Notes of Lessons: Literature, Class IV

Notes of Lessons: Literature, Class IV

[We have thought that it might be of use to our readers (in their own families) to publish from month to month during the current year, Notes of Lessons prepared by students of the House of Education for the pupils of the Practising School. We should like to say, however, that such a Lesson is never given as a tour de force, but is always an illustration or an expansion of some part of the children’s regular studies (in the Parents’ Review School), some passage in one or other of their school books.—Ed.]

Subject: Literature • Group: English • Class IV • Time 45 minutes

By Dora Longair Thomson
The Parents’ Review, 1904, pp. 866-868


I. To rouse the girls’ interest in Lord Tennyson and his works.

II. To teach them something of his life, and connect it with his work.

III. To increase their appreciation of, and love for his poetry by reading them extracts from some of his best known poems.


Step I.—Ask the girls what they know about Tennyson, who he was, when he lived, and what he wrote. If they know several of his poems ask which is their favourite, and try generally to awaken their interest.

Step II.—Tell shortly, the story of Tennyson’s life, drawing the information from the girls wherever it is possible, and putting all the important names and dates on the blackboard, to make them be more easily remembered. In his boyhood the young poet was remarkable for his quickness in learning, and his skill in working; he began to write as early as five years of age! When he was eight years old his brother Charles one day gave him a slate, and told the boy to write some poetry on it; very soon he had covered it with blank verse! He continued to write all through his boyhood, and when he was fourteen years old he wrote a drama, which even at that early age shows the beginning of his style in after life. About this time Byron became Tennyson’s favourite poet, and his death came as a great sorrow to the boy, and he scratched on a stone the simple words that told so much:—“Byron is dead.” Tennyson always loved nature, and his keen observation of it is seen in such lines as:—

“Light, as the shadow of a bird she fled.” (Princess.)

“The wild marsh-marigold shines like fire in swamps and hollows gray.” (May Queen.)

“Black as ash buds in the front of March.” (Gardener’s Daughter.)

“Short swallow-flights of song, that dip
Their wings in tears, and skim away.” (In Memoriam.)

“The ruby-budded lime.” (Maud.) etc.

He always loved the wind, and there are countless mentions of it in his poetry, and he himself said he always seemed to hear a voice speaking in it. At Trinity College, Cambridge, he having gone there with his brother Charles in 1828, he became the friend of Arthur Hallam, of whom In Memoriam was afterwards written.

In 1831, his father died, and Tennyson left Cambridge. He spent the next nine years in Lincolnshire; he was poor, and at the same time mourning the loss of his father, and of Arthur Hallam, who had died while abroad in 1833, but it was during this time of misfortune and sorrow that some of his loveliest lyrics were written. In these earlier works the scenery of Lincolnshire is often described, and it is a very much more beautiful county than people think, in its great contrasts of hill and level, wold and fen. In Mariana, for example, the poet was no doubt thinking of his native county:—

“Hard by a poplar shook alway,
All silver-green with gnarled bark:
For leagues no other tree did mark
The level waste, the rounding gray.”

In 1842, these more recent poems were published along with the best of his earlier work, and henceforward his place as one of the first of our poets was secure. Five years later The Princess was published, it is a melodrama in blank verse, and one of Tennyson’s longest poems.

In 1850, he was created Poet Laureate, succeeding Wordsworth in that office, and in the same year he married Emily Sellwood, whom he had known from childhood. In Memoriam was published in this year, which must have been a memorable one in every way for the poet. He now settled in Twickenham, and there, two years later, his eldest son, Hallam, was born. Next year Tennyson’s old love of a free, quiet, country life made him go to Farringford, in Freshwater; there his son Lionel was born, and there the poet lived till his death. The Idylls of the King, which is perhaps Tennyson’s greatest work, though In Memoriam is more read, was published in 1885. It had taken fifteen years to complete, and met with great success. The poet had learned enough Welsh to be able to read the legends of King Arthur and his Round Table, on which the Idylls of the King are founded.

The poet’s health was impaired in 1888, but his great physical strength kept him up till the year 1892, when, on October 6th, he died, quietly, and in utter peace. He was buried next to Robert Browning, in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Step III.—Ask the girls if they know the following poems, and if not read them extracts from as many as there is time for, explaining the story of each if necessary:—In Memoriam, Sections xxii., liv. and cxxx; Lancelot and Elaine, the description of Elaine on her funeral barge; The Passing of Arthur, the throwing back of Excalibur; The Princess, the description of Ida; The May Queen, a few verses from each part; Enoch Arden, his visit to Philip’s house in secret; The Foresters, song “Love flew in at the window.”

Step IV.—Recapitulate.