Analysis of Home they brought her Warrior Dead by Alfred Lord Tennyson

This poem analysis of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘Home they brought her Warrior Dead’ is divided into three parts – context, rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices, and contrasts.

Context: The first part of the poem explanation focuses on the context in which ‘Home they brought her Warrior Dead’ was published. This short lyric was published in 1847. It appeared as a part of the fifth canto of Tennyson’s much-acclaimed long narrative poem The Princess. Since The Princess is known for being a poetical treatise on women’s higher education, this lyric may seem inconsistent with its theme. However, grief is an essential part of Tennyson’s poetry as seen in one of his most famous works In Memoriam which consists of lyrics written over a span of seventeen years, all commemorating the death of his dear friend Arthur Henry Hallam. Thus ‘Home they brought her Warrior Dead’ may seem atypical in the context of The Princess, but is quit typical in the larger context of Tennyson’s poetic oeuvre as a whole.

Rhyme Scheme and Rhetorical Devices: The second part of this poem analysis focuses on what gives ‘Home they brought her Warrior Dead’ its musical quality. The rhythm that is inherent in the poem is a result of the simple rhyme scheme used by Tennyson. Each of the four stanzas of this poem uses an ABAB rhyme scheme. This makes reading the poem an easy and enjoyable experience.

The rhetorical device used by Tennyson that greatly enriches this poem is simile. A simile is used in the third line of the forth stanza. The narrator uses the simile to compare the widow’s tears with a storm that occurs in summertime. The relatively calm summer months do not provide any clue to what violent storms can occur during this time. The storms come down suddenly, and without warning, in a great and forceful manner that shocks everybody. In the same way, after the widow had refused to seem fazed by her husband’s death for so long, her tears had also shocked and amazed all the onlookers. Her tears too had come down suddenly and with great force.

Contrasts: This part of the poem explanation focuses on the multiple contrasts that Tennyson has brought into the poem, that testify to his superior poetic craft and skills. The first contrast that we observe is between the form and the content of ‘Home they brought her Warrior Dead’. While the rhyme scheme used by Tennyson is light and cheerful, the content of the poem is heavy and distressing. Death and grief are hardly things we take lightly. However, the rhyme scheme does not detract in any way from moving the readers of the poem into experiencing profound emotions when confronted with the brevity of all mortal men’s lives.

The second contrast that we observe is between the visible and the invisible signs of grief. The visible signs of grief are the ones that the onlookers expect to see in the widow, such as swooning or weeping. On the other hand, the invisible signs of grief are the widow’s immobility and speechlessness. This lack of words and actions speaks of the shock that has resulted from the grief over her husband’s death.

The third contrast is between old age and youth. The nurse who places the widow’s child on her lap is ninety years old. As opposed to this, the child is young, and reminds the woman of her duty to her family. It is the youthfulness of her child that jolts her back to reality, and finally makes her cry.

The fourth contrast is between death and life. It is not the lifeless corpse of her husband that moves the widow, but her flesh-and-blood child that tells her that life must go on. The movement of the poem is from death towards life, from shock and despair towards hope, and this provides a clue into Tennyson’s mind as well, for he believed that death is not the be all and end all of life. ‘Home they brought her Warrior Dead’ is a testament to this belief of Tennyson’s.

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