Feelings in Tennyson’s Poetry: “Tears, Idle Tears”
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Dec 16th, 2019

Feelings in Tennyson’s Poetry: “Tears, Idle Tears”

Tennyson’s emotions are clearly very deep and thoughtful, but with a lack of knowledge of where they come from, leading to a theme of confusion. His feelings are portrayed with vivid imagery and description, and the structure of the poem enhances this by adding rigidity. The enjambement and repetition add to the idea of overwhelming emotion.

The poem begins with ‘Tears, Idle Tears’, the repetition of ‘tears’ immediately drawing importance to the idea of sadness. The fact that it is the title and the beginning word adds to this idea. The use of ‘idle’ suggests that the tears are caused by something unidentifiable and unknown, however, this is juxtaposed with the fact that they are a cause of a ‘divine despair’, hinting that they do have an origin.

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The phrase ‘divine despair’ is oxymoronic, and so heightening the complicated juxtaposition and linking to Tennyson’s mixed thoughts, suggesting his emotions are all over the place. This theme of juxtaposition is constant throughout the poem. For example, ‘so sad, so fresh’, these adjectives describe the unusual past and memory of the dead. The idea of newfound friendship is ‘fresh’ and this is contrasted with the death of friendship which is ‘sad’.

‘The days that are no more’, then unifies these two adjectives by joining their preempted meanings. ‘O death in life’ suggests emotional intensity through the juxtaposition. This ‘death’ is on the final line of the poem, indicating a development of the concept of demise after ‘dying’ is mentioned earlier.

‘Death’ referring to a definite end compared to dying, portraying the path to this end. This climactic exclamation recalls the experience of dying in the third stanza however also the image of dead friends in the second stanza, and so represents a pinnacle of the images previously developed.

Tennyson conveys his emotion to be uncontrollable and ‘wild’. ‘Wild’ suggesting that his emotion is untameable and aggressive. The repetition of ‘deep’ and ‘love’ emphasises the idea of intense feeling. Enjambment in the poem suggests there is too much emotion to be contained within one line and so it overflows onto the next. For example, in the line ‘kisses after death and sweet as those by hopeless fancy feigned On lips that are for others’, the intensity of love is shown with the line flowing chaotically.

This uncontrollable nature of emotion is juxtaposed with the rigidity of the structure and this structure enhances the emotion due to it being confined. ‘Ah’, conveys Tennyson’s confusion at the beginning of the line and his difficulty to find words, because of the conflict of the emotions and ideas, ‘sad’ and ‘strange’.

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