It's a mark of Tennyson's skill as a poet that he is able to provide as strong a narrative voice for one of the best known character in the Western world ("Ulysses"), as for a marginal character ("Tithonus") or a character of his own invention ("The Lady of Shalott"). "Tithonus," unlike the other two poems, poses a particular question of location: where is our narrator, exactly? Tithonus says that at
The quiet limit of the world,
A white-haired shadow roaming like a dream
The ever-silent spaces of the East,
Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn. [7-10]
What does this mean? The Greek tradition places the Gods firmly in the physical realm — maybe the halls he wanders can be visited like one visits a museum or monument.
Or is he in a fairy-like otherworld, as the words "shadow" and "dream" might suggest? We could try to triangulate Tithonus's position from what he can see: "a glimpse of that dark world where I was born" (33). But this raises more questions that it answers.
Is he looking down at a town or country, as the Greek gods looked down from Olympus? Perhaps humanity itself is the world to which he was born — and left behind. Or does he mean the past, the darkness of antiquity? He could just as easily be talking about the darkness just before dawn, in which he waited so eagerly (and foolishly) to be created immortal.
Last modified 7 September 2003