The 210th Anniversary of Tennyson’s Birthday
I am only merry for an hour or two
Upon a birthday: if this life of ours
Be a good glad thing, why should we make us merry
Because a year of it is gone? but Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come
Whispering 'It will be happier;' and old faces
Press round us, and warm hands close with warm hands – Tennyson ‘The Foresters’ (I.iii)
Tennyson’s ‘The Foresters’, a play about Robin Hood and Maid Marian, is filled with references to Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’, where the forest becomes a space for celebration about the joy of life and what Shakespeare’s Rosalind would call a ‘holiday mood’ infects both plays.
On the 210th anniversary of Tennyson’s Birthday his comments about Birthday celebrations ring true. Tennyson describes a mood where we look simultaneously forwards and backwards, filled with happiness but also sadness. Tennyson describes Birthdays as a time where people come together, not only with each other, but also with their past and future selves, a sentiment once again echoed in ‘As You Like It’ by Jacques’s famous speech.
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
The power of birthdays to unite and bring together is made explicit in the end of this speech from ‘The Foresters’ which brings the characters on stage together into a song. This song echoes that of ‘As You Like it’ where the characters also sing together, celebrating the end of winter and the coming of the summer, praying for rebirth, or even, a ‘birthday’.
‘And thro' the blood the wine leaps to the brain
Like April sap to the topmost tree, that shoots
New buds to heaven, whereon the throstle rock'd
Sings a new song to the new year — and you,
Strike up a song, my friends, and then to bed.’