The source of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Tithonus is the classical myth of the love of goddess Aurora (the goddess of dawn) for Tithonus, a lovely Trojan Youth. Tithonus entreated the goddess to grant him immortality but forgot to ask for the perpetuation of his youth and beauty. The goddess granted the prayer of her earthly lover. blessed him with immortality, but sadly felt the ironic effect of his prayer. Tithonus became immortal but was subjected to the burden of age- to its decay, and infirmity. He could not have his old youth and vitality and was reduced to a shadow of what he once happened to be.
That very mythological tale forms the theme of Tennyson’s poem, expressed in the monologue of the hero. This monologue contains his bitter lamentation for his own immortality, with the burden of age and deformity. Tithonus expresses in the monologue his bitter feeling of desperation for a state that he desired but did not realize its impact thoroughly. His grief and despair are profound enough and inspire an elegiac note all through his monologue. Tithonus has grown, though he is not subjected to the law of mortality of earthly life. But his immortality haunts him cruelly and consumes him totally. He sadly laments in a situation, not at all anticipated by him-
I wither slowly in thine arms
‘Here at the quiet limit of the world.
A white hair’d shadow roaming like a dream!
Tithonus knows and feels that he is now nothing more than a white-haired shadow of his former self. His youth and beauty that made him so attractive in the days gone by and turned the goddess amorous of his youthful loveliness are all gone. Under the blessing of the goddess, he, no doubt, enjoys immortality, but that is only under the acute suffering of old age and decrepitude.
The monologue is, indeed, elegiac in appeal. Tithonus continuously feels how glaring is now his difference from his much-loved goddess Aurora. She possesses eternal youth and beauty, while he has eternal life with the ailments of age. This distinction makes him particularly sad at the difference between his beloved, the goddess, and himself :
Yet hold me not for ever in thine East.
How can my nature longer mix with thine?
So, desparing Tithonus earnestly appeals to the goddess to take back the gift of immortality. He wishes earnestly to her to release him and restore him to the ground below. There is a touching tragic note in his appeal-
Release me and restore me to the ground.
The theme of the poem is not exhausted in the hero’s lamentation over the curse of cruel immortality that he has to bear. It has also another note of a deeper significance that formed the moral of the poem. This is the lesson for restraining man from his desire after that which is not granted to the human world. After all, no man should desire ‘to vary from the kindly race of men’ nor seek to pass to ‘beyond the goal of ordinance’, allotted to his race. This is heard in the pathetic cry of Tithonus., which, too, has an elegiac undertone.-
Why should a man desire in any way
To vary from the kindly race of men,
en Or pass beyond the goal of ordinance.