Wednesday, August 06, 2008

...And Not to Yield

Today's Writer's Almanac celebrates the birthday today of another great English writer with whom I have a connection: Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Besides the fact that I have loved his poetry for years, and that he is easy and enjoyable to teach, even to teenagers, his poetry is filled with wonderful lines that you can extract out of context and still find great meaning. For example, we are using the last line of one of my favorite of his poems for our theme at school this year: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

I love the determination, defiance, focus, and passion of that statement. It comes at the end of his narrative about Ulises (Odysseus) at the end of his life contemplating yet another journey. He contends that just because he is older and has already made many a great trip doesn't mean there's nothing left for him to do. In the words of another poet, "The point of the journey is not to return." Once you arrive, it's time to depart for another destination. If we let ourselves think that reaching our destination is all there is to life, we will never reach our full potential, and will cut our lives far too short.

There's someone I know who has lived this quote to the nth degree, and it's her 80th birthday today. I'll be calling her in a few moments to wish her a Happy Birthday, and I'll be seeing her in three days, along with my sisters and their families, to celebrate her life with her in person. Hard to believe, but it's my mom's 80th birthday today! I can tell you, she does not look 80 (but then, what does 80 look like?) and I don't think she feels it either. I think she grows more beautiful with each year. Perhaps that's because I grow to appreciate her more and more with each year. Happy Birthday, Mom!

Here's what the Almanac shared about Tennyson:

It's the birthday of the poet Alfred Tennyson, (books by this author) born in Lincolnshire, England (1809). Tennyson lived at a time when authors like Charles Dickens were turning the novel into the most popular form of literature, and he was one of the last poets who could sell as many books as a novelist. Nearly every literate household owned at least one copy of his poetry. He was also one of the last poets of an era when poets wrote for the spoken voice. In Tennyson's day, poetry was meant to be read aloud among groups of people, as a form of parlor entertainment, like karaoke. He was a friend of Queen Victoria, and he wrote public poems for England, including "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington" (1852) and "Charge of the Light Brigade" (1854), which became unofficial national anthems.

At the height of his career, he was one of the most famous men in England. He loved poetry so much that he wrote almost nothing else. Unlike other poets of his day, he never wrote a preface, an essay, a review, a diary, a memoir, or even a fragment of autobiography. He hated writing letters because they took time away from his real work.

Tennyson moved with his wife, Emily, to the Isle of Wight to a big, secluded house called Farringford. Emily loved that their clocks were not even synchronized with those of the rest of the world. Alfred took walks on the great chalk cliffs overlooking the sea, composing his poems to the rhythm of his own footsteps.

In 1864, he published Enoch Arden, which had the largest sales of any book during his lifetime. More than 40,000 copies sold on publication, and in the first year, it made Tennyson more than £8,000, as much as the income of many of the richest men in England. In London, Tennyson was followed in the streets by admirers, and the walls of his country estate were lined with tourists who sometimes even came up to the house and peered into the windows to watch the family eat their dinner.

At the age of 75, he was offered a lordship in honor of his poetry. It was the first time in history that any Englishman had ever been given a title for literary achievement alone. Tennyson said that he accepted the title on behalf of all literature. And that is why we now call him Alfred, Lord Tennyson.


La Tea Dah said...

Very intersting --- I enjoyed learning many things I did not know about a great poet! I am sharing a link to this post with my sons. I think they will enjoy it as well.

Happy Birthday to your Mom!!!!


PS: She looks very young for 80!

Heidi said...

Your mom is doing great for 80! Happy Birthday to her.