The mention of religion in “Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinnevere” is very little directly but by this poem’s theme of nature, it tells us the hard duties of a knight of the Round Table and how these duties can be a burden. This poem also shows the negative side to being a perfect knight. It shows that a knight must give up all bliss to keep his loyalty and honour to his country. By doing this, it gives Sir Galahad a rather dull personality. Tennyson may be saying that this age was not a Golden Age for everyone, such as knights like Sir Galahad.

Nevertheless, a knight such as Sir Lancelot experienced a blissful life and was not stopped by his duties of being a knight. Although he wasn’t the most honest of all knights, he made the most of his time during the Golden Age. The more successful knight out of the two during this age would be Sir Galahad because he is following the rules of knighthood and wishes to keep his loyalty and honour for his country. Sir Lancelot will not be successful in this age because his reputation as a knight will go as a dishonourable knight. “The Lady of Shalott” is a poem about a cursed lady who is trapped in a tower of Camelot.

From first part of this poem, we can see that Camelot is a very royal place and belongs to a king. We can tell this by the fact that the king owns acres of land and fields of barley and of rye. One of the most obvious features of Camelot is that it is a castle and that is where the king and his knights presumably live. The first and second part of this poem, shows us how Camelot was once the home of the Golden Age. Tennyson makes Camelot look like a dreamland and the ideal place of leisure at that time: “And up and down the people go”.

The second section of the poem moves on from Camelot to a very deserted island called Shalott. Tennyson makes this island look very sad and in some ways the total opposite to the to the dream land of Camelot: “And the silent isle inbowers. ” From this quote we firstly see in this phrase Shalott is very silent, which means that it is not a place where people would meet in their leisure time. Shalott is meant to bring depression and sadness, which brings the connection between Shalott and the Lady of Shalott.

We see that depression and sadness is brought to the Lady of Shalott by a supposed curse that is on her. Tennyson may be emphasising here that in all good things in life such as this Golden Age in Camelot with Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, there will always be a bad point to turn to such as the Lady of Shalott who is trapped in a tower of Camelot beginning to believe a curse is really on her. Part two tells us how the Lady of Shalott sees the outside world through her magic mirror and how she might have wanted to live her life.

Here, we possibly could say that the Lady of Shalott is missing out on the Golden Age and wishing that she could be amongst those enjoying the Golden Age. This brings the connection between the Golden Age and the Industrial Revolution in Victorian Britain. Tennyson may be saying here that the curse that is on the Lady of Shalott, could be the same curse that was on Victorian women at that time which was not to be allowed to go out of the house that often and made only to do housework. The Lady of Shalott imagines her fate: “A funeral with plumes and lights”.

On the other hand, she sees her desired way of life: “Came two lovers lately wed”. From this we see that the Lady of Shalott dreads her fate but wants a miracle to save her from that fate. The miracle comes in the third part when Sir Lancelot is introduced into the poem. We see Sir Lancelot as quite a different knight than how he was in the poem “Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinnevere” yet he is still a little similar. Firstly, we see him as a bold person and that he has a heroic description in “The Lady of Shalott”, He rode between the barley-sheaves”. In “Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinnevere”, he is shown as a more blissful character.

However, there are some similarities between that characters because in “The Lady of Shalott”, he is the lover we imagine will save the Lady of Shalott and is the lover of Queen Guinnevere in “Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinnevere”. In “The Coming of Arthur”, we see how Arthur comes to the throne and also see the introduction to a new era, the Golden Age. This poem starts with chaos. Just before the crowning of Arthur, a man says that he is not the son of Uther, who was the previous king. Here we see a lot of doubt and lack of faith in Arthur. However, Tennyson tries to convince us that Arthur should be king.

He shows that Arthur was a good knight and was the best battler on the battlefield, which made everyone stare at Arthur in amazement: “Made lightening and great thunders over him. ” This makes this time look like a Golden Age because the king was meant to be like a messianic figure and treated in a way that Arthur is related to God. This is what makes Arthur stand out. In some parts of this poem, there is evidence of Arthur’s normality and will only live a life like this in this world. This is noted when Arthur receives his sword, Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake.

On one side of the sword it was written, “Take me” but when he turned the sword it was written, “Cast me away”. This shows that God will make Arthur experience death just as everyone else. Conversely, he is promised to resurrect like Christ did after his death. Here we can see evidence that Tennyson could have been quite religious as he mentions quite a few issues from the Bible in his poem. Tennyson makes this supposed Golden Age seem like a victorious age for Arthur and his knights because his knights are victorious over the Romans by defeating their empire. We see this at the end of the poem: “And we that fight for our fair father Christ”.

Tennyson may be saying here that Arthur and his knights are fighting for Christ and the fact that they got their revenge on the Roman’s for killing Christ. Again this is another sign of Tennyson adding religion into his poems. He also makes Arthur’s knights look like disciple of Jesus. This shows us a start of a new England and a start of a new era, the Golden Age. These kinds of stories often occur as a new start for the country such as the story of Romulus and Remus for the beginning of the Roman Empire in Italy, Romulus becoming the first emperor of the Roman Empire.

“Morte d’Arthur” is a poem showing the en of the Golden Age. There are only two Knights of the Round Table remaining, King Arthur and Sir Bedivere. It is showing the loss of the Golden Age through King Arthur and Sir Bedivere. King Arthur is on his deathbed and asking Sir Bedivere for a last request. He asks him to follow the instructions of Excalibur, which is said in “The Coming of Arthur”, “Take me! ” and “Cast me away! ” However, Bedivere does not wish to withdraw Excalibur, for this is the sword that started the new era of the Golden Age and wishes that this Golden Age would last forever.

Arthur is the more realistic out of the two because he realises that this Golden Age is ending as there are only two Knights of the Round Table, one of which is nearly dead. From this we see that Bedivere has a dilemma, which is his decision on casting Excalibur away or not. If he does, Bedivere will continue being loyal to his king as he was and will not lose his honour and knighthood. If he refuses to, he will be able to succeed Arthur and be a king like Arthur with Excalibur. He will be treated like Arthur as well and will be able to honour his country like Arthur did.

After many chances given by King Arthur, Sir Bedivere throws Excalibur back into the lake. Following this, Arthur nears his death. The last two Knights of the Round Table face the death of Arthur quite differently. Sir Bedivere is very emotional about Arthur’s death as he weeps a tear. We could say that he is taking the death worse because he now realises that after the death of King Arthur, the era of the Golden Age will just be a lost past and in the last stages of King Arthur, he seeks for help from him: “Ah!

My Lord Arthur, whither shall I go? ” Bedivere now knows after he withdrew Excalibur, the Round Table is now finished. Arthur sees his approaching of death quite differently to Sir Bedivere. He believes he has lived a good life and has no regrets, He also realises that the Round Table is now finished but knows that that was the best of times and shall be forgotten by no one. From this, we can see that Arthur is taking the end of the Round Table better than Sir Bedivere who seems more emotional than King Arthur.

From the five poems that I have talked about, we can see why Alfred Lord Tennyson is calling the Arthurian age the Golden Age. In my opinion, it is because there will never be a king such as Arthur. Tennyson also makes his Arthurian world look similar to the Industrial Revolution in Victorian Britain in which Tennyson lived in by the fact that in both times, it started a new era of good things. However, Tennyson also looks to the Golden Age in a negative view when he talks about Sir Galahad and the Lady of Shalott.

He shows the burden some knights such as Sir Galahad have to go through just to become a loyal knight to their king and must resist all bliss that tempts them. He also may be describing his feelings towards the way Victorian women had to live. He shows this through the Lady of Shalott and how she is trapped in a tower of Camelot with a curse of not being able to go out and how she is missing out on the Golden Age. In the same way, Tennyson is saying how the Victorian women missed out on the Industrial Revolution because they had to say at home doing the housework.

Some people, who enjoyed the Golden Age such as Sir Lancelot, forgot all about religion for Tennyson hardly talks about religion in “Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinnevere”. Here he may be connecting the fact that the attendance of Church in the Industrial Revolution fell and saying how he felt about the loss of religion in the country when something good happens. The good thing about Tennyson poems, is the fact, that he writes in the style that makes the Golden Age identical to the world he lived in. All the aspects of those poems can be compared to life we live.

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Golden Age in Tennyson's Poems. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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