The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls
We're saps for pop music. There, we said it. If it's popular and catchy, chances are, we listen to it on repeat. And guess what, Shmoopers? Victorian readers weren't all that different, so we feel like we're in pretty good company.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson was to 19th century poetry what the Beatles were to twentieth-century music—in other words, both popular and completely foundational. He wrote such famous gems as, "'Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all." We think of those lines as kind of cliché, but that's only because they've been quoted so often that they have since become cliché! Although some tunes by the Beatles might sound overplayed, that's only because they get played and re-played and covered and re-covered so often. But they were unique and original when first recorded. Just like our man, Tennyson.
Unlike many Victorian poets (i.e., poets writing during the reign of Queen Victoria in England, or 1837-1901), Tennyson was actually very popular during his own lifetime. Some of his fellow Victorian poets, like Robert Browning and Gerard Manly Hopkins, alas, didn't get appreciated properly until much later. But Tennyson's poems were popular from the get-go, for a bunch of reasons: he addressed issues that were politically relevant during his time period (just like the Beatles did in the 1960s), he knew how to write a good hook (again, the Beatles might have taken a lesson from him on this), and, oh right, he was a genius when it came to writing musical, lyrical-sounding poems.
Even Queen Victoria liked him—his long, sad poem, In Memoriam, which is about the death of his best friend, was said to be Queen Victoria's best comfort after her husband, Prince Albert, died! She rewarded him by making him the Poet Laureate from 1850 until his death in 1892, and by granting him the title of "baron" in the English aristocracy (that's where the "Lord" in his name comes from—it's not his middle name, but his title).
"The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls" is a good example of what Tennyson was up to during his career. It's a song-like poem in which a speaker hears a bugle echo around a beautiful valley around sunset. It's actually sometimes called "The Bugle Song" because it sounds so musical. It's one of Tennyson's best-known poems, but what isn't widely known is that it was originally published as part of a much longer poem called The Princess. The Princess is about whether or not women should be allowed to go to college, which was one of the hot-button issues of Tennyson's day. Nowadays, most people don't bother with reading all of The Princess (although you should—check for the link to the full text in the "Best of the Web" section!) and instead focus on shorter lyrics, like "Splendour Falls," within the longer poem.
Why Should I Care?
What kind of an "echo" (or memory, or legacy) will you leave behind you? That's the question that the speaker of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "The Splendour Falls" asks us to think about. The speaker of this poem hears echoes in a lonely valley in the mountains, and starts thinking about the kind of "echo" that a person leaves behind when he or she dies. Pretty heavy stuff, we admit, but it's interesting to think about.
So… what about it? Are you going to be remembered as a musician? A poet? An athlete? A student? A dog-lover? A good friend? Are you going to leave a lasting legacy of some kind? In short, what kind of an influence do you have on the world around you, and how will that influence last after you're gone? These are the kinds of "echoes" that the speaker starts thinking about when he hears the sound of a bugle in a valley and the echo that slowly fades away into silence. We're guessing that these big questions, though, will stay with you—even after Tennyson's words, like the bugle, fade away.