Why are the "summer dawns" referred to as dark in "Tears, Idle Tears"?

Quick answer:

The speaker of “Tears, Idle Tears” refers to the summer dawns as dark because these dawns are metaphorically darkened by sorrow.

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Tennyson’s lyric poem captures the sense of sadness and nostalgia that one feels for the past and for loved ones who are no more. The tears are idle in the sense that there seems no specific reason for them. They are a response to a sense of loss and longing that is universally shared.

Dawn is traditionally associated with new beginnings and positivity, while the summer season brings to mind growth and warmth. However, in this poem, Tennyson paradoxically uses the adjective “dark” to describe these summer dawns. This is because the speaker is grieving the loss of a friend for whom this will be the last dawn. Thus, the dawn does not bring happiness to the speaker, as it signifies the death of a friend. This friend’s “dying eyes” are unable to view the world, and their “dying ears” are unable to hear the song of the birds. In this stanza, the poet skillfully uses visual images, auditory images, and alliteration to capture the poignant suffering of the speaker as he helplessly watches his friend slip away.

Tennyson wrote this poem after a visit to the ruins of Tintern Abbey. He has captured a sense of longing for the past in this lyric poem.

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