Critical Appreciation ‘Tears Idle Tears’

Tennyson is one of the greatest poets of the Victorian Era. As a poetic artist, he ranks with Shakespeare and Keats. Tennyson often reminds us of Keats. He has the same gifts of pictorial presentation and an astonishing command of the musical resources of the language.

His poems offer us many opportunities of discovering the numerous ways in which the sounds of words can be made to echo the sense. Tennyson was a meticulous artist and took great pains to perfect his poems in diction, imagery, and in melodious rhythm. The short lyric ‘Tears, Idle Tears’ is a good example of Tennyson’s great art. 

Perfect Harmony between Mood and Imagery

The most outstanding feature of the poem is the perfect harmony between matter and manner. There is perfect harmony between the central mood on the one hand and rhythm and imagery on the other.

The sadness and sweetness of the idle tears are emphasized by images of the meeting and departure, life and death, the ecstasy of love, and the sadness of disappointment. The sound of words, the rhythm, and the similes all together successfully build the mood that the poet wishes to create. The poet is expressing 

his feelings for ‘the days that are no more. All four stanzas of the poem and with these six words. The poet uses many adjectives for this e.g. fresh, sad, strange, dear, sweet, deep, and wild.

For almost everyone, there is an appropriate simile that tries to enrich the adjective e.g. fresh, as the first beam glittering on a sail, ‘dear as remembered kisses after death, ‘deep as first love.’ In the concluding line, all that is felt is summed up in the phrase ‘Death in Life.’ 

"O Death in Life, the days that are no more. "

Tennyson uses many artistic devices in this poem for attaining perfect harmony between mood and music. In this poem, we notice perfect harmony between mood and the music as well as the movement on the lines.

Tennyson is one of the greatest artists in English literature. He attains this perfect harmony by the following means:

  • The use of the long and open vowel sound. Their use contributes to the slow, grave movement of the lines.  
  • Subtle use of alliteration and other devices. Their use creates musical effect even though the stanzas of five iambic lines are without rhyme : 
"Fresh as the first beam glittering on the sail." 
"Tears from the depth of some divine despair.

It is important to note how the accent falls emphatically upon the keywords like ‘Tears’, ‘fresh’, ‘strange’, ‘Death’, and ‘Life’. The refrain ‘The days that are no more sounds like a subdued wail of the heart prolonged in the vowel sounds and then, allowed to melt like notes of dying music. 

Tears Idle Tears Poem

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

         Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

         Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awaken'd birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

         Dear as remember'd kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feign'd
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more!


The poem contains many beautiful images. The images are very appropriate and enhance the artistic beauty of the poem and make clear the idea of the poem. The second stanza contains the opposite images of the ship returning home in the first splendor of the morning sun.

The same ship departs from the native port with the red hues of the setting sun falling on her sail. The first image makes us happy, the second makes us sad. 

In the third stanza, the imagery of the early morning with the fresh carol of the happy birds is combined with the gloomy picture of the dying man. In the last stanza we have images from love under three aspects: 

  1. Devoted love quenched by death.
  2. Hopeless love, and 
  3. Young love with its deep ecstasy. 

Choice of words and phrases

The poem is also remarkable for Tennyson’s meticulous care in the choice of words. The words seem inevitable in the context where they occur, ‘Depth of some divine despair. ‘Reddens over one that sings below the verge’, ‘The early pipe of half-awakened birds’, ‘Death in Life’.

There is not a single word that may be thought unnecessary or improper. The style is absolutely free from any trace of superfluity. Grace’s lucidity and classical refinement are the qualities both of its diction and of its thought. Tennyson’s meticulous care in the choice of words can be illustrated in his use of the verbs ‘bring up’ and ‘sink’.

These verbs are used to suggest the exact manner in which the ship becomes visible on approach or goes out of sight as it moves away. It is the sail of the ship which is the first thing that is noticed before a ship appears on the horizon. It is also the last to disappear from sight. 

Pictorial Effect

Tennyson is a master of producing picturesque beauty in his poems. In this poem, the pictorial effect is artistically subdued to the mood of the poem. It is never allowed to obtrude itself upon our attention too much.

It is only in the third stanza that we can be conscious of the pictorial effect. In the line… When unto dying eyes The casement slowly grows a glimmering square. The poet painters’ superb art has fused together observation and verbal felicity.


What is the meaning of Tears, Idle Tears?

The phrase u0022tears, idle tearsu0022 refers to tears that are shed without any particular reason or purpose. It suggests a sense of sadness or longing that cannot be fully expressed or understood. The phrase is often used to describe emotions that are difficult to put into words and may be associated with feelings of grief, loss, or nostalgia. It can also be seen as a metaphor for the human condition, suggesting that we are all subject to moments of intense emotion that we cannot fully understand or control.

What is the tone of the poem Tears, Idle Tears?

The tone of the poem u0022Tears, Idle Tearsu0022 by Alfred Lord Tennyson is melancholic and nostalgiciac. The speaker expresses a sense of sadness and longing for the past and reflects on the passage of time and the impermanence of life. The poem is written in a nostalgic tone, as the speaker looks back on happier times and wishes to return to them. The tone is also melancholic, as the speaker grapples with the loss of those times and the inability to go back. Overall, the tone of the poem is one of sadness and regret.

What type of poem is Tears, Idle Tears?

Tears, Idle Tears is a lyric poem written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. A lyric poem is a type of poetry that expresses the thoughts and feelings of the poet in a musical or rhythmic way. It is typically characterized by its use of emotion, imagery, and personal expression.