Tennyson’s poetic output covers a breadth difficult to comprehend in a single system of thematics: his various works treat issues of political and historical concern, as well as scientific matters, classical mythology, and deeply personal thoughts and feelings. Tennyson is both a poet of penetrating introspection and a poet of the people; he plumbs the depths of his own consciousness while also giving voice to the national consciousness of Victorian society.
As a child, Tennyson was influenced profoundly by the poetry of Byron and Scott, and his earliest poems reflect the lyric intensity and meditative expressiveness of his Romantic forebears. These early poems demonstrate his ability to link external scenery to interior states of mind. However, unlike the Romantics, whose nature poems present a scene that raises an emotional or psychological problem, Tennyson uses nature as a psychological category. In “Mariana,” for example, he uses Keatsian descriptions of the natural world to describe a woman’s state of mind; he conveys via his natural setting the consciousness of a woman waiting vainly for her lover, and her increasing hopelessness.
Not only is Tennyson a poet of the natural and psychological landscape, he also attends frequently to the past, and historical events. “The Lady of Shalott” and the poems within Idylls of the King take place in medieval England and capture a world of knights in shining armor and their damsels in distress. In addition to treating the history of his nation, Tennyson also explores the mythological past, as articulated in classical works of Homer, Virgil, and Dante. His “Ulysses” and “The Lotos-Eaters” draw upon actual incidents in Homer’s Odyssey . Likewise, his ode “To Virgil” abounds with allusions to incidents in the great poet’s Aeneid ,