An Evening with Alfred Lord Tennyson

Lady Godiva (1892) by Edmund Leighton (Public Domain)

How do we experience poetry? This is the question I have been considering for several years.

A poem can be read from a page while sitting on a comfy chair in front of a roaring fire, on a sandy beach, in a library or on public transit. Poetry is portable.

A poem can be heard through the recitation of the poet or other person, who has taken great joy in speaking the words and sharing their love of the message held within those words. Poetry builds community.

Perhaps the most profound encounter with poetry is when the syllables resonate with our voice, when we feel the words come from our heart, touched by our emotional response to the poem. Poetry is personal.

Tonight, I am reciting Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem, Lady Godiva, which was written in 1840 when he was returning from Coventry to London. He pens the story of the Countess Godiva, an Anglo-Saxon lady who, according to legend, rode disrobed through the streets of Coventry after her husband promised that he would remit oppressive taxes on his tenants if she agreed to do so.

History records that the original Lady Godiva lived during the 11th century and was married to Leofric, the powerful Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry, who was not the villain as portrayed by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

The historical Godiva was known for her generosity to the church, and along with Leofric, she helped found a Benedictine monastery in Coventry. Contemporary accounts of her life note that “Godgifu” was one of only a few female landowners in England in the 1000s, but they make no mention of a clothes-free horseback ride. That story appears to have first cropped up some 100 years after her death in a book by the English monk Roger of Wendover, who was known for stretching the truth in his writings” History.com

My recitation of Godiva was my first attempt at reciting Alfred Lord Tennyson, which was prompted by my visit to Coventry. I have yet to move on to Ulysses…

“I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life!

Thank you for joining me in Coventry with Lady Godiva and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

66 Thoughts

  1. And to breathe is life indeed, but ever more so expressed in Tennyson’s eloquent words. What an exceptional and thoughtful gift, Rebecca to treat us to a taste of such a revered historical poetic genius, and he the Poet Laureate of Queen Victoria. His poem Timbuctoo has to be the longest poem I’ve ever read. As to its length i would venture a guess that its rival in English poetry would be, Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven as a good example. Thank you again for this wonderful reminder!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Oh, Jean-Jacques thank you for the poem – Timbuctoo. I had never heard of it before. After a bit of digging, I came up with a collection of Tennyson’s Suppressed Poems, of which Timbuctoo in contained. It is a LONG poem, indeed! I am very interested in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, which incidentally, I have recited out loud to an empty room. The words are brilliantly arranged and create some tongue twisters that require more practice. Oh, I do enjoy reciting poetry.

      “Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
      Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

      I get goosebumps just thinking about The Raven!!!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Rebecca, you are indeed a most interesting friend and fortunate I am that the gods of good fortune chose to arrange that our paths should cross,
        goose bumps and all.
        That Tennyson and Poe should give you a new field of enjoyment in poetry pleases me no end that you be taken by their as writing. Enjoy dear friend, enjoy!
        JJ

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Polly, for your heartwarming comments! I remember the first time I read a poem out loud to an empty room. The words seemed to make my surroundings more vibrant, more colourful and dramatic. I really enjoy when I hear poets recite their poetry. They nuance the words with an emotional connection. So glad that we connected.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m delighted that you enjoyed the recitation. I am working on The Lady of Shalott – still not satisfied with my recitation. What reading poetry out loud has taught me is that I am lazy with my words. I hurry my words and sometimes slur them together. I didn’t realize this until I listened to my reading. I enjoy listening to Daffodils recited by Jeremy Irons. Check out this link: https://youtu.be/mQnyV2YWsto

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow! Rebecca, a wonderful reading of the poem and your post has been a most enriching and literary beginning to my morning! Although I vaguely knew the story I had no idea of the true historical facts (or not as the case may be!). Fascinating to learn about this and to hear in full the poem! The statue is awe-inspiring… the 60s architecture less so but you’ve done the statue and words proud here!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Annika for your heartening comments. I’m delighted you listened in. It is a rather long poem and I crossed my fingers when I came to difficult passages. Words are easier read than spoken, especially in poetry. There is a preciseness that requires focus. There were a couple of tongue twisters that I practiced over and over again. When I speak the words, the poem comes alive – I see the story unfold – it is a fantastic feeling.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Dear Rebecca,
    thanks a lot for introducing us to Lord Tennyson’s Godiva poem.
    You write reading poetry has to come from your heart. May I object? That only applies to the poetry written during the time of romanticism (and wannabe poetry in the net). Modern poetry is much better read with a certain distance and irony – like Dada-Poetry, Brecht’s poetry etc. Well the Victorian Lord Tennyson is for our taste too sentimental.
    Nevertheless, thank you very much for sharing
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I always enjoy when you object, Klausbernd. I have been studying Dada art these past couple of months (Did Marcel Duchamp really create “The Fountain” or was it a female friend, with a masculine name Richard Mutt, that gave him the idea. I have heard this story in many of my readings. Oh, I do love looking back at art stories). Thank you for your suggestion to explore Dada poetry. What an brilliant community: Jean Arp, Hans Richter, Marcel Janic and my personal favourite, Tristan Tzara. There seems to be an affinity with today’s Slam Poetry. I have added a poem (see below) by Tristan Tzara that provides instructions on how to create a Dada Poem.

      Poetry is a conduit for storytelling and there are many ways in which to enjoy poetry. For me, Godiva was more fantasy and mythology. Poetry is also a conduit for change and challenging the status quo. I think of the Victorian poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who wrote about industrialization, slavery, political leadership, religious controversy, and the emergence of women on the modern world stage. When I was studying poetry in high school and college, I thought of Wordsworth and Shelley as old men scribbling away by the light of a candle, rather than vibrant catalysts for change.

      I love our conversations, Klausbernd. Thank you again for suggesting Dada poetry – this is going to be an amazing adventure.

      To Make a Dadist Poem by Tristan Tzara,

      Take a newspaper.
      Take some scissors.
      Choose from this paper an article the length you want to make your poem.
      Cut out the article.
      Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag.
      Shake gently.
      Next take out each cutting one after the other.
      Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
      The poem will resemble you.
      And there you are–an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

      Tristan Tzara. (https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/to-make-a-dadist-poem/)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Our dear friend Rebecca,
        we just thought about the creative power of contradiction. Actually we considered blogging about it but Dina and Selma 🙂 objected because they feared that Siri 🙂 and our Master would make it too intellectual. Anyway, there is no creativity without contradiction. The group of bloggers we are connected with are all so well behaved and they all communicate affirmative. Therefore they write all the time the same and nothing really new is communicated. On one hand, that’s nice and easy, on the other hand it’s boring as well, isn’t it? And to object is taking the other opinion and person serious.
        We like the similarity between Dada and slam poetry you mention.
        With love and hugs from the little village next to the big sea
        The Fab Four of Cley
        🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Klausbernd – I love contradictions because it gives my mind a chance to explore new thought, new ideas and then integrate the power of new-found knowledge into my life. Speaking of Dada, I am looking into the art of Hannah Hoch and Suzanne Duchamp. Both these names are new to me. I read that Suzanne Duchamp worked hard to establish her identity as a female Dada artist working in Paris during the war. And then she had to deal with the problem of being labeled the “sister of Marcel Duchamp”. YIKES! Another great conversation, Klausbernd. Looking forward to many more! Sending hugs and love to our dear friends, the Fab Four of Cley.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. An intoxicating and spirituous poem. Sometimes, it seems to me that the poets always must be madly in love! I am not such a poetic person, but it rarely does happen that I hear or read a poem, and it hits my heart. As like this from Rumi: “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” ― Jalaluddin Rumi
    This (Lady Godiva) is also one of them. Thank you for that.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you for joining the conversation and for sharing Jalaluddin Rumi’s poem. I’m fascinated with Rumi’s poetry, his life and the time in which he lived. There is so much to learn from going back into the past. I especially appreciated Rumi’s poem, “Goodbyes are only for those who live with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.” In two sentences, Rumi defines the nature of love, of belonging, of endurance. Your visits and comments are very much appreciated.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. PUHEW, did that take a while to get here this morning or what!! I will blame Dave Astor and Resa McConaghy for that. Lol. But I do love Tennyson. He wrote so wonderfully of the past, whether it happened that way or not.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I am with you on Tennyson, Shey. I was reading that he was a craftsman who polished and revised his manuscripts over and over again. Robert Browning said that his revising bordered on insanity. Even so, Tennyson’s variety of styles, with his exact understanding of metro was extraordinary. T.S. Eliot believed that Tennyson was ‘the saddest of all English poets.” This is a thought that I want to explore. Tennyson’s early life was very difficult. On the other hand W. H Auden was much more critical of Tennyson’s work. I am also interested in Tennyson’s influence on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. So many stories, Shey. Always always an adventure. Sending hugs!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I guess Auden was of such a different vintage. I don’t know much about Tennyson’s life, I just realised that but I have read a lot of his poetry. Now I want to know more so I hope you will explore his past further x

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Miriam, for your heartwarming comments. I have enjoyed your poetry and am glad that we connected. “Drunk on Joy” – your poem that was posted yesterday resonated with me, especially the last stanza:

      “It occurs to me that it would be wonderful to be
      drunk on joy and gratitude for being, here and now.
      Sing and dance with happiness,
      not being so correct.”
      © miriam ivarson

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you for your thoughts on the value and the joy of the gift of poetry. It was a treat to hear your rendering of this poem! Words written so long ago that have survived for us to enjoy today! ! It is important for us today to reflect on the experiences of those of long ago and to find that their lives were not so very different than our experiences of today. We can learn so much from them.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree – looking back into poetry and books in public domain has been a journey of discovery. What has made it even more exciting is to look into the biographies of poets, to understand how poetry became their life’s work. Tennyson’s early years were difficult and complex. He lost his best friend, which had a profound impact on his life. I’m certain that he would have never anticipated at a young age that he would be beloved as a poet. Perhaps he says it best in these words: “Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams.”

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jennifer. I started reciting poetry about 10 years ago. It all started when I listened to an audiobook, from my local library, of poetry read by poets. At the time, I was walking back and forth from home to my work, which was about 30 minutes. It was good exercise and a way to reduce my carbon footprints. This also increased my reading time. I had never given much time to poetry over the years, so I thought this would be a quick listen. And then the epiphany happened. I found myself in tears as I heard the words spoken into my ear. That audio marked the beginning of my poetry journey – what an adventure it has been!

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh, Dave – I am so glad you brought up that poem. When I was researching Tennyson I came upon a 2 minutes 12 second recording of Tennyson reciting The Charge of the Light Brigade – check it out!!!

      [audio src="https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:LightBrigade-Tennyson.ogg" /]

      This was an 1890 recording on an Edison wax cylinder. There is something about hearing a poem read by the poet. I had goosebumps when I heard Tennyson’s voice. I am now on The Lady of Shalott, which was written in 1832. I am enjoying looking back into poems of the past and exploring the threads of universal themes come through to our generation. One overarching theme in poetry is how to embrace life boldly within a changing society. For example, the major themes of The Lady of Shalott are isolation and detachment, themes that we still explore today. I think of Mary Oliver’s thought: “it is a serious thing // just to be alive / on this fresh morning / in this broken world.” Mary Oliver, Red Bird. Thank you for your visit and comments, Dave. I enjoy our conversations!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Wow, Rebecca — what an amazing artifact that 1890 recording is! So old, and made near the end of Tennyson’s life. Pretty impressive reading by him, too!

        And impressive thoughts by you on poetry and its importance.

        I enjoy our conversations, too!

        Liked by 4 people

      2. I had goosebumps when I listened to Tennyson’s voice. Looking back on Tennyson’s life, which had difficult periods, I have a greater understanding of why he chose to write about mythology. I am now reciting The Lady of Shalott, which is more challenging for me. Mary Jo Malo suggested “Evangeline” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It is a beautiful and poignant poem about Acadia. I confess it is intimidating. Here is the opening:

        “Prelude

        This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
        Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
        Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
        Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
        Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
        Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.”

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Robbie for your heartwarming comments. I was looking at T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, which he wrote over 6 years – now that would be a major accomplishment to read the entire poem. But how wonderful to read these lines:

      We shall not cease from exploration
      And the end of all our exploring
      Will be to arrive where we started
      And know the place for the first time.
      T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

      I have found reciting poetry is not for the faint of heart. It takes a great deal of concentration, keeping to a steady pace and speaking each syllable slowly and distinctly. For me, it is an ongoing learning process. I enjoy hearing others recite poetry, especially their own. I look forward to your recitations, Robbie. Your words come alive.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Hi Rebecca, you are very nice about my readings. When I listen to myself I hear “squeak, squeak” a bit like one of Shey’s hamsters. I am glad you enjoy them. I love your readings, you have a wonderful voice, as does Sally Cronin. I aspire to sound like you two. PS Did you know you are hamster enemy number 4 – I’m still chuckling.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. I just read the first couple of stanzas from Evangeline out loud! You are absolutely right, Mary Jo. Longfellow’s wording/structure is more easily worked into my breathing. I was looking at the time line and found that there were so many amazing creatives who were born in the same decade as Longfellow: Victor Hugo, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Greenleaf Whittier, Edgar Allan Poe, Oliver Wendell Holmes & Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Thank you so much for your encouraging comments.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t it interesting how words trigger a memory. For me, it is the line, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on,…. My mother, Frances, read “The Tempest” when I was at my weekly music lessons. Mrs Annan (music teacher) and my mother had great discussions and this phrase came up. I thought that when I grew up, I wanted to read that book. Thank you so much for your heartwarming comments – very very much appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. There’s poetry that just begs to be read aloud, Rebecca. So much of poetry extends beyond the meaning of the author’s thought and the imagery of language. Poetry is also about the sound of the words, the rhythm, consonance, alliteration, the way they glide or sprint or clack or pound from the tongue. A beautiful reading of Tennyson’s work, and thanks for the bit of history as well. Hugs.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for listening in to a long poem – over 6 minutes long. I had so many bloopers in the recording – YIKES! Tennyson’s flowering language creates some interesting tongue twisters. When I first began reading poetry, I didn’t hear the “the rhythm, consonance, alliteration, the way they glide or sprint or clack or pound from the tongue.” It was only when I read the words out loud that I realized how sloppy I was with speech. It is easy to find quick ways to pronounce words – yeah instead of yes – not ending words with “ing.” It was only when I started to record my voice did I realize how important it was to enunciate words. Then there was the rhythm and breathing… I agree wholeheartedly, much of poetry extends beyond the meaning of the author’s thought because it is a two way communication. This is a wonderful conversation – thank you!!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I read all my work aloud, Rebecca, including my books until the sound is just right. I’ll edit words and sentences until they fall into the right rhythm. It’s weird, and time consuming, but my ear is sensitive to the sound of language. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I think that writers and poets have a heightened sensitivity to words because they have fallen in love with language. For me, it has been a learning process, one that has given me a greater appreciation for language and connection. It is a fascinating exploration.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. A very interesting character was Alfred Lord Tennyson, as was his relationship with Queen Victoria. Although I appreciate his renown and writing abilities in so many genres, I have to report, Rebecca, that I find his writings a little too flowery for my taste.
    Your reading was eloquently delivered, however, and I enjoyed your enjoyment immensely.
    Thank You so much for the background information. I did not know that Godiva was indeed a distinct individual who assisted those within her sphere, and, at such a time in history, a landowner!
    It would seem that the English monk Roger of Wendover was the first to dishonour her memory. Then Tennyson brought that same dishonour to a greater degree within his poem. I can’t quite understand how a man of his obvious intelligence could, for his own grandeur, add more belittlement to what was a woman of grand nature.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your insights, Carolyn. I am in the beginning of my exploration of Tennyson’s poetry. I know that he did a great deal of publishing and writing and was able to engage readers of the Victorian age so that they saw him as one of the greats. The Pre-Raphaelites come to mind. I read that during his time he was one of the three most famous living persons, the others being Queen Victorians Prime Minister William Gladstone. There were other wonderful poets during his time, so why did the populous choose him? Still exploring that question.

      He was influenced by Keats and focused many of his poems on mythology like The Lady of Shalott. I find that he speaks a great deal about isolation. Consider a poem called ‘Locksley Hall,’ which is about a soldier who returns to his childhood home. And then there is ‘Ulysses,’ which is about homecoming. Despite their obvious remake of a grand lady, I wonder if we would have known about the real Lady Godiva, without Tennyson or Roger of Wendover. They certainly didn’t present her husband in a good light. There was a feeling of good vs evil, which was not the case in history.

      Without question, Tennyson’s poetry is flowery and over the top, which makes it more difficult to recite. I am looking at reciting Longfellow (Evangeline) and Elisabeth Barrett Browning, especially her famous Sonnet 43, “How Do I love Thee?” I am still in the practice stage.

      Thank you for adding much depth and breadth to this conversation. Very, very much appreciated. Sending hugs!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. As I mentioned, Rebecca, your reading was indeed wonderful; I wish you all the best in your research and future readings. I believe Tennyson’s poems would require a great deal of practice. Well done to you. As for his poem creating knowledge of Lady Godiva and her husband’s good works this is only known to those such as do research, as I was compelled to do. Wouldn’t it be wonderful were the stalwarts of society upheld and revered in remembrance openly and with respect.

        Elisabeth Barrett Browning has, to my mind, a warmth and sincerity beyond question. I will look forward to your recitals of her work.

        When pregnant with my daughter I wrote a good deal of poetry. I was inspired by Barrett Browning’s ‘How Do I Love Thee’, to write to my daughter when cradled in my womb:

        How do I love thee
        How to express
        The miracle of life
        Within me at peace

        The warmth of your knowing
        The glow in my eye
        The fervour becomes me
        Forever my life.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. When I recite that poem, I will think of you and your daughter. I agree – EBB was an amazing poet. How very well said, – warmth and sincerity beyond question. Thank you so much for your encouragement. I was reading that, during these past months, poetry has made a resurgence. And that gives me great comfort.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your encouraging and heartwarming comments, Marina. One day, we must discuss how poetry and music are interwoven. When I recite poetry, I feel I am singing the words. Does that make sense? I am continually amazed by the breadth of the creative spirit. Sending hugs back with great speed.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Oh, we must and indeed it makes perfect sense. My first solo album was puting music to poetry, something I have done alot. The music of words practically speaks out their meaning, even if we don’t know it. It’s no wonder that mystics speak of the power of spoken words. You have a gift in reciting, my dear Rebecca. Many more hugs back!

        Liked by 2 people

  9. A wonderful read, Rebecca! You have “the voice” for recitation. You also have the passion.
    I haven’t heard this poem in years.
    Poetry was in a heyday for a long time. Alfred, Lord Tennyson was a part of that.
    It seems to me that poetry was marginalized for a long time. Then along came blogging, and a poetry renaissance.
    Thank you for this recitation! It’s rich, it’s ripe it is Rebecca!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, Resa – I agree wholeheartedly that blogging has led to a poetry renaissance because we are able to connect and share ideas across the world. I just visited Graffiti Lux Art & More for the third time to read Holly, House of Heart’s poet. “The trees are filled with blossoms….” I am thankful that you introduced me to her – she is a remarkable poet. Happy Thanksgiving!🍁

      Liked by 2 people

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