Tithonus By Alfred Tennyson
Length: 932 words (2.7 double-spaced pages)
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The poem begins with the acknowledgement of the natural cycle of life, with death being the final culmination of life as in nature "the woods decay and fall" just as "after many a summer dies the swan." Man too eventually faces the same as he "comes and tills the field and lies beneath." But not Tithonus, as he has been condemned to live a life of immortality without immortal youth as it cruelly consumes him. As time passes, he "withers slowly" and is just "a white-hair'd shadow roaming like a dream" as he's lost all the vigor and vitality that he once possessed as a youth.
Tithonus laments that he is now but a "gray shadow" who was once chosen by the goddess of dawn Eos, herself for he was "so glorious in his beauty" and in doing so made him feel like he was "none other than a God." When he asked her, "Give Me immortality", she was more than happy to oblige and granted his wish generously, like a rich philanthropist who has so much money that he gives charity without thinking twice. But time wore on and "beat" him down and "marr'd and wasted" him and left him "maim'd" but did not end his life. He pleads with Eos, "can thy love, thy beauty, make amends?" "Let me go, take back thy gift" he continues wondering why anyone would want "to vary from the kindly race of men/ or pass beyond the goal of ordinance/ where all should pause, as is most meet for all?" as he realizes his mistake. While he simply grows
more old, ugly and repulsive, Eos' beauty never seems to diminish as with the break of dawn on each new day, she "growest beautiful" as "[Her] cheek begins to redden thro' the gloom/ [her] sweet eyes brighten slowly close to [his]/ Ere yet they blind the stars, and the wild team which love [her] shake the darkness from their loosen'd manes, and beat the twilight flakes of fire" at sunrise and usher the new day.
As Tithonus asks her to recall the boon, Eos fully knowing she cannot
can do nothing but weep silently watching her lover's unhappiness. He questions why she must "scare" him with her tearful look of silent regret; her look makes him fear that an old saying might be true--that "The Gods themselves cannot recall their gifts." Tithonus sighs and remembers his youth long ago and their initial meet, when he would watch the arrival of the dawn and feel his whole body come alive as though his blood would "glow with the glow that slowly crimson'd all [her] presence and [her] portals. As he lay down and enjoyed the kisses of another. When she would whisper to him "wild and sweet" melodies, like the music of Apollo's lyre, which accompanied the construction of Ilion (Troy).
Despite the love they once shared, he wants to be freed from the torment and asks her to hold him not forever. Once again he laments over his mistake realizing the goddess and the mortal are poles apart and now no longer does he feel what he once felt for her as his eternal old age contrasts so painfully with her eternal renewal. Now "coldly [her] rosy shadows bathe [him], cold are all [her] lights and cold [his] wrinkled feet", whereas she rises each morning to warm "happy men that have the power to die" and men who are already dead in their burial mounds ("grassy barrows"). In a desperate appeal he beseeches her, "Release me and restore me to the ground." As a goddess of dawn she sees all things and so he wishes that by releasing him from the curse of immortality and letting him die she can see his grave when she rises and he, buried in the earth, will be able to forget the emptiness of his present state, and her return "on silver wheels" that stings him each morning.
"Tithonus" has many of the traits characteristic of Tennyson. One such tenet is world weariness and the expression for rest, this is portrayed by Tithonus's desire to grow old and die and escape the frustrations of life as he asks : "release me, and
restore me to the grave". Tennyson brings out the negative aspect of immortality, a dream many people have, and the alienation it causes by varying man "from the kindly race of men." In the end, this poem is about decision making and the eternal consequences of decisions as we should learn to be careful what we wish for. Through Tithonus's misadventures of immortality, we learns that immortality is not for man. Tennyson stresses the art of good decision making and the importance of our decisions because of the possibly eternal significance they have.