Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated September 5, 2023.

"Tears, Idle Tears" is a poem by English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The work is a lyric poem, which was the primary style that Tennyson used in many of his works. The poem was part of a collection, The Princess, and Tennyson referred to it as a "song." The term is fitting because the poem has a memorable lyrical quality despite the fact that it is written in blank verse form.

The poem was written after Tennyson visited Tintern Abbey, which evoked a sense of nostalgia for a past long gone. In fact, the poem mainly deals with two ideas: the past and the transient nature of time. The abandoned abbey, in Tennyson's mind, became a metaphor for life in that people and events come and go. The abbey once housed life and religious ceremonies. Likewise, our lives once housed almost-tangible memories and emotions that were sharp and intense, but later fade away like the echoes inside the abbey.

A particular artifact of Tennyson's past that is subtly referenced in the poem is Rosa. She was the daughter of a wealthy family who had a high social ranking. Her family forbade her from pursuing a relationship with Tennyson because his family, particularly his father, had a bad reputation of being a drunkard. Tennyson's family wasn't wealthy either, and a writer at the time was seen as a lowly profession. The poem's first stanza is a lamentation of what he had lost in the past. In Tennyson's mind, Rosa is still present, as if haunting him like the ghosts of the abbey, and this is evident in the vividness of his descriptions.

The poem has a somber tone to it and this is mirrored by Tennyson's reference to Autumn, which has traditionally been associated with death, major changes in life, and the shedding of the past. The pastoral imagery provides the right atmosphere for the lyrics, creating a setting that shows the unforgiving nature of time.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access