'Tithonus' was written in 1833, the year when 'Ulysses' was also written. Like 'Ulysses' it is a dramatic monologue on a classical subject. It is based in the classical Greek myth of the love of Goddess Aurora(Eos) for a human, Tithonus. At his request she gave him the gift of immortality. But he had forgotten to ask for the perpetuation of his youth and beauty. As he grew older and older, he found himself to be infirm and weak. His useful fire of passion had died. He could not satisfy the eternal youth and freshness of Goddess Aurora. Life becoming unsupportable and realising his mistake, he requests the Goddess to send him back to earth. As he could not die, the Goddess turned him into a grasshopper and sent him back to the earth.
The poem holds an element of pathos throughout. Arthur Hallum is dead and his death has cast a shadow of grief on the poet's soul, and it is this grief within him that inspires the tragic tone of the poem. Tithonus has grown old, decrepit and disfigured. He no longer has his previous vigour and vitality. He is old and ugly, while Aurora still continues to be young and beautiful. He pathetically exclaims that he is,"Immortal age besides immortal youth," and this companionship cannot be endured any longer.He has lost all his warm passions and emotions. He is too cold to be warmed up by beauty. His blood no longer glows with passion at the sight of her beautiful cheeks and shoulders. Therefore, he asks the Goddess to take away the gift of immortality that she has granted him, and put him back on earth, so that he too may die like other"happy me" there.
The theme of 'Tithonus' is the contrast between youth and age; and love and death. The poem teaches us the truth that man should not desire to 'vary from the kindly race of men',nor seek to, pass beyond the goal of ordanance. The poet, being aware of the good and beauty in the life of a human being wants that man should accept the limitations of his existance, because a desire to cross those limitations would result in divine punishment, as in the case of Tithonus.But then the poem is not merely a death wish, nor is it a poem of escape, but a powerful plea for a sincere acceptance of life with all its beauty and glory, as well as all its limitations. Titonus has realised his mistake. He wants to come back to the world of men because in the mortal world death is a mighty relief given.
'Tithonus' is one of the best dramatic monologues of Tennyson. Like 'Ulysses' 'Tithonus' is a dramatic monologue on a classical theme. It takes a high rank in the quasi-dramatic division of Tennyson's poetry.
'Tithonus' is a highly wrought piece of art. J.B. Herne says,"The poem is one of the most beautiful poems Tennyson wrote.What does seem significant and characteristic is that the best poetry should again be drawn from him by just such a subject".
The moods decay, the moods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies a swan.
Sensous word-pictures,vivid and graphic,abound in the poem.Sound and image combine to enforce sense.Thus the poem is one of Tennyson's best poetic creation.On the whole 'Tithonus' is a beautiful piece in which the theme,its treatment,the sensous quality,note of pathos and felicity of phrase are well blended in a harmonious manner.