Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Tithonus is a quite serious poem. Framed in the form of a monologue, rather a dramatic monologue, the poem conveys some matters of deep significance. The source of the poem is the classical myth about the amorous relation between a lovely, graceful Trojan youth, Tithonus, and the goddess of Dawn, Aurora. The goddess granted her beloved youth his prayer for immortality., without the perpetuation of his youth, health and beauty, as the same had not been asked for by him from her.
The theme of the poem centers around the aftermath of that immortality, granted to Tithonus by Aurora. The poem contains the deep lamentation of the hero, as he is cursed with immortality, without the blessing of eternal youth and beauty. His health fails, his body decays and his youth and beauty pass away. But he remains alive, and is not subjected to the natural tale of birth, growth, and death. “Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath”. But Tithonus survives, consumed by his own cruel immortality. He has a sad transformation into ‘a white hair’d shadow roaming like a dream. He is beyond the touch of mortality, haunted with the dread of age and its consequent infirmity. Immortal age, without immortal youth, has left him maimed, yoked under the dreadful pressure of age.
The boon of immortality is tempting, but deceptive and leads to destitution. The monologue of Tithonus gives vent to that ironic tragedy of man’s aspiration for immortality. He laments over his lot, so much sought by him. Here a moral note is clearly struck and this constitutes the didactic lesson in the poem.
Indeed, to attain immortality, for the mortal being is to go away from what is natural, inevitable. If the hard truth of inevitable death is denied and the lease of life is tried to be eternised, not blisses, but curses follow, as experienced by Tithonus. The vain man is rudely shocked in his happy dream of immortality by ailment, old age, and infirmity. He realizes the tragic illusion of his vision of immortality. Frustrated, desperate Tithonus expresses in his exhortation to his beloved Aurora his ironically tragic lot :
“Let me go ; take back thy gift :
Why should a man desire in any way
То from the kindly race of men
Or pass. beyond the goal of ordinance.”
Indeed, it is wrong for man to crave for that which is not the destined goal of his life. He should pause and end the story of his life somewhere, just as his fellow beings do. He is to accept the limitation of his mortal existence, lest he should remain unblessed, like Tithonus, immortal yet anguished. After all, life is real, and has joys and sorrows, and death is the inviolable law of life. So Tithonus seeks death and appeals to his beloved goddess to release and restore him to the ground, to his grave, to be one ‘of happy men that have the power to die’.