Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) and Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) are two of the most well known poets of the 19th century. Tennyson, described as “the leading poet of the Victorian Age” and Dickinson, described as “one of America’s greatest poets” both won most of acclaim thanks to their strong ideas on death. Death is a common theme in any eras but it took a particular significance in the 19th century , especially in literature. As intense poets, both Dickinson and Tennyson shared their innermost views regarding death, particularly seen in Tennyson’s “Mariana”, “Crossing the Bar” and Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for death” and “Behind me—dips Eternity.”
In “Because I could not stop for death” and “Behind me—dips Eternity”, Dickinson challenges our perception of death. The depiction of death in these poems strongly contrasts paradigm, of her time and ours, of what death is commonly thought of being: terrible and tragic. Tennyson on the other hand, conveys both a sense of acceptance and despair regarding death in his poetry. This juxtaposition is seen in his poems “Crossing the Bar” and “Mariana” where Tennyson vacillates between viewing death as a ‘gate’ towards God and as a terrifying finale.
Death can be seen at the heart of work in two of these important Victorian English-speaking poets, but both express and portray these feelings in different ways. Nevertheless, “Mariana” and “Crossing the Bar” were chosen for this essay particularly because the feelings conveyed in both are even more vehement than that seen in other poems such as Canto VII or “The Lady of Shallot.” “Because I could not stop for death” and “Behind me—dips Eternity” were chosen because they both strongly accentuate Dickinson’s calm attitude towards death – even more than her other famous poems such as “I reason, earth is short.”
Tennyson became the “official poetic spokesman for the reign of Victoria.” However, it was one incident that stands out of Tennyson’s background that profoundly impacted his life: the death of Arthur Hallam. Hallam and Tennyson had a very deep relationship tracing back to Cambridge, 1829 and so, when Hallam died, Tennyson entered a state of perpetual sorrow. As a tribute, Tennyson “wrote In Memoriam A.H.H . for his best friend” as an attempt to come to terms with his sudden death.
In some of his other poems about death, such “Mariana”, Tennyson relates the idea of desperation, and sadness with the idea of death. This is most likely because the death of Hallam had such a powerful impact on Tennyson that Tennyson constantly refers to his own desolation as a way to come to terms with the death of his friend and thus this is the connection that Tennyson makes with death. Although “Mariana” and “Crossing the Bar” do not appear in “In Memoriam A.H.H.”, they both mirror aspects found in “In Memoriam A.H.H.” such as the strong tone of dejection (in early Canto’s such as Canto VII) and acceptance (in later Canto’s such as Canto LXXXVI).