Albert Einstein the physicist writes of the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher, and the natural scientist, "... Each make this cosmos and its construction the pivot of emotional life, in order to find in this way peace and security which [one] cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience".

farr_lear.jpg
Farringford 1864 from a drawing by Edward Lear

For most people, viewing a landscape, moving through it or reading a poem about it is the nearest they get to constructing a cosmic pivot of their emotional life. Of the three routes out of ‘the narrow whirlpool of personal existence’ it can be argued that poetry is the most powerful in that it is the language closest to human experience. Poetry, said Aristotle, is superior to history because it uses words in their fuller potential, and creates representations more complete and more meaningful than nature can give us in the raw. It causes us to see ourselves and the world in greater depth and clarity. This is why poems are important routes to approach natural beauty and place these microcosms in the wider scheme of human existence. Although life and poetry occupy very different spheres, with poetry we travel with our eyes open through a world that is cruel, uplifting and beautiful. We understand our place in Einstein’s cosmos, which was possibly our birthright before science and the minutia of everyday life locked us out.

Tennyson is a landscape poet although he never gave place names to any of his poems. His view is a complete one from an exteme fidelity of scientific detail in the foreground to the indefinite receding spiritual backgrounds and their greater cosmic surroundings. Although he never located his poems in particular places, we know from the recurring themes of sea and hills that these were major environmental influences. References to hills, ‘wolds’ and ‘downs’ often appear which connect with his early life in the Lincolnshire Wolds and later family homes, one on the very edge of the Sussex Downs and the other below the maritime downs of the Isle of Wight at Freshwater. It is reasonable to assume that the comings and goings across the vigorous tidal Solent to the Isle of Wight and his endless walks along the ridgeway at Freshwater, a long strip of downland now named after him, fed Tennyson's creativity with visual and auditory stimuli for his pre-occupations with his favourite scenic interface between hills and sea.

Regarding the remarkable feature of his visual style, an exteme fidelity to detail,this has been put down to his short-sighteness. He had to peer closely at everything. This was responsible for his precision in describing nature's microcosms of flowers and shells, as for example:

'The lines of green that streak the white
Of the first snowdrops inner leaves'


This probably accentuated his tendency to bring a naturalist’s care to things he could never have seen, such as moonlight reflected in a nightingale’s eye, and the purely imaginary deep sea lair of the monster Kraken where ‘unumbered and enormous polypi winnow with giant arms the slumbering green’.

As an example of a deeper spiritual background fading towards diaphaneity we can take the following lines from one of his last poems, Crossing the Bar, written in 1889:

'... such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home'.


All in all, we can therefore take his poetry as the spiritual guide to three areas of outstanding natural beauty he knew so well; the Lincolnshire Wolds, the Sussex Downs and the Isle of Wight.


Tennyson was born at Somersby, a small isolated village in the Lincolnshire Wolds, and his early life was circumscribed by the chalk uplands within a chalky triangle which circumscribed the social centres of the Tennyson family at Horncastle, Tealby and Louth. It was only after his marriage to Emily Sellwood in 1850 that Tennyson settled at Farringford on the Isle of Wight (1853). The family remained there for 16 years until 1869, when they moved to a newly built house, Aldworth below Black Down, at the boundary between the Wealden heathlands and the sheep-grazed lawns of the South Downs. However, they resided for at least a part of each year at Farringdon for the remainder of Tennyson's life.

The only one of his poems that can be attributed specifically to his interaction with the Isle of Wight environment is 'Crossing the Bar' which Tennyson said he composed in the twenty minutes it took to cross by ferry from Portsmouth to the island. However, Marianna, Lady of Shallott, and The Lotus Eaters, the latter two published in 1832 before he experienced the Isle of Wight, provide evidence to describe him as an intrinsic poet of landscapes and nature

A poem that can be ascribed to his vision of Black Down is the following. It was written to celebrate his wife's 77th birthday and its description of the mixture of bracken and heather well describes the summer hues that define the two ecosystems that dominate of the Wealden slopes.

There on the top of the down,
The wild heather round me and over me
June’s high blue,
When I looked at the bracken so bright
and the heather so brown,
I thought to myself I would offer this
book to you,
This, and my love together,
To you that are seventy-seven,
With a faith as clear as the heights of the
June-blue heaven.
And a fancy as summer-new
As the green of the bracken amid the
gloom of the heather.

From the eastern scarp of the Lincolnshire Wolds he encasulated a view across the flat claylands to the North Sea.

Calm and deep peace on this high wold,
And on these dews that drench the furze,
And all the silvery gossamers
That twinkle into green and gold:
Calm and still on yon great plain
That sweeps with all its autumn bowers,
And crowded farms and lessening towers,
To mingle with the bounding main.


Other poems