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Tennyson's Wrinkled Feet: Ageing and the Poetics of Decay

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Jacob Jewusiak



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


This article argues that Tennyson’s ‘Tithonus’ (1860) draws together ageing and decay through the poem’s formal wrinkling: moments where metrical disruption, folding, slackness, or concealment correspond to the insights derived from the perspective of great age — chiming the poet’s keynotes of disappointment, mourning, and loss. I turn to ‘Ulysses’ (1842) and ‘The Lotos-Eaters’ (1832) — poems with a similar, though differently stressed, investment in age and decay — to demonstrate the political stakes of this thesis. While for Ulysses old age presents the triumphant opportunity to live ‘Life to the lees’, this arises from a sense of masculine anxiety about imminent decay. ‘The Lotos-Eaters’ positions ageing and decay against the imperative to work as a means of decentring the monolithic temporality of capitalist utility. These poems theorize the poetics of rot as a senescent challenge to the masculine and capitalist assumptions about the inherent value of mastery, productivity, and vigour.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Jewusiak J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century

Year: 2021

Volume: 32

Online publication date: 14/06/2021

Acceptance date: 01/09/2019

Date deposited: 21/06/2021

ISSN (electronic): 1755-1560

Publisher: Open Library of Humanities


DOI: 10.16995/ntn.3466


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