How Tennyson grieves in poetry

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

In this short, the US video essayist Evan Puschak (also known as the Nerdwriter) makes his case that Alfred Tennyson (1809-92) is the ‘great English poet of grief’. Combining biography and literary criticism, Puschak details how the sudden death of Tennyson’s best friend at a young age moulded him into an extraordinary writer on a subject that he surely wished he didn’t understand so acutely. In particular, Puschak centres his analysis on the poem Break, Break, Break (1842), which, in just 16 linestraces the trajectory of a life from boyhood to the grave. Through this, Puschak argues, the work captures the feeling of an ‘incessant reaching for something that’s not there’ and the jarring indifference of the greater world that characterise bereavement.

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