Happy birthday, Alfred, Lord Tennyson!

Happy birthday, Alfred, Lord Tennyson!
Alfred, Lord Tennyson was born 209 years ago. (P. Krämer / Wikimedia Commons)

Happy birthday, Alfred, Lord Tennyson! The longest-serving British poet laureate in history was born on this day 209 years ago.

The son and grandson of clergymen, Tennyson was born in Somersby, a small village in east England. He had 11 siblings, one of whom, Frederick, would also become a poet.


Tennyson was educated at the University of Cambridge. He never graduated, but did publish his first poetry collection, "Poems Chiefly Lyrical," while still a student. His second collection, "Poems," followed two years later, and contained what would become two of his most enduring pieces of verse: "The Lotos-Eaters" and “The Lady of Shalott," the latter of which he would rework a decade later.

"The Lady of Shalott" remains a staple of high school and college literature courses and contains some of the most memorable verses of Tennyson's oeuvre, like this one, which would later inspire the title of Agatha Christie's novel “The Mirror Crack'd":

She left the web, she left the loom

She made three paces thro' the room

She saw the water-flower bloom,

She saw the helmet and the plume,

She look'd down to Camelot.

Out flew the web and floated wide;

The mirror crack'd from side to side;

'The curse is come upon me,' cried

The Lady of Shalott.

Another book, also called "Poems," was published in 1842, leading Tennyson to become one of England's most popular poets. In 1850, he was appointed poet laureate of the United Kingdom, succeeding William Wordsworth.

It was during his tenure as poet laureate that Tennyson composed another one of his best-known poems, "The Charge of the Light Brigade," which famously begins:

Half a league, half a league,


Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!” he said.

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

Tennyson held the position for 42 years, the longest tenure in the history of the office. The poet died Oct. 6, 1892, at the age of 83, and is buried at Westminster Abbey. He remained an influence on writers long after his death — as Aldous Huxley wrote decades after the poet's death, “Tennyson knew his magician's business."