Professor John Batchelor, Emeritus Professor at Newcastle University, gave a public talk today on his fascinating new book Tennyson: To Strive, to Seek, to Find (Chatto & Windus).
To be honest, I was just there at first to sell the rather lovely and well designed books – this is an important, a serious life under examination you begin to understand as you feel the heft of the book. While I was aware of The Lady of Shallot and The Charge of the Light Brigade in a sort of pop-culture-ether way (yes, I’ve heard of them, can tell when they are being referenced, recognise whole slabs of them but have never really paid them any attention) I didn’t really know anything else about Alfred, Lord Tennyson or his poetry. I don’t know if I could have named him as the author of those two oh-so-famous poems above – as Prof Batchelor pointed out, Tennyson is rather like Shakespeare, untethered from his time, lines quoted and word images used in all sorts of contexts and indeed, out-of contexts, many of us are a little familiar with Alfred but don’t know it.
All of which is to say, I was so pleased to have been at the talk (organised with the University of Otago Department of English and Linguistics, and held at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery) which was engaging and informative and rather inspiring. Everyone else was there because they were already interested (the sixth Lord Tennyson, David, who lives in Christchurch and is descended from Alfred’s younger son Lionel, was there too, you could see the family resemblance!) but everyone was fascinated by the story of this great Victorian Poet Laureate who started life one of 11 children in a Lincolnshire rectory, went to Cambridge as a romantic young student who became a stalwart of the Pre-Raphaelite movement and wrote so many of his greatest works at the same age of those who now themselves study him. Tennyson seems to have always been seaching, for the good, for the right way to live and think, the right way to find fulfillment.
Prof Batchelor read some of his poems so well, that while I plan to read this biography just because this is an interesting person, I am also going to have a proper look at the poetry, we have the Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson from Wordsworth Edition on the shelves.