Tennyson’s Tithonus as a dramatic monologue in an Elegiac Strain

Examine Tennyson’s Tithonus as a dramatic monologue in an Elegiac Strain

The dramatic monologue is a short poem that reveals the power of convincing mental complexities and expressing them in perfect lyrical language. It is a poetic soliloquy in which the speaker reveals his own character. Usually, a listener is present, and he does not speak but plays a part in the development of the poem. It is a conversation, though there is no dialogue. Like Ulysses, Tithonus is a dramatic monologue and is based on the classical theme of the love between Tithonus, a human being, and Aurora) Here Tithonus who is endowed with the divine gift of immortality by Aurora, the goddess of the Dawn, speaks his mind and reveals the acute pain of his old age and the decrepit state of his life in a perfect poetic language in such a way that Aurora who is not present seems to be listening to him. He expresses his painful thoughts and agonizing feelings to Aurora, though she is not present, of the gift of immortality which has reduced him to a shadowy existence from which he wants to escape through death. This poetic soliloquy is charged with a melancholy strain. 

The poem is a dramatic monologue as Tithonus speaks his mind of melancholy caused by the immortality of his life and the loss of his youth and beauty. Aurora, the goddess, who loved Tithonus, granted his request for immortality and since he forgot to ask for the perpetuation of his youth and beauty, he grew more and more aged and decrepit. His life became insupportable. He lost the charm of life but Aurora’s beauty and youth remain undiminished. He longs for death to be emancipated from this gift. He regards himself as the only unfortunate creature who suffer acutely owing to the gift of immortality. This gift has become a veritable curse that brings him acute pain without an end. He laments that everything is subject to the law of mortality but he remains immortal to be punished for this divine gift bestowed upon him : 

“Me only cruel immortality

The tone of this dramatic monologue is elegiac. Tennyson has given vent to his own melancholy feeling because of the death of his intimate friend, Arthur Hallam. His death has cast the dark shadow of grief on the poet’s soul, and it is the grief within him that inspires the elegiac tone of the dramatic monologue His own melancholy feeling has been expressed through the mouth of Tithonus. Tithonus has become old, decrepit, and unsubstantial, he is reduced to a mere shadow of a man. His old age and decrepitude have exhausted him and crushed and destroyed his youth and beauty. Since he is immortal, nothing can put an end to his life. He laments that he is unable to have an escape from the state of life.

“But the strong Hours indignant work’d their wills,
 And beat me down and marr’d and wasted me,
And tho they could not end men left me maim’d.”

In an elegiac tone, he contrasts his own old age with the immortal beauty and youth of the goddess Aurora. He has immortal old age, while she has immortal youth. He laments that all his youth and beauty have vanished with the passing of time. He implores Aurora to compensate him for the loss of his own youth and glory, and his consequent suffering. Yearning for his vanished youth, he sighs :  

“To dwell in presence of immortal youth,
 Immortal age beside immortal youth, 
And all I was in ashes. Can thy love,
The beauty, make amends………….”

The pathetic words touch our hearts. He cannot continue to enjoy the companionship of Aurora anymore. He has lost the zest for life. He is dead to the world of pleasure. He no longer feels the youthful sensation which Aurora’s youth and beauty inspired in him earlier, his blood does no longer glow with passion at the sight of her beautiful cheeks and shoulders. He no longer desires to live. He, therefore, desires that Aurora should take away his gift so that he may die like other human beings. He is so sad and dissatisfied with his present painful stage of life that he welcomes death which will not come over to his life as he is divinely blessed with immortality. Aurora’s eyes are blurred with tears to listen to the pathetic words. She cannot help him with the withdrawal of the gift of immortality bestowed upon him, for the divine gift once granted cannot be taken back. Tithonus understands that Aurora is helpless; she cannot liberate him from this gift. A lasting feeling of desolation torments and tortures him endlessly. He weeps to realize that Aurora does not have the power to grant him death and send him back to earth to die there like other mortals. He laments to realize that the gift of immortality which has been bestowed on him has now proved to be a curse for which he has been condemned to eternal punishment. He sheds tears and utters frantically that none should circumvent the law of Nature. None show a desire to transcend the ordained limit of human existence. One who does it is divinely punished, as he is now condemned to endless punishment with his immortal life of painful old age, decrepitude, and suffering. 

The poem is an excellent instance of a dramatic monologue marked by an elegiac tone. Here Tithonus expresses his own state of mind and analyses it in such a way that Aurora seems to be present with him and listening to his pathetic words and reacting to them accordingly. The theme is elegiac because Tithonus laments the loss of his youth, beauty, and vitality with the passing of time. He yearns painfully for the death of which he is deprived as he enjoys the gift of immortality.

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