The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In seven blank-verse paragraphs, Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Tithonus” reflects upon the strange and tragic fate of its speaker, the doomed lover of Aurora, the goddess of the dawn in Roman mythology. According to legend, the Trojan prince Tithonus received the gift of immortality from the gods at Aurora’s request. Because the goddess neglected to obtain for him the gift of eternal youth, however, Tithonus continued to grow old, without “the power to die,” until he was turned into a grasshopper. In the poem, Tennyson’s ancient Tithonus laments his alienation from human community, provides a requiem for his lost youth and beauty, and vainly implores the goddess to release him from love and life. By using Tithonus as an object lesson, Tennyson suggests that eternal life may be more of a curse than a blessing.

“Tithonus” begins with what appears to be a traditional lament on the transitory nature of life and the inevitability of death. However, the speaker refers to death as an unexpected blessing from which he alone, of all living things, is doomed to be exempt: “Me only cruel immortality/ Consumes.” Tithonus also portrays himself as the dawn’s emasculated victim, an insubstantial “shadow” of a man who “wither[s] slowly” in the infinite void of its heavenly prison.

In stanza 2, memory heightens Tithonus’s sense of physical and sexual loss, as he recalls his “glorious” youth, when the goddess made him her...

(The entire section is 516 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Even among Tennyson’s innovative dramatic monologues, “Tithonus” is unusual in many respects, beginning with the implied listener herself. Unlike the human auditors of other monologues, Aurora is a goddess. Surprisingly, Tithonus never calls his lover by name, although he addresses her throughout the poem. She seems to have departed by stanza 6, leaving the speaker entirely alone, thereby making the rest of the poem into a soliloquy. In her presence and absence alike, Aurora’s divine silence speaks resoundingly. Whereas the listeners of other dramatic monologues stay silent by convention, Tithonus expects Aurora to answer his prayers, and her speechlessness becomes a reason for him to despair.

Through the poem’s extensive use of personification, Tennyson transforms Aurora from a natural phenomenon into a supernatural being. Aurora is, literally speaking, the dawn itself; thus, Tithonus refers to the morning star that precedes sunrise as Aurora’s “guide.” He also imagines the morning dew as his lover’s tears, lending the dawn a personal and emotional aspect that is mirrored by the “weep[ing]” vapors, or storm clouds, of the opening section. Tithonus even describes the dawn’s radiant body at length in the third and sixth stanzas, which together form a blazon, or hymn of praise. Tennyson extends the personification of nature to time itself when Tithonus refers to Aurora’s “strong Hours” as agents of resentment and revenge.


(The entire section is 467 words.)