“Fatima” — Alfred, Lord Tennyson

“Fatima” — Alfred, Lord Tennyson

If you’ve ever seen a picture of Alfred, Lord Tennyson –that’s not a beard you ever forget– you might find it difficult to imagine him ever knowing the word “throbbing” existed, let alone using it in his poetry. If you’ve read his Ulysses, you will find it even harder. And yet I must draw his early poem Fatima to your attention, in which, not only “throbbing”, but also “shudderest”, “breast” and even *gasp* “kiss” feature. If you’ve just googled him, I’m sorry for providing the stuff of nightmares.

In part, its unexpected penman is what makes Fatima such an incredibly passionate exploration of the beauty of a purely physical relationship. While it would not be fair to declare that Fatima, presumably the narrator of the poem, sees nothing to admire in the mind of her lover, it is clear that his *ahem* other attributes are what preoccupy her mind at this moment. Plus, only a mere 6 verses. Nothing better to read on a distinctly un-desert like Tuesday afternoon.

Last night, when some one spoke his name,

From my swift blood that went and came

A thousand little shafts of flame

Were shiver’d in my narrow frame.

O Love, O fire! once he drew

With one long kiss my whole soul thro’

My lips, as sunlight drinketh dew.

(stanza 3)

The Big (or slightly reduced depending on how eager you are) Scoop

Fatima, abandoned (however temporarily) by her lover, is describing the effect he has on her, in language that does not attempt to cloak the erotic appeal of being ‘posessed’, but also –and slightly more unusually for a woman at this time– that of “possess[ing]” someone else: a man. Interesting, eh?

Despite being termed “overly sentimental” by certain critics of the time –and this did have an effect on poor Alfred, who wrote nothing for a period of 10 years after his Lady of Shalott was slated– this is one of the most explicit discussions of sexual desire and longing that I have ever read. “Blossom[ing]”? “Dew”? A “long desert to the south”? Excuse you, Mr Tennyson.

Not to speak of the blatant “dying” metaphor in the final stanza. You can’t get much more unambiguous than “I will possess him or will die”, can you now?

Alfred, “Bawd” Tennyson, more like. That cheeky devil.


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