The limit of the hills; and as we sank
From rock to rock upon the glooming quay,
The town was hushed beneath us: lower down
The bay was oily calm; the harbour-buoy,
Sole star of phosphorescence in the calm,
With one green sparkle ever and anon
Dipped by itself, and we were glad at heart
Alfred Tennyson, First Baron Tennyson (1809-1892) was Poet Laureate during much of Victoria’s reign and remains one of the world’s most popular poets.
He excelled at writing short lyrics, as in The Charge of the Light Brigade, and much of his poetry was based on classical or mythological themes, such as Ulysses or the life of Arthur.
Some of his phrases have since become well known. They include “Nature, red in tooth and claw”, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost, Than never to have loved at all”, and, “Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die”. Tennyson is the ninth most frequently quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.
In 1838 Tennyson was in Torquay, a place he called “the loveliest sea village in England”. He apparently “had no money for touring, nor did he wish for change”. He wrote at the time, “I require quiet and myself to myself, more than any man when I write.”
During this visit he wrote the poem Audley Court, which was published in the two volume Morte D’Arthur and Other Poems in 1842.
The collection also includes The Lady of Shallot, The Lotus Eaters, Morte d’Arthur and Ulysses. This work established his reputation, receiving praise from Carlyle and Dickens.
Tennyson told his son that Audley Court was partly inspired by Torre Abbey Park where it was written. The last lines described the scene from the hill overlooking The Bay – presumably Waldon Hill. He said he observed “a star of phosphorescence made by the buoy appearing and disappearing in the dark sea.”