Quotable Tennyson

Last week I posted on the birthday of Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  It is little known but this Poet Laureate is actually the ninth most quoted literary figure.   Whilst not in the same league as Shakespeare  or perhaps as entertaining as Dr. Johnson, it is likely we all are familiar with at least some of his quotes whether we know their origins or not.


1. “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.”

This quote is from The Charge of the Light Brigade.  Perhaps one of the most famous poems in history it tells of the famous and brutal military disaster in the Crimean war. Nowadays, the saying is often used in the workplace and encourages one to press on no matter what the task.  Personally I sometimes recite the third verse when on a hot and airless day on the London Underground, an impossibly importable situation is going to be made worse when the train enters a tunnel….

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
   Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
   Rode the six hundred.


The jaws of Death and mouth of hell seem very apt in the summer months I can assure you.


The Charge of The Light Brigade


2. “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

Perhaps the most well-known of Tennyson’s quotes comes from “In Memoriam”, a tribute to one of his late friends.

The saying, which is most commonly used to console someone after a break-up, tugs at the heartstrings and serves as a comfort for those with tumultuous love lives.

3. “If I had a flower for every time I thought of you… I could walk through my garden forever.”

This romantic sentiment may sound like the message on a greeting card, but it now makes its way into wedding speeches and toasts.

4.“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.”

This is one of my favourite Tennyson quotes and comes from the dramatic monologue Locksley Hall, this poem tells the story of a soldier who stays behind to reflect on childhood struggles.

This simple phrase insinuates that knowledge is pieces of information that aren’t always retained, but wisdom is a deeper understanding based on life experiences.

5. “A lie that is half-truth is the darkest of all lies.”

Tennyson is a poet that demands thought and contemplation.  Can anyone read this quote and not spend time thinking it over?

6. “I am a part of all that I have met.”

In Ulysses, a dramatic monologue detailing the Greek hero’s escapades, Tennyson succinctly offers his view that humans are shaped by a combination of all life’s experiences.

7. “Better not be at all than not be noble.”

In The Princess, Tennyson tells the story of a heroine who refuses to marry, and instead ends up founding a women’s university. After a long pursuit and a series of trials, the princess eventually falls in love with a prince.

Tennyson’s musing on nobility suggests that there is nothing worse than poor character.

8. “No man ever got very high by pulling other people down. The intelligent merchant does not knock his competitors. The sensible worker does not knock those who work with him. Don’t knock your friends. Don’t knock your enemies. Don’t knock yourself.”

This is the kind of maxim that The Office’s David Brent might consider framing.

“Often he composed individual lines before working out where to fit them into a poem, and just as he sometimes treated these lines like pieces of lego he could build up into bigger blocks of writing.  Rather like a modern scriptwriter who manipulates a situation just to be able to insert a pearl of wisdom.

9. “Who are wise in love, love most, say least.”

In Merlin and Viviene, Tennyson tells the passionate love story of a woman seducing a man.

In this particular line of the poem, Tennyson suggests that someone who is in love should show love, not just vocalise their admiration.

10. “Nor is it wiser to weep a true occasion lost, but trim our sails, and let old bygones be.”

Many of Tennyson’s poems are concerned with memory; deducing what we should hold onto from the past, and what we should abandon.


Alfred, Lord Tennyson

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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4 Responses to Quotable Tennyson

  1. Boyer Writes says:

    Hi Stephen, Thank you for these quotes. I’m in the midst of writing a new book called Around the Corner and one of my chapters is about famous quotes. I’ll plan to use Tennyson’s quote on love. It is a 31 day devotional. Will let you know when it is published. By the way, if you hear from two Americans named Betsy and Linda, I am sending them your way for a tour. They are great fun. Nancy at Boyer Writes

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Nancy, that sounds like a great book. I remember having great fun coming up with chapter heading quotes for my first book many years ago and I still think of them often. That’s very kind of you, I shall keep a eye out on my emails for them.


  2. Pingback: I wonder what he meant by that! | Stephen Liddell

  3. Pingback: Great British Political Insults | Stephen Liddell

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