Lord Alfred Tennyson's "Tears, Idle Tears," conveys the complex emotions of one whose life is steadily reaching its end and death is looming over him. He has come to that point in his life where he truly realizes his position. Death is no longer surreal as it once was; however, the speaker is still at peace because he has lived his life. His friends have all gone on and now his own time has arrived. This poem is a lamentation of that person as they are reminded of their past and "of the days that are no more". The poem's message is reinforced through Tennyson's diction and similes, which create many parodies within the poem. However, theses parodies are the keys to the readers' noticing and understanding the intricate thoughts of one so near to that final breathe.
The poem begins with the speaker describing his tears as "idle" and being groundless. Tennyson is not saying that the tears are unmoving or that they are without cause. The speaker may not necessarily be able to admit to the exact reasoning behind the tears, but he knows what causes them to surface, "some divine despair". Yet despair is not divine; divine means heavenly or celestial. Tennyson means that the focus is on something from above. However, the irony can truly be seen in the physical cause of the tears, "In looking on the happy-autumn fields." The word autumn implies harvest, almost winter, which signifies an end to something light, warm, fulfilling, and successful and the beginning of something much darker, colder, emptier, and lonelier. But the contradiction is actually found in the adjective "happy." It is "the happy autumn-fields" that bring the tears. This suggests that while looking back may be sad; the speaker is still content, peaceful, satisfied.