How does Tennyson tell the story of Tithonus

8 August 2016

Tennyson tells the reminiscence of immortal lover ‘Tithonus’ in an elegiac fashion. The poem depicts the suffering of the immortal Tithonus who unfortunately despite having been granted immortal life was not blessed with immortal youth with it. As such, Tithonus is doomed to age and as he withers and wrinkles away, he is left to endure alone since his lover, the immortal goddess Aurora is tasked with carrying the rising sun at dawn. Tennyson’s narrative methods are effective at conveying Tithonus’s confused and regretful state of mind.

Tennyson’s linguistic devices project the powerful emotions felt by Tithonus and his lingering memories of his youth adds a sense of nostalgia to Tithonus’s mindset. The use of a dramatic monologue structure is effective in giving a true insight into Tithonus’s thoughts. Tennyson’s employment of a dramatic monologue form is effective in explaining Tithonus’s obsession with death.

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The poetic voice is Tithonus’s confusion coming to the fore: “ay me! ay me!…

The woods decay, the woods decay” the unexplained repetition of certain words suggests Tithonus’s mindset to be confused and befuddled; his immortality has rendered his mind trapped at times, trying to keep up with time at the same rate as his body does. The dramatic monologue form is essential in successfully conveying how time and age has wreaked havoc on Tithonus’s sanity. ‘Tithonus’ is a poem written in unrhymed iambic pentameter; this suggests the dramatic monologue to be a spontaneous monologue or else Tithonus’s mind has aged to such an extent that it has lost coherency.

However, the first ten lines are in iambic pentameter. This suggests that in the first verse at least, Tithonus is steeling himself to deliver a message to the reader or to Aurora before lapsing into a sad reminiscence. Tennyson tries to convey the feelings of detachment Tithonus feels from his current self and his past human state. He objectifies himself: “this grey shadow, once a man-“suggests Tithonus no longer considers him alive even; the use of the hyphen at the end of the sentence allows for a moment for the reader to simultaneously reminisce with Tithonus over when he was a ‘man’.

He describes himself as: “a white-hair’d shadow roaming like a dream” the adjective: “white hair’d” links back to his old, withered physical demeanour. However, the simile: “roaming like a dream” suggests he’s been reduced to a mere concept or idea alive only in the sub-conscious and with no physical presence anymore. Indeed, he is also shown as not feeling himself an active participant in the relationship: “To dwell in presence of immortal youth” the verb ‘dwell’ is quite passive and stationary.

This suggests that Tithonus feels he is no longer physically or mentally contributing to Aurora and his relationship. He is not only detached from his old self, he also feels detached from the relationship that he sought immortality for in the first place. Tithonus is consumed by regret and sorrow. He pleads with Aurora to withdraw her gift:” Let me go: take back thy gift” the caesura in the middle creates a pause whereby Tithonus explores in what way Tithonus means for Aurora to ‘let him go’ moreover, ‘let me go’ is an imperative.

For Tithonus to go to the lengths of commanding a God shows he truly has lost his mind or else, he is desperate beyond measure and has nothing more to lose. He declares himself to have: “passed beyond the rules of ordinance” Tithonus no longer sees his existence as natural and evidently wants to return to the natural order of life. Immortality has not served him well. The verbs used to describe his treatment: “beat me… marr’d…maim’d” creates a semantic field of abuse. Tithonus hasn’t just endured the years, he has been actively worn down and attacked for daring to defy the natural order by the ‘Hours’ who surround Aurora.

Tennyson evidently feels that one should think before wishing to be outside the natural cycle of life as people are so easily tempted into just that. In conclusion, it is ironic that Tennyson has chosen to write a poem concerning immortal life with an elegiac tone; however, the juxtaposition is an effective one and serves to re-emphasise the overriding sorrow and regret that taints the poetic voice’s tone. His moral of being careful what you wish for is successfully conveyed by use of a dramatic monologue which explicitly states the fatigue and harshness of immortal life

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