Write an essay on Tithonus: how far does Tennyson convey the experience of Tithonus?

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Shashank Joshi

Write an essay on Tithonus: how far does Tennyson convey the experience of Tithonus?

Tithonus was written, Tennyson said, as a ‘pendant to Ulysses,’ and the sense of isolation and grief that pervades the poem clearly brings out the underlying darkness present in the earlier poem, and shows the consequences of human desire.

Tithonus warns of the dangers of immortality, but its real message seems to be a suggestion that man cannot hope to aspire to the permanence of nature. The cyclical manner in which nature operates is shown through the iambic pentameter in the first stanza, which gives a regular, rhythmic sound to the words. The polysyndeton in the third line, and symmetrical structure of the first line support this effect, which although slows the poem down, gives a sense of harmony to the language and sound. This harmony is shattered when the lines “Me only cruel immortality/ Consumes,” are introduced. These lines have a profound effect on the stanza because they destroy the metre and introduce irregularity to the poem. The enjambment and introduction of an adjective (the previous lines contain none) further add discord to the stanza, and this echoes the manner in which Tithonus has disrupted the flow of nature, stopping the cycle of creation and destruction, and acting as a Deity. Thus one could suggest the first stanza acts as a warning against hubris, but Tithonus is more than a warning: it goes on to describe the pain that he feels.

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Ulysses described the narrator’s desire to “strive, to seek, to find and not to yield,” but one detects a sense of melancholy, in that the images of stasis overpower those of action, which are superficial at best – they represent an urge rather than real intention. When we look at this urge more closely, we see that its inability to be fulfilled leads to a sense of loss, and a figure like Tithonus emerges. The constant desire for posterity and exploration eats away at Tithonus and Tennyson represents this as a curse of sorts: the myth upon which the character ...

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