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Tennyson, Alfred Lord (1809-1892)  
 
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Such androgyny abounds as well in "The Princess" (1847), which concerns the exploits of an effeminate, tender-hearted Prince who loves a feminist, separatist woman; they are finally united after the Prince cross-dresses in order to enter her private university for women.

The androgynous Prince continues to challenge Victorian gender stereotypes even after his somewhat predictable conquest of the Princess, by imagining a future when the sexes will become increasingly similar to one another.

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Finally, Tennyson portrays chaste but tenderly expressed love between men in a later poem entitled "The Holy Grail" (1869). Again set at the time of King Arthur, the poem begins with the knight Sir Percivale telling of his exploits to the adoring monk Ambrosius, who "loved him much beyond the rest, / And honor'd him, and wrought into his heart / A way by love that waken'd love within" (9-11).

Here we meet once more Sir Galahad, whom King Arthur calls "beautiful" and who is chaste enough to see the Grail. But such is denied Percivale, who is good but humanly fallible; he is tempted by visions that include a lovely woman beckoning to him but also a splendid knight who "Open'd his arms to embrace me as he came, / And up I went and touch'd him, and he too / Fell to dust, and I was left alone / And wearying in a land of sand and thorns" (417-420).

Percivale fails in his mission to find the Grail but ends up living with the monk, who peevishly tries to elicit an admission of love from Percivale. But like his beloved, Ambrosius too is denied that which he most desires.

Such portrayals of chaste male love during a bygone era are juxtaposed with other visions of sensual indulgence that clearly caused Tennyson considerable anxiety. A severe critic of his own age, Tennyson used carefully drawn images of "debauchery" between men as a sign of social and moral degeneration. This is clearest in "The Vision of Sin" (1842), where the narrator tells of a drunken, cynical man, a failed poet, who has squandered his youth and energies in pleasure-seeking.

The poet is first shown as a chaste youth approaching a palace, into which "a child of sin" leads him "by the curls" (5-6); there he encounters a "company" whose sex remains unrevealed, but who engage in orgiastic behavior, panting "hand-in-hand with faces pale" (19), catching each other "with wild grimaces" (35), twisting "hard in fierce embraces" (40), and finally collapsing in "luxurious agony" (43).

That Tennyson is hinting at homosexual activity here is given support later in the poem when the aged, unsuccessful poet calls over a degenerate waiter, one who has been "a sinner too" (92), saying "We are men of ruin'd blood" (99) and suggesting that they join in "Friendship!--to be two in one" (107). They drink to "Frantic love and frantic hate" (150).

The poet later cries drunkenly "Buss [kiss] me thou rough sketch of man, / Far too naked to be shamed!" (189-190). Throughout the poem, images of transgressive, even horrific, sensuality are mingled with ones of violence and death to portray the spiritual agony of a lost soul, one who may represent an age of abandon and indulgence that stands in stark contrast to that of the pure love shared by the men of King Arthur's court.

In Memoriam

But even if Tennyson viewed erotic contact between men with some alarm, he cannot be termed simplistically "," for his greatest achievement was a monumental poem professing his profound emotional attachment to another man. In Memoriam (first published 1850, revised repeatedly thereafter) is a testament to the marriage of souls and lasting emotional ties between Alfred and his friend Hallam, even after the latter's tragically early demise.

In Memoriam is both long and difficult, containing 131 separate groups of stanzas, arranged broadly around three Christmas celebrations following Hallam's death. The poem as a whole moves from despair to reconciliation to hope as Tennyson learns to accept the passing of his beloved and even rejoice in another person's wedding celebration.

But the journey to such acceptance is long and arduous, and the poem's early stanzas express the poet's agonizing loneliness. Tennyson questions God over the senseless death of one "whom I found so fair" (Prologue 38). Referring to himself often as "widow'd" and Hallam as his "love," Tennyson speaks powerfully to any reader who has endured the death of a close friend or lover, describing accurately the sense of physical loss: "A void where heart on heart reposed; / And, where warm hands have prest and closed" (XIII 5-6).

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