Saturday, August 1, 2009

Alfred (Lord) Tennyson, 200, loved mad little tits

And the N.Z. heir to his barony is a birdlover too

The famous British poet Alfred (Lord) Tennyson, whose 200th birthday will be celebrated worldwide on August 6, was a great birdlover. One of his lesser-known poems, called "Ay", names half a dozen bird species ranging from the cuckoo to "the mad little tits."

Ay! Be merry, all birds, to-day,

Be merry on earth as you never were merry before,

Be merry in heaven, O larks, and far away,

And merry for ever and ever, and one day more.

Why? For it's easy to find a rhyme.

Look, look, how he flits.

The fire-crown'd king of the wrens, from out of the pine !

Look how they tumble the blossom, the mad little tits !

'Cuck-oo! Cuck-oo!' was ever a May so fine?

Why? For it's easy to find a rhyme.

O merry the linnet and dove,

And swallow and sparrow and throstle, and have your desire!

O merry my heart, you have gotten the wings of love,

And flit like the king of the wrens with a crown of fire.

Why? For it's ay ay, ay ay.

This poem, and many others, can be found in a 1903 book, The Birds of Tennyson,
by Watkin Watkins, B.A. Cantab, of the Inner Temple, Barrister-at-law, Member of the British Ornithologists' Union.

He says "Tennyson exhibits a knowledge of birds and their ways which is considerably greater than that displayed by the majority of British Poets, and which entitles him to take a place in this respect by the side of Chaucer, Wordsworth and Shakespeare."

Queen Victoria liked Alfred's poems so much that she made him a hereditary baron, with a seat in The House of Lords.

He seems to have transmitted some of his genes to Alan Tennyson, the Heir Presumptive to his title, who is a distant relative (in lineage and geographically) living in New Zealand's capital city, Wellington. Alan is co-author of a book, Extinct Birds of New Zealand.

[Heir Presumptive is an archaic term for the person thought to be next in line for the barony.]

Alan was born in Wellington in 1965, and first worked for the Forest and Bird Protection Society. Then he moved to the Department of Conservation. Apart from watching birds (feathered variety) he's Curator of Fossil Vertebrates at New Zealand's national musem, Te Papa.

The book, "The Extinct Birds of New Zealand" by Alan Tennyson and Paul Martinson [Te Papa Press 2006] received a rave review from Rebecca Priestley in the New Zealand Listener
She wrote:

The story of the huia, a poster bird for extinct New Zealand species, has been well told. Last seen in 1907, the beautiful huia, with its black body and distinctive orange wattle, had been collected to death by 19th century dealers and ornithologists for display in museums and fashionable drawing-rooms -- and
for its white-tipped tail feathers, which made quite the jaunty hat decoration.

Icon maybe, but the huia has plenty of company -- 58 of our bird species, or 26 per cent -- have become extinct since humans arrived here in the 13th century. To celebrate those species, and to remind us of the continuing threat , Te Papa fossil vertebrates curator Alan Tennyson and wildlife artist Paul Martinson have together made a magnificent book, Extinct Birds of New Zealand....

The bulk of the book is made up of accounts of the 58 extinct species, including nine species of moa. Even th giant moa, the tallest bird ever known to have lived -- oustretched, its neck could reach up to three metres high -- was at the mercy of
Haast's eagle... The moa fell victim to human hunting around AD1400, and Haast's eagle soon followed, suffering from loss of prey.

As Heir Presumptive, Alan Tennyson is thought to be next in line for the Tennyson barony, now held by his older brother, David, the sixth Lord Tennyson.

David Tennyson , a modest man who lives quietly in Christchurch and apparently never uses his ancient title, celebrated his 49th birthday on June 4, 2009.

Asked whether either he or his brother writes poetry, Alan replied: "David is more involved in the Tennyson Society than I."

The sixth baron seems to be more interested in recreational cycling, as he is president of the Canterbury Recreational Cycling Club. Christchurch has thousands of cyclists, because the city stands on very flat ground. You can ride 100 miles (160km) over the Canterbury Plains without having to climb a single hill.

The six Barons Tennyson are a mixed bunch, several achieving fame in fields far removed from poetry. Alf's son, the second baron, Hallam Tennyson, became Australia's second Governor-General, and Hallam's son Lionel Hallam Tennyson captained England's cricket team in 1921, and became the third Baron seven years later.

Lionel's son, Harold Christopher Tennyson, (1919–1991) became the fourth Baron, and his youger son became the fifth Baron. When he died three years ago, "the line of the eldest son of the first Baron failed," and the title passed unexpectedly to David Tennyson, in faraway New Zealand.

Here's a list of the six Barons, and links to websites where you can read about them:

Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson (1809-1892),_1st_Baron_Tennyson
Hallam Tennyson, 2nd Baron Tennyson (1852-1928),_2nd_Baron_Tennyson
Lionel Hallam Tennyson, 3rd Baron Tennyson (1889-1951)
Harold Christopher Tennyson, 4th Baron Tennyson (1919-1991)
Mark Aubrey Tennyson, 5th Baron Tennyson (1920-2006) (scroll down)
David Harold Alexander Tennyson, 6th Baron Tennyson (b. 1960),_6th_Baron_Tennyson

Alfred (Lord) Tennyson, as he is usually referred to these days, was reluctant to accept a baronetcy (far less important than a barony) when Britain's Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli offered one to him. Another PM, William Gladstone, finally talked him into accepting a peerage.

Wikipedia,_1st_Baron_Tennyson says the poet was "a passionate man with some peculiarites of nature, he was never particularly comfortable as a peer, and it is widely held that he took the peerage in order to secure a future for his son Hallam."

Still quoting Wikipedia:

Tennyson wrote a number of phrases that have become commonplaces of the English language, including:
Nature, red in tooth and claw
'Tis better to have
loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all
Theirs not to reason
why, / Theirs but to do and die
My strength is as the strength of ten /
Because my heart is pure
Knowledge comes, but Wisdom lingers
The old
order changeth, yielding place to new

He is the second most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare

Sir Edmund William Gosse (1849-1928), a famous British critic who remembered having met an aged Lord Tennyson when he (Gosse) was a small boy, wrote these words about the poet:

We still look to the earlier masters for supreme excellence in particular directions: to Wordsworth for sublime philosophy, to Coleridge for ethereal magic, to Byron for passion, to Shelley for lyric intensity, to Keats for richness.

Tennyson does not excel each of these in his own special
field, but he is often nearer to the particular man in his particular mastery than anyone else can be said to be, and he has in addition his own special field of supremacy.

What this is cannot be easily defined; it consists, perhaps, in the beauty of the atmosphere which Tennyson contrives to cast around his work, molding it in the blue mystery of twilight, in the opaline haze of sunset: this atmosphere, suffused over his poetry with inestimable skill and with a tact rarely at fault, produces an unfailing illusion or mirage of loveliness.
Further interesting details about the poet, written by Professor Glenn Everett, of America's Northeast Victorian Studies Association, can be found on the Victorian Web:


1 comment:

MARIA said...

I like Alfred Tennyson's poems.
Thank you for more inform. about him!

Dear Eric,
I'd like to invite you as my honourable guest to my 80th Birthday Party.
I'll be so glad as I was last time.

My best wishes to you and to your family!