Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Tithonus is a monologue of the single character of the poem, Tithonus. The mythological Trojan lover of the goddess of Dawn, Aurora, is found to speak here of his frustration and desperation even after enjoying the boon of immortality. The speaker here is one. He speaks of himself, with a part of his address, meant for his beloved goddess, Aurora.
There is not the least doubt that the poem is a monologue. But how far can it be taken as a dramatic monologue, as designated in some quarters ? A dramatic monologue is a poetical piece in the first person. In it, a character-a man or a woman- is placed in a dramatic situation and made to give out his or her thought or feeling, under the incitement of that very situation. He or she is found to express his or her thought, feeling, experience in that very situation, stirring him or her remarkably.
The essence of the dramatic monologue lies in the situation in which the sole character, is placed and, in a tense situation, speaks out. As contended by Walter Pater, this is pre- eminenently the poetry of situation’.
Tennyson’s poem is a monologue, like his other poem Ulysses. But how far is this a dramatic monologue? The poem, in fact, has no tense situation, like Browning’s celebrated dramatic monologues—The Last Ride Together, Porphyria’s Lover, and The Laboratory. The speaker here states, in the manner of Tennyson’s other Greek hero, Ulysses, of the existing state of his life. He enjoys eternal life, but with the yoke of age, infirmity and ailment pressing him down and making him miserably helpless. He feels exhausted, haunted by the hard truth of an eternal existence without youth, health, or beauty. Like ‘a white hair’d shadow’ he roams in utter desolation and wretchedness.
This situation is, however, not essentially dramatic in character. It is an existing state, and not a suddenly developed one, as in The Last Ride Together or Porphyria’s Lover. The poem is not exactly a proper dramatic monologue in the light of Walter Pater’s appraisement of this kind of poetry.
Of course, the poem has a situation as also a revelation of the speaker’s character. His monologue brings out the state of his mind-his sense of profound sorrow and desperation. He no more aspires for the gift of immortality that he once sought so earnestly from his beloved Aurora. Frustration sips deep into his heart and the much sought old bliss is all turned into a terrible curse to him. Death, and not eternal life, is his choice now and leads him to his pathetic exhortation to his loving goddess :
Release me and restore me to the ground
Thou seest all things, thou wilt see my grave.
Tennyson’s poem is a monologue, as Tithonius speaks out of his acute agony and restlessness, though favoured with the rare blessing of immortality by his beloved goddess. But the dramatic aspect of his situation is not sufficiently suggestive to reckon it as a perfect instance of the dramatic monologue.