A Look at Despair: “Mariana in the South” compared to “Mariana”
Poets often revise and re-revise their work, as it can be difficult to fully express the emotions they want to invoke in the reader. Just a change of one word can change the entire meaning of a line, and poetry’s usual brevity requires every single word to be the perfect choice. Tennyson wrote two versions of his “Mariana,” the second being very different. Both are about a woman named Mariana who has been deserted by her lover and left to be forever alone in their country home. Upon close inspection, one can see clearly why he made the decisions to change the things he did. The first version, “Mariana in the South” has a more hopeful tone: it has movement from a deeper depression to moments of hope. The second, simply titled “Mariana,” has no sense of hope whatsoever. The poems are so different, in fact, that it becomes evident that he wasn’t satisfied with the expression of his first attempt, and wanted to try again to evoke that sense of complete desperation. Tennyson changed the actual shape of the poem, its diction, and most importantly his imagery, to create a much stronger sense of despair in the second version. The shape of the poem, which would seem to be a tiny and insignificant detail, shapes the poem’s meaning in a very significant way. In the first version of the poem, certain lines of each stanza are indented in such a way as to create a shape that resembles a wave. It alternates between indented and unindented lines, swelling out at the refrain into what might look like the crest of the wave. In the second version of the poem, each stanza also alternates between indented and unindented lines, but the seventh and eighth lines of each stanza reverse the pattern. This breaking of the pattern helps to visually create a much less smooth feeling, and appears to be broken in a way. This brokenness becomes significant because Mariana herself, in her heartache over the loss of her lover, is in a sense broken. The diction of the poem is better thought out in the second version, to help create that sense of complete desperation Mariana is experiencing. A couple of instances of awkward or ineffective diction occur in “Mariana in the South.” One such instance refers to Mariana’s singing as a “carol” (13). The word “carol” appears to be chosen simply because its two syllables make the iambic tetrameter of the line work properly, but is completely detrimental to the emotion Tennyson intends to evoke. The connotations of the word actually imply joy, and especially refer to a song about Christmas- a time of love and peace. Of course, Mariana is experiencing neither joy, nor love, nor peace. The diction of the second edition of the poem appears to be much more clearly thought out. Many words actually have two meanings, both of which are significant to the work. When evening comes, Tennyson writes, “thickest dark did trance the sky,” (18). The footnote tells us that the word “trance” means cross, as in “thickest dark did [cross] the sky,” but to trance can also mean to bewitch, something that would have sinister connotations for the reader. Similarly, he also writes that Mariana “glanced athwart the glooming flats” (20). “Athwart” means across in this line, but can also mean perverse or wrong, just as Mariana’s world seems somehow wrong without her lover’s presence. This word is also used in line 77. In the last stanza of the poem, Tennyson writes that the sun is “sloping toward his western bower” (78). Of course, most people know that the sun sets in the west. Tennyson’s purpose is not to remind the reader of the sun’s setting location, but to suggest the finality that comes with the setting of the sun. As the setting of the sun represents the end of the day, so the west comes to symbolize an ending or a finality. So the use of the word “western” serves to imply the finality of happiness that comes with the loss of the lover for Mariana. Perhaps most important in the category of diction changes is the change the poet made to the refrain of the poem, as it is repeated several times and central to the meaning. In the first version, the refrain ends with, “To live forgotten, and love forlorn.” In the second version, it ends with, “I would that I were dead.” While both are indeed pitiful, the first at least focuses on life. Although she isn’t thrilled with the prospect, Mariana thinks of her future life in some way. On the other hand, the second version focuses only on death. The hopelessness of the situation is so great in this version that Mariana wants to die. Imagery is so prevalent in these poems, and so significant, that it is the most important element. So many image patterns are used (and almost all of them are changed) that imagery must be the central topic of discussion in the changes made between the earlier and later versions of “Mariana.” Religious imagery is perhaps the most drastic example. “Mariana in the South” is simply filled with Christian religious imagery. The refrain consists of complaints made to the Virgin Mary, Mariana prays to Mary at times for help with combating her depression, and Heaven is referred to in the last stanza. In “Mariana,” however, all of that religiosity is gone, except for a small, “Oh God, that I were dead!” (82) in the last stanza. This change contributes immensely to the lack of hope for Mariana. Religion gives many followers a sense of hope through prayer and through the assurance of happiness in the afterlife. By removing the thought of religion, Tennyson removes a source of hope for Mariana. Another image pattern missing from the second version consists of the images that constantly portray Mariana as beautiful. Throughout “Mariana in the South,” she is referred to as simply breathtaking. He writes,She, as her carol sadder grew, From brow and bosom slowly downThro’ rosy taper fingers drew Her streaming curls of deepest brownTo left and right, and made appear, Still-lighted in a secret shine,Her melancholy eyes divine (13-19)He later refers to “the clear perfection of her face” (32). These descriptions at best serve no purpose to the meaning of the poem, and at worst are detrimental. Tennyson must have realized their uselessness, and so did not include any references to Mariana’s beauty in the second version of the work. A major addition to the poem’s imagery comes in the form of destruction images. The first version makes no references to the condition of the house and surroundings as in any way unkempt. In the second version, however, the house and the area around it are described as completely decrepit. The first stanza reads:With blackest moss the flower-plots Were thickly crusted, one and all;The rusted nails fell from the knots That held the pear to the gable wall.The broken sheds looked sad and strange: Unlifted was the clinking latch; Weeded and worn the ancient thatchUpon the lonely moated grange. (1-12)The area surrounding the house is “glooming” (20), the trees have “gnarlÃ¨d” bark (42), and the wood paneling is “moldering” (64). Everything about the house and grounds appears to be falling apart or rotting in some way. These image patterns help to develop the idea that Mariana, like her surroundings, is falling apart. These images also help to develop the gothic images that are added in abundance to the second poem. The destruction of the house, the dark and rainy atmosphere, “the flitting of the bats” (17), the reference to midnight (25), the creaking doors, and the references to ghosts all help to contribute to the prototypical Gothicism of the poem. Such images also associate with death, which Mariana longs for, and general gloom, which she is experiencing deeply. Images of water and wetness in “Mariana” contrast directly with images of heat and drought used in the former version. In the first version, the riverbed is empty and “dusty-white” (54). The only source of water is “shallows on a distant shore” (7), and Mariana herself is until the end unable to cry. Tennyson writes, “day increased from heat to heat, / On stony drought and steaming salt,” (39-40). While the dryness of the images is a brilliant way to symbolize Mariana’s inability to cry as reflected in her surroundings, Tennyson must have decided he wanted something different for his poem. In the second version, those dryness images are changed to images of wetness. Mariana cries almost constantly in this poem, which reads, “Her tears fell with the dews at even; / Her tears fell ere the dews were dried,” (13-14). This draws an obvious comparison between her tears and the dew, which shows the reader that Tennyson intended the wet images to reflect Mariana’s tears in her surroundings. He writes about the “blackened waters” of a sluice nearby (38). He also describes the rust, mold, and moss of the house and its grounds, all things that cannot exist without water. Perhaps he wanted Mariana to be able to cry, so as to appear more emotional and desperate. Perhaps he needed the wetness in order to describe things as rotting and molding. No doubt he had both of these purposes in mind when he made the change. The water serves another purpose in the second poem as well. Whereas the bodies of water that did exist in the first version are swiftly moving bodies (a river and the ocean), the water in the second version is in the form of a moat or a “sluice with blackened waters” (38). The slow-motion aspect of the second poem’s water images helps to emphasize the slowness of life for Mariana, with her “slow clock ticking” (73). Without her lover, she is doomed to pass through her “dreary” life alone. The passage of time would happen incredibly slowly for someone who is completely alone forever, so Tennyson uses these images to develop the symbolism of her surroundings as representative of her life. Another important image pattern Tennyson adds to the second version is the use of pathetic fallacies. Mariana sees her home as a “lonely moated grange” (8), the morning as having grey eyes (31), and the sluice as sleeping (38). Of course these inanimate objects do not have eyes and cannot sleep or feel lonely, but the fact that Mariana projects her own emotions onto them suggests mental illness. Her extreme depression has caused her to see her sadness as enveloping her entire world. A final image pattern, and one of the most interesting, consists of the images that portray men as fearful or loathsome. The sun, that means only another day of pain for Mariana, is referred to as “sloping toward [his] western bower” (78). It is telling that Mariana considers the sun, which is surely something to be dreaded for her, to be male. The most interesting example of the man-fearing imagery comes in the form of a tree. The poplar’s shadow falls “Upon her bed, across her brow,” (56). If the tree is seen as a phallic symbol and thus representative of men, the fact that it falls across her bed represents the sexual aspect of her fear, and that it falls also across her brow represents the mental domination she experienced under him. Later, the sound the poplar makes in the wind, “all confound[s] / Her sense,” (74-75). It seems that through the images that suggest maleness, Tennyson is implying Mariana’s inherent fear and hatred of men because of some previous abuse by a man, presumably her missing lover. It is apparent through evaluation of the changes made from Tennyson’s “Mariana in the South” to his “Mariana,” especially the addition and deletion of images, that Tennyson was not satisfied with his original version of the poem. Mariana was simply too beautiful and hopeful to be truly pitied. Through changes of literary devices, he creates a Mariana who is despairing so deeply as to live in an equally desolate environment. The endings of each poem perfectly illustrate the changes he made. The first poem’s ending reads, “‘The night comes on that knows not morn, / When I shall cease to be all alone, / To live forgotten, and love forlorn” (95-96). This ending, with its reference to a “night that knows not morn,” implies Mariana’s death. The second poem’s ending reads, “‘He will not come,’ she said; / She wept, ‘I am aweary, aweary, / Oh God, that I were dead!” (80-82). In the second poem, she is not even granted the peace of death. The true hopelessness of the second poem surpasses any attempts at such an emotion in the first.
Tennyson’s Impressionistic Language of Wisdom in In Memoriam XCV
Throughout Alfred Tennyson’s In Memoriam, the speaker (assumed to be the poet himself) battles with the grief and confusion caused by the untimely death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam. Over the course of the poem, indeed over the seventeen years it took for Tennyson to complete it, the reader witnesses Tennyson’s personal maturation and growth. As a young man he is seeking concrete knowledge and yearning for impossible physical contact; later, he recognizes the abstract wisdom of uncertainty. Tennyson’s language throughout the poem echoes this development. By the poem’s climax, section XCV, the author is finally able to accept doubt and become comfortable with the abstract and inexplicable.Tennyson’s impressionistic use of language in section XCV of In Memoriam enables him to convey his otherwise inexpressible, trance-like experience. Unlike many of the previous sections of the poem, in which Tennyson explicitly and assuredly states what he feels and what he wants to express, here he uses lyrical language of the lyric to finally embrace uncertainty and the wisdom that comes with it. His poetic techniques and careful use of language transform “matter-moulded forms of speech” (46) into perfectly appropriate “vague words” (45) that convey his supra-rational experience.The style Tennyson adapts and the poetic devices he uses in this section affect the reader on a level that is both sub- and supra-rational. The supra-rational is a concept with which Tennyson had felt intimately familiar since boyhood. He often refers to it as “the Absolute Reality” in his diaries. Instead of experiencing and expressing life as most people do and as he had done previously, in XCV Tennyson removes any rational aspect of the experience, leaving only the high and low extremes – sensation and sublime perception. Alan Sinfield calls this bipolar approach “working on the edge[s] of human experience,” saying that Tennyson tries “to preserve the simultaneity and equality of the impressions which compose [the inexplicable]” (Language 106), that is, the impressions gathered from the sub- and supra-rational. Tennyson must eschew the intellect both to understand and to communicate his trance: it is not needed for experiencing intangible emotion, and it is incapable of anything but detraction from the sublime. It follows that Tennyson, in appealing to these qualities that the reader senses as Platonic forms only – existent but fuzzy, clearly existing in another plane but impossible to understand – uses traditionally nonsensical lingual constructs. Throughout most of the poem Tennyson uses regular language and grammatical structure that appeals at least in part to the intellect. When he feels he is unable to communicate through language, he simply states that fact. In section LIV he calls himself “an infant crying in the night… with no language but a cry” (19-20). At other times he says that “Measured language [is a] sad mechanic exercise” (V.6-7), and that “Truth in closest words shall fail” (XXXVI.6). He repeats this lament so often in the early parts of the poem that Schad goes so far as to call In Memoriam an elegy not only for Hallam, but for the language that Tennyson has lost (171). Since he is rooted in a world of knowledge and a search for the concrete, the young Tennyson feels compelled to quantify and catalogue his inability to communicate. He strives for facts, and hates himself for his doubt. As time passes, Tennyson matures and his ideas evolve. Eventually, aided by the climactic trance of XCV, he realizes that to achieve “the innermost essence of spiritual awareness” (Sinfield, Language 71), he should strive for wisdom, which he recognizes as nonfactual and vague. The ability to do this was something he had always admired in Hallam, whom he calls “bold to dwell / On doubts that drive the coward back, / And keen thro’ wordy snares to track / Suggestion to her inmost cell” (29-32). When Tennyson finally opens himself, and through him the reader, to a “creative fusion allowing the senses to mix and passions to meet without fearful consequences,” he “[recognizes] the value of wisdom as compared to mere knowledge, and [accepts] mystery” (Dunn 145). His new desire for amorphous wisdom merges with the familiar yearning for Hallam, and together they make up his new “vague desire” (LXXX, 1).With Tennyson’s shift to seeking wisdom over knowledge comes a shift from lamenting his inability to express himself to showing that inexpressibility, thus effectively communicating it after all. This shift is what marks section XCV as the climax of In Memoriam. In an analogous, slightly ironic shift, many of Tennyson’s earlier subjunctive verbs begin to change to the indicative mood in XCV (Sinfield, “That Which Is” 251). The subjunctive mood by definition carried with it doubt and uncertainty, even though Tennyson was seeking knowledge and surety at the time. Now the verbs become indicative, showing his newfound comfort and acceptance of the surety of uncertainty.Once Tennyson has come to terms with the uncertainty inherent in wisdom, he is able to fully and impressionistically express his trance. In doing so he merges his soul not only with Hallam’s and the Absolute, but also with the reader, who now fully appreciates the situation and Tennyson’s feelings. It is clear that Tennyson feels united with the entire universe rather than with just Hallam, as he characterizes the trance by saying “The living soul was flash’d on mine” (36), a revision of an earlier manuscript’s “His living soul.” Finally Tennyson “stops worrying about the vagueness of words and the difficulty memory presents to the intellect,” and “we find XCV achieving the imaginative vision that it explores” (Dunn 137).Tennyson’s language in XCV is carefully constructed so as to be as indistinct in form as it is in meaning. He couples imagery with notoriously nonsensical figures of speech to reach the reader’s sub-rational senses through synaesthesia, pathetic fallacy and personification, and repetition. Synaesthesia, a confused, mixed up idea in itself, runs throughout the section, reflecting Tennyson’s mental state. He hears the “fluttering” of the fire in the urn in line eight. Fire is often seen or felt, and perhaps heard crackling, but fluttering flames are never heard. Scent is not smelled in the poem, but seen to move – while simultaneously being described as “still,” while the other-worldly breeze “fluctuates” the perfume of line fifty-six. Numerous senses seem to mingle and meld in the final stanzas of the section, carried along and supernaturally altered by the ethereal breeze. Pathetic fallacy, personification, and projections upon nature of both Tennyson and Hallam are frequent in the poem. The reader gets the sense throughout that the night and the breeze are benevolent, as opposed to earlier nights that had been harsh and hostile. Bats, which often have negative connotations, playfully wheel around in the “fragrant skies” (9), and the “calm” (5) of the evening leaves candles to burn peacefully. Trees lay down their “dark arms” (16, 52). After the trance the pathetic fallacy is quite apparent: the dusk is now “doubtful” (49), the breeze trembles (54), and the breaking day will be “boundless,” like the liberated souls of Hallam and Tennyson now are. Even the lights in the final stanza mix just as Tennyson’s overwhelming senses do. The repetition of the lines “The white kine glimmer’d, and the trees / Laid their dark arms about the field” (15-16; 51-52) mirror the natural power and emotion that continually wash over Tennyson, and the repetition also reflects how the cows and trees have picked up new meaning and carry more magic now that Tennyson has experienced the Absolute.Tennyson uses language to communicate the sublime aspects of his experience through syntax and grammar, polysyndeton, and abstract concepts. The overall arrangement of the words, clauses, and images does a great deal towards imparting the feeling of an encounter with the Absolute. In fact, much of the section consists of a series of images, made up of incomplete sentences. The opening segments have an especially high concentration of these clauses, exemplified by the first stanza’s images and heavy caesuras: “…underfoot the herb was dry; / And genial warmth; and o’er the sky / The silvery haze of summer drawn.” The second stanza continues in similar fashion. This way of conveying the images, with the mind and senses being barraged again and again before they can even fully take in the first impact, allows for a disjointed, yet unified, impression that regular sentences cannot produce. As Shaw puts it, “The strongly marked caesuras at the end of the lines and clauses prepare for a contraction and silencing of thought” as the “grammatical units simultaneously attach to and separate from the units that precede” (75). Though the most pronounced series of such images appears at the beginning, they are found throughout the poem as well. They recur again after Tennyson’s trance has ended – in the final four stanzas, almost every line presents another image. Polysyndeton plays a major role in making this technique work, and XCV is sprinkled with superfluous conjunctions. Sixteen of the lines actually start with the word “and,” and there are there are at least that many instances of the word used internally. This polysyndeton emphasizes the series of images and Tennyson’s inability to directly express his excess of overwhelming emotion. In the closing stanzas, the “ands,” along with many monosyllabic verbs, act as rivets that directly or indirectly join together many paired images. We see couples of trees (the sycamore and the elm), flowers (the roses and the lilies), and the lights from the east and the west, all melded with one another as well as with the supernatural breeze that blows through it all (Shaw 77). Finally, Tennyson uses language to convey the supra-reality by embracing abstract concepts. He is ready to forsake knowledge and to strive for wisdom, and along with wisdom Hallam and the Absolute. This is especially fitting, since Hallam was famed among his friends in part for being such an eloquent speaker. Through his language, Tennyson attempts to take a “step towards the quasi-mystic union… where the spirit of Hallam is ‘mixed with God and Nature’ (XXX)” (Puckett 112).All of the sensations evoked by nature and the Absolute that suffuse Tennyson’s scene, combined with the leaves that bring happy memories of Hallam – whether they are indeed Hallam’s old letters or leaves fallen from a tree is irrelevant – cause a trance in which Tennyson is “…wound, and whirl’d / About empyreal heights of thought” (37-8), and in which he “[comes] upon that which is” (39). “That which is” is best interpreted as Plato’s absolute, and Tennyson’s “Absolute Reality” (Sinfield, “That Which Is” 249). With these lines and images, Tennyson brings into his poem even more than he explicitly shows himself, with the allusions to Plato and Dante’s famous circular Paradise adding more color for the familiar reader. Tennyson’s merger with the universe is completed when he “[catches] / The deep pulsations of the world” (40), and hears “Aeonian music measuring out / The steps of Time – the shocks of Chance – / The blows of Death” (41-3). He has achieved true wisdom, and is suddenly mingling with “the living soul” (36), which is both Hallam’s and “Reality’s.”In section XCV of In Memoriam, Tennyson manages to attain wisdom and doubt and to convey them through language that illustrates uncertainty while bombarding the reader with sub- and supra-rational feeling that is beyond the reach of the intellect and regular sensible speech. This skillful use of language lends credence to the fantastic experience that Tennyson himself, when he tries, can only describe as occurring “strangely… and strange… and strangely” (25-8). Tennyson’s preternatural experience is strikingly clear to him, and he manages to express it through common, earthly words with which he paints a “pictorial vagueness” that “[makes] the mystical real to us” (Sinfield, Language 71).
Tennyson’s Use of Poetic Technique
While Tennyson has been labeled “The Poet of the People,” and has enjoyed much success as a writer of “public poetry,” his poems are ironically very private. Much of his success may be attributed to his gift for making his poetry appeal to a large audience. This accomplishment is made possible by his extensive use of technique to serve a larger poetic function.”The Charge of the Light Brigade” is an excellent example how Tennyson uses a structural technique to serve a larger poetic function. The structure of the entire poem is indeed essential to its theme. Like the story to which it refers, the poem has a definite beginning, middle and end. The beginning, consisting of stanzas 1 and 2, corresponds to the order (lines 5 and 6: “Forward the Light Brigade! / Charge for the guns!”), and the advancement of the brigade. The middle, consisting of stanzas 3 and 4, is characterized by the clashing of the brigade and the artillery, and the consequent slaying of the soldiers. The end, consisting of stanzas 5 and 6, is characterized by the retreat of the remaining soldiers, and the narrator’s reflection, respectively. However, while this division of the stanzas appears balanced at a glance, Tennyson actually structures the entire poem asymmetrically, like a lopsided sea-saw. Using this analogy, stanza 4 serves as the balance point, separating stanzas 3 and 5, which use parallelism to give a “before-and-after” effect. Stanza 5 begins the same way as does stanza 3: “Cannon to right of them / Cannon to left of them.” However, Tennyson changes “Cannon in front of them” (line 20) to “Cannon behind them” (line 41) because the brigade is retreating. Similarly, “Into the jaws of Death / Into the mouth of hell” (lines 24-25) becomes “Came through the jaws of Death / Back from the mouth of hell” (lines 46-47). Appropriately, only two stanzas follow stanza 4, or turning point, whereas three stanzas precede it. Therefore, the former part of the poem is “heavier” than the latter just as there are more men in the brigade before the charge than there are after it. Stanza 6 is the shortest in the poem, and the abruptness with which it ends represents the abruptness of the ending of the men’s lives.Tennyson uses repetition of the last line of each stanza to help narrate the progression of events. While stanzas 1-3 conclude with “Rode the six hundred,” the “turning point stanza” concludes with “Not the six hundred,” stanza 5 concludes with “Left of the six hundred,” and stanza 6 concludes with “Noble six hundred.” Tennyson’s use of repetition and variation is so effective that the outline of the story can be ascertained by reading only the last line of each stanza. He also uses alliteration to heighten the climax of action in stanzas 4 and 5. Lines such as “Reeled from the saber stroke / Shattered and sundered” (35-36) and “Stormed at with shot and shell / While horse and hero fell” (43-44)” intensify the action while the insistent-sounding meter gives the poem a military-sounding tone.Tennyson uses the false rhyme between “blundered,” “thundered,” “sundered,” “wondered” and “hundred” to represent what the Norton calls a “confusion of orders” (1280). In other words, the blunder in rhyme represents the historical blunder, or the call to charge. However, the poem does not criticize the one who is responsible for the blunder (“he” in line 6 and “someone” in line 12). On the contrary, it commemorates those soldiers who bravely followed their orders. There is no evidence to support the claim that Tennyson does not truly want the reader to “Honor the charge they made” (line 1281). “Noble six hundred” in the final line of the poem is genuine, and completely devoid of sarcasm.”In Memoriam A. H. H.,” unlike “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” is often inconsistent in tone because it is what T. S. Eliot called a “concentrated diary of a man confessing himself” (Norton 1230). However, while it is in many ways an episodic poem, it, too, has an element of structure that enhances its theme. The poem reflects the change in Tennyson’s own feelings about Hallam’s death from guilt and withdrawal to acceptance of grief. Stanzas 7 and 119 serve as markers for this notable change in emotion. In the same way that Tennyson uses parallelism and variation in stanzas 3 and 5 of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” to show that something has changed, he echoes some parts of #7 in # 119 of “In Memoriam” while varying others to show that he has come to terms with his grief.#7 begins with “Dark house,” creating a mood that is immediately melancholic, while #119 begins with “Doors,” which is not so bleak. The word “door” may even suggest openness, and may hold promise for a more positive tone. In #7, the proximity of the words “a hand” at the end of the first stanza and at the beginning of the second stanza conjures the image of Tennyson failing in an attempt to reach out to touch Hallam’s hand, serving the larger purpose of illustrating how Tennyson cannot yet come to terms with his grief. In #119, however, the word “hand” appears in the last line: “I take the pressure of thine hand,” which he could not do before, in #7. The second stanza of #7 begins, “A hand that can be clasped no more,” while the second stanza of #119 begins, “I hear the chirp of birds.” This latter sentence is a cue to the reader that Tennyson has made progress in handling his grief; in #7 the “noise of life begins again” (line 10), implying that it has stopped, while in #119 he can hear beautiful sounds again, like the “chirp of birds.” Tennyson also uses colors in #119 in addition to sounds to illustrate how he has regained his sense of reality. In lines 5-7 he writes, “I see / Betwixt the black fronts long-withdrawn / A light blue lane of early dawn,” using the contrast of black and a light color to represent hope shedding light over grief.Also characteristic of “In Memoriam” is Tennyson’s ability to say one thing and mean another. One of the ways in which he accomplishes this is by repeating a particular word or series of words, as in #11. While Tennyson repeats the word “calm” in every stanza, there is nothing truly calm about the poem. Tennyson imposes calmness on things that are not at all calm, such as “waves that sway themselves” (line 18). In line 16, the phrase “a calm despair” undermines the meaning of “calm,” since despair is not something that cannot really be “calm.” The effect is to give the impression that Tennyson is only trying to make himself calm, or drown his grief in a false sense of tranquility. This is further enhanced by the poem’s steady rhythm; it exhibits an almost Neo-Classical element of control juxtaposed with something that is incapable of being controlled.Tennyson uses a similar technique of saying one thing and meaning another in #28. In line 11, he uses the rhetorical device known as chiasmus to accomplish such an effect: “Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace.” Not only does Tennyson use the repetition and inversion of word order to sound like the ringing and echoing of the Christmas bells, but by repeating them he makes the words seem hollow and meaningless. The same is true of “The merry, merry bells of Yule” (line 20), which may be read in an ironic sense. The reader must consider Tennyson’s choice of the word “merry”: merriment implies transience whereas happiness implies permanence. There is a hollow sound in the assonance of “the merry merry bells,” just like hollow sound of “Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace.”While Tennyson makes extensive use of literary techniques to serve a larger poetic function, he is still conscious of the fact that words alone cannot fully express human emotion. In #5 of “In Memoriam” he says, “wordshalf reveal and half conceal the Soul within” (lines 3-4). Thus, while words are the only means he has to express himself, they can only provide an “outline and no more” (line 12). Underlying Tennyson’s use of rhyme, structure and other techniques is his own self-consciousness as a poet and a realization of the fallacy of language to express emotion.
An Act of Remembering: Control and Mourning in Tennyson’s In Memoriam
Alfred Tennyson’s In Memoriam, a poem of substantial length that he wrote in mourning of his best friend Arthur Henry Hallum, has withstood the test of time into the 21st century as a celebrated work that explores how humans work through trauma upon being presented with sudden loss. Tennyson experienced the various stages of this very trauma while writing In Memoriam, capturing his spirit’s struggle in the moments and then years afterwards. In the work, Tennyson often depicts himself as having little control over this mourning process, though it can be argued that he is desperate for this sense of control and authority in his loss. In analyzing passages from the poem, along with the consultation of Sigmund Freud’s exploration of trauma in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, we find that Tennyson’s work here is in itself an attempt to exercise control over his mourning.
Early in the poem, we see that Tennyson feels as if he has very little control over this situation and his mourning that has come as a result of it. This process that he has been thrown into after the loss of his best friend bewilders him, and he expresses a feeling of a lack of autonomy over his life. Tennyson, without his friend Arthur, is all but lost at sea. He makes this clear to us in section IV, when he presents himself as a man sitting within a boat that he cannot command. “To sleep I give my powers away ;/” he writes, “My will is bondsman to the dark ;/I sit within a helmless bark,/And with my heart I muse and say” (IV, i, 1-4). He expresses that he is lacking a helm in his boat, and in his life. Without such a thing, there is no way to guide the direction in which he moves, no way to control what he feels or what he thinks. This is what his mourning has done to him, and what life feels like within it. Especially in his sleep, as he says here, when he is likely thrown into dreams where his beloved friend is still with him, and then upon waking up he finds that nothing has changed – that he is still alone. What little power or control that he does have in waking life, he surrenders in the nighttime. In the prologue too, we find Tennyson thinking of his loss and his life in terms of the vast history of the universe, evoking a sense of smallness and the inability to make a difference, or to do something that “matters”. He writes, “Our little systems have their day ;/They have their day and cease to be :/They are but broken lights of thee,/And thou, O Lord, art more than they” (Prologue, v, 17-20). He speaks of lifetimes in terms of “systems”, and attempts to grasp that it is now his best friend Arthur who ceases to be. In the grand sense of things, he knows that he has very little control in the direction of the universe, or in mankind in general. Of his lost friend’s sudden death, and the mourning process that comes as a result of it, he has little control altogether. What’s done is now done, and Tennyson struggles to come to terms with the permanence of the loss. For further insight into how the writer is feeling here, we can turn to Irene Hsiao’s article, “Calculating Loss in Tennyson’s in Memoriam”. In discussing possible titles for the piece, she explores what they must have meant to Tennyson, and what the chosen title ultimately implies. He considered titling the poem both “Fragments of an Elegy”, and “The Way of the Soul”; one is too incomplete and shattered, and the latter is too definite and authoritative in its nature (Hsiao). She explains that the title that he settles on “… was the title given by his fiancée, Emily Sellwood, and it must have provided the solution Tennyson could not bring himself to acknowledge, that his work was a supreme act of remembering and not a resurrection” (174). What is suggested here is that Tennyson, with In Memoriam, was chasing after the impossible and attempting to bring back something already long gone – trying to gain control, and to resurrect. This act of remembering is still soothing at times and does its job well, but it cannot give Tennyson the authority over his mourning that he desires.
In turning to Sigmund Freud’s essay, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, we can better understand Tennyson’s aspirations of controlling the mourning process, as Freud writes that this is an inherent trait to humans. While spending time nearby a toddler, Freud is able to observe a “game” that the young child invents himself and then plays compulsively whenever he is left on his own. This game, Freud interprets, is the re-enactment, and assertion of control, over his mother’s leaving of him for hours at a time. Freud writes that: The child had a wooden reel with a piece of string tied around it. It never occurred to him to pull it along the floor… What he did was to hold the reel by the string and very skilfully throw it over the edge of his curtained cot, so that it disappeared into it, at the same time uttering his expressive ‘o-o-o-o’ (gone). He then pulled the reel out of the cot again by the string and hailed its reappearance with a joyful ‘da’ (there). This, then, was the complete game – disappearance and return. (9) Applying this to in Memoriam, the writing of the poem in itself seems to resemble this child’s game. It is a fantasy of control, except for Tennyson there is no pleasurable return – the loss is permanent. The writing is simply all he can do to ease his mind. This notion is displayed well in section XI, when the mourning author writes “Calm and deep peace in this wide air,/These leaves that redden to the fall ;/And in my heart, if calm at all,/If any calm, a calm despair” (XI, iv, 13-16). He seems aware that he must find some peace inside of his despair, as there is little to no escaping it. Stephen A. Black’s article “Eugene O’Neill in Mourning” aids us in understanding the emotions at work in this process post-loss, conveniently analyzing another writer. Speaking of Eugene O’Neill’s obsession with his parents in his writing after their passing, Black prophetically writes “To let the dead be gone one must have ceased to need them” (17). Here lies Tennyson’s issue, and we cannot help but sympathize with him. He still needs his best friend; their time together was not enough for him, resulting in the poet’s craving of Arthur’s presence. In Memoriam was originally published 17 years after Arthur Henry Hallum’s death, meaning that Tennyson experienced the process and moved through the different stages of mourning while writing the long poem. It can be said that this was an attempt to control his feelings of loss, and even to re-experience the trauma in different ways, resembling the Fort, Da (gone, there) of the earlier observed child’s game. He is not alone in this, as Black further explains that O’Neill possessed similar desires and habits: “Most commentators since the 1950s have notice that O’Neill remained preoccupied with his parental family throughout his writing career” (17). This writing of these human characters that have already passed away is very well an act of resurrection for the writers. In this they gain the control over loss, trauma, and mourning that they are unable to experience in their day-to-day lives.
It is clear that Alfred Tennyson ached for some control over the process of mourning following the death of his best friend Arthur Henry Hallum. In writing In Memoriam, he immortalized his companion and gave us brilliant insights into the way that humans deal with loss. Tennyson’s words and account of this era in his life breathe far beyond either of the men’s time spent in this world, and in reading them we acknowledge their passions. Whether or not Tennyson found control, we are left hoping that he found his peace.
Black, Stephen A. “Eugene O’Neill in Mourning.” Biography, vol. 11, no. 1, 1988, pp. 16-34. JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23539316. Accessed 10 October 2018.
Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. 1920. Online. http://xenopraxis.net/readings/freud_beyondthepleasureprinciple.pdf
Hsiao, Irene. “Calculating Loss in Tennyson’s in Memoriam.” Victorian Poetry, vol. 47, no. 1, 2009, pp. 173-196’. JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40347430. Accessed 8 October 2018.
Tennyson, Alfred. In Memoriam. 1849, online. https://archive.org/
Ambiguity in The Fisher King: From Tennyson’s Holy Grail to Gilliam’s Film
After one has read The Holy Grail by Alfred Lord Tennyson and watched the movie The Fisher King directed by Terry Gilliam, the question about the identity of the Fisher King in the movie naturally arises. In The Holy Grail, the Fisher King is described as a wounded man who is the last keeper of the Holy Grail. The King’s knight or fool retrieves the Holy Grail for him. For viewers of the movie, it is not always clear who is the Fisher King is being portrayed by and who is playing the knight. So, the movie puts its own take on the story and lets the viewer decide which character is which.
Both Parry and Jack play the knight and the Fisher King interchangeably throughout the movie. Parry tells Jack the story of the Holy Grail and the Fisher King. Jack has never heard of this and becomes interested when Parry tells him about it. He says that “the keeper of the Holy Grail may heal the hearts of men” (Gilliam). Both men want the Holy Grail during different parts of the movie. Parry desires the Holy Grail because his heart is completely broken after witnessing his wife being shot in the head at dinner. Jack looks for the Holy Grail because he is full of himself and keeps pushing the ones he loves the most away from him. In the story the Holy Grail, the knight Galahad, says “If I lose myself, I save myself” (Tennyson 206). This quote describes Jack because he had to lose himself as in return to the bad person he use to be. This then helped him realized he was being an awful person and change his ways, which saved himself. In the end, Jack claims the Holy Grail out of love and not because of his selfish ways. He heals Parry, but also frees himself from his guilt. At the beginning of the movie, Jack renders the Fisher King, a wealthy, high power man who runs a successful radio show. The knight, illustrated by Parry, the man whose wife was killed because of Jack’s radio show. When the two meet each other, Jack feels superior to Parry like a king looking down on his fool. But Parry changes Jack’s life after Jack realizes how Parry connects to him. Jack begins to feel guilty about causing Parry’s wife’s death. Jack is still selfish though with his knowledge about Parry. He tries to make up for what happened by giving Parry money, Jack said, “I wish there was some way I could just pay the fine and go home” (Gilliam). This shows Jack’s role as the Fisher King as someone who thinks wealth and power is the solution to everything.
Parry on the other hand represents the knight at the beginning of the movie. He even says, “I’m a knight on a special quest. And I need help” (Gilliam). The help he needs involves Jack’s guidance. Parry feels he must find the Holy Grail in order to heal his heart after his tragedy. Parry and Jack begin to switch roles when Parry insists that Jack is the chosen knight sent to retrieve the Holy Grail for him. Jack’s character becomes nicer and more caring due to Parry’s insane character. These two character’s balance each other out. Parry only sees the good and Jack and thinks he is sent from God to help him, “You’re a real honest to goodness good guy” (Gilliam). Parry becomes the Fisher King when Jack goes to his “home” and sees the books about the Holy Grail. Parry tells Jack he is the one, the knight, he has been waiting for to get the Holy Grail. Jack thinks Parry is extremely crazy but feels bad for him because he takes the blame for Parry becoming crazy. Jack does not desire to go get the Holy Grail because he does not want it and does not feel like he needs it. When Parry gets beat up and goes into a coma, Jack goes back to his ways of being a jerk because his king (Parry) is wounded. He forgets about Parry completely since he is unconscious. But Jack soon realizes that he has changed back to his selfish ways and goes to find the Holy Grail not only for Parry but for himself. Jack even admits to his nasty personality, “I’m self-centered, I’m weak” (Gilliam). Jack feels punished for turning back into a mean, power craving jerk, “Ever get the feeling you’re being punished for your sins?”. While Jack searches for the Holy Grail, his personality changes again, he retrieves the Holy Grail not only for himself to become a better person but for Parry in hope that he will wake up from his coma.
The movie The Fisher King delves into the story of the Holy Grail, making it a challenging modern-day adventure; in fact, the movie works under the idea that both Parry and Jack play the role of the Fisher King and the Knight. The Holy Grail appeals to both men for different reasons. Jack wants the Holy Grail to help him change his outlook on life and be a better person. Parry wants the Holy Grail to help mend his broken heart and to move on in life. The movie tied the story of the Holy Grail by Tennyson into its plot, making it very interesting for viewers to watch and think what they wanted based on their own imagination.
The Closed Door in The Island of Doctor Moreau and In Memoriam
In presenting the concept of the closed door, it advocates the very opposite idea that, once, the door was open. With this knowledge there comes a possibility that perhaps a closed door can be opened again, suggesting that there are two sides to a doorway. If this metaphor is continued, the ‘closed door’ can be seen as the boundary, a common theme among 1890’s writers. Both texts – Tennyson’s ‘In Memorium’ and Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau –challenge this ‘closed door’ staying as it is. Tennyson’s poetry almost seems as if, through the power of language, he wishes to open this door that separate the living and the dead, himself and Hallam. Wells uses this idea of the ‘closed door’ less philosophically, and more as a metaphor to suggest a permanently open door; this is one that bridges the otherwise separate gap between beast and man, epitomized in Dr Moreau’s vivisection. Whilst each writer explores crossing this boundary through their words, they both fail to realize the responsibility that accompanies their actions. Whether it is reaching for the dead, or attempting to turn beast to man, all actions have consequences. And this is what epitomizes both texts as fiction of the 1890’s; a sense of the progressive yet fatal that comes with opening the door to a new century.
H.G Well’s opening quote presents an image of the ‘closed door’ as physical. Yet, in the context of Tennyson’s poetry, it becomes symbolic of a boundary between past and present. James Spedding suggests Tennyson to be ‘a man always discontented with the Present till it has become the Past, and then he yearns toward it and worships it.’ In Memorium presents an obsession with the boundary between these two binaries. As Spedding suggests, Tennyson can neither exist in content in the present, nor fully reach the ideals of his past. This creates a self-inflicted purgatory as part his grief, enhanced by his physical return to Hallam’s house, mirroring the mental journey he takes in to this past memory:
Dark house, by which once more I stand […]
Doors, where my heart was used to beat
Alongside the suggested metaphor, the spiritual is shown also in a material door, that leads to the dark house. As the speaker is physically unable to pass through the door, Tennyson is unable to fully enter the boundaries of the living. In refusing to fully exist, this almost suggests a willingness to sacrifice his own life in order to drag the past to the present that he is so discontented with. This concept is fostered by the detachment from Tennyson’s mental and physical state. In stating his heart ‘used to beat’ within these boundaries, it suggests that in all other locations, that are not active representations of Hallam’s life, his heart cannot. In this yearning for the past, the narrator also actively rejects the present. He ‘[stands]’, whilst others continue moving through life around him, suggesting an inability to also move emotionally beyond his grief. Therefore, this ‘closed door’ becomes one that Tennyson both yearns to reach back through, yet simultaneously cannot.
As previously explored, the symbol of the ‘closed door’ is multi-faceted. In H.G. Wells’ fantastical novel, it comes to represent the boundary between beast and human. After centuries of debate, one of the defining features that separate man from animal is language. However, Wells’ science fiction challenges this in suggesting the boundary –in essence, the closed door –between language and communication is not as set as previously portrayed. As Dr Moreau continues his vivisection, the Beast-Folk are introduced to the human language. Yet, as they start to recede, as does their understanding. Can you imagine language, once clear-cut and exact, softening and guttering, losing shape and import, becoming mere lumps of sound again? (Wells, p.93) This ever-developing image presents the reader with a further metaphor; the ‘closed door’ between realism and science fiction is emphasized by the inquisitive. Wells implies that this is a world full of creatures that one can only ‘imagine’; the readers themselves cross a boundary from the realistic to the imaginary in the act of reading. Additionally, this literature alludes to the fear of degeneration. With a new century approaching, this implies the fear that the human language will recede to a beast’s ‘mere lumps of sound’. This fear means that ‘[imagining]’ could fast become reality. One must then consider if language is connected to understanding. Garner suggests that ‘a man cannot think without words’. This implies that one cannot reach the intellectual level of humanity without the ability to form words out loud. Yet, it perhaps also suggests that if a creature, such as Dr Moreau’s beasts, were to speak words, it could achieve this intelligence, and thus become more human. This concept begins to bridge the gap between man and beast, and the door is flung open through these experiments, whether humanity is ready or not. Yet, the degeneration of language to mere ‘softening and guttering’ ‘lumps of sounds’ perhaps suggests otherwise. Moreau has given these creates the ability to speak, but that is all. As beasts, they cannot reason or think independently, and mind remains separate from voice. Therefore, what is seemingly a process that will unite beast and man in understanding only separates them further. Despite Moreau’s best efforts, the door between the animal and human realms remains shut.
Thus far, the ‘closed door’ has been considered as an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual barrier. Yet, it must also be considered a construct that forms a social barrier, between the wider world and the culture that each writer creates. Tennyson creates an enclosed experience of grief, and Wells’ presents the reader with a perverted Eden. Both of their environments are closed off from the outer world, yet also come to represent larger experiences. For example, Dr Moreau’s island, seemingly separated from reality of by a ‘closed door’ can be seen as a metaphor and of the critical and strict Victorian society. I had before me the whole balance of human life in miniature, the whole interplay of instinct, reason, and fate in its simplest form. (Wells, p.77) Wells claims that Dr Moreau’s island, and the struggle between man and beast, can represent ‘the whole balance of human life’. This suggests that vivisection, whilst not physically, is perhaps more prominent in our everyday lives than ever previously thought. A civilized person must conduct a type of perverted vivisection in their own lives; they must fight against brute instincts, and choose reason in order to adhere to the ideals of a Victorian society. Yet, perhaps the most interesting point to note is perspective. Thus far, each protagonist has been considered as on either side of a ‘closed door’, yearning to reach the other side. In this instance, Prendrick is wholly detached, and viewing a concept as one, rather than separated by this boundary. Additionally, this suggests a difference in Wells’ narrative perspective. Prendrick’s extended vision almost suggests an elevated, God-like status. It could then be argued that whether this boundary remains or not, is based upon the individual, and their assumed power. Therefore, in this context, the ‘closed door’ becomes about familiarity, or lack of. The island’s physical separation from society allows a detached, and subsequently more critical, view of society. And this is a commentary that seems not only sophisticated, but familiar, as if a piece written in a newspaper. Yet, despite this, it cannot be forgotten that there are many ‘closed doors’ still separating Moreau’s island from civilization; not only the boundary between fiction and reality, but that of science and reason.
Wells’ statement addresses this metaphorical door as ‘closed’, a binary that suggests it’s opposite as ‘open’. And it is suggested by both texts that perhaps the natural order would either be an open door –a complete epiphany of knowledge –or closed, where all mysteries remain untouched. However, it is arguably not important whether this boundary is metaphorical or physical, and in what scenario. Perhaps what both Wells and Tennyson imply is the need for this ‘closed door’ to in fact remain partially open. Without this possibility of discovering the hidden –whether it be scientific, emotional, or social –then existence would certainly be mundane. Therefore, to achieve this ‘balance’ in our lives, one needs to accept that we cannot entirely shut off what we fear. There will always be the beast within man, and grief in the everyday existence; the door will never fully be shut, and this should be wholly accepted.
Shifting Realities in The Lotos-Eaters
In Alfred Tennyson’s “The Lotos-Eaters”, he brings into question the differing perspectives that each individual possesses. By describing the reality of the sailors before the consumption of the Lotos flower and after the ingestion of the enchanted Lotos, he brings attention to the idea that there exists various versions of reality and the ways that mind-altering substances can produce alternate or imaginary versions of reality. Through careful perusal of the poem and the comparison of the mindset of the sailors in the opening stanzas to the choric song, the reader can come to understand how Tennyson considers a flexible reality.
In the opening stanza to “The Lotos-Eaters”, Tennyson sets the scene and inserts the reader into the poem by describing the strange land that the sailors happen upon. He states: In the afternoon thy came unto a land / In which it seemed always afternoon. / All round the coast the languid air did swoon, / Breathing like one that hath a weary dream. (3-6) Immediately Tennyson invokes images of tiredness and dreamlike exhaustion, setting the atmosphere for the land that the sailor come across. Tennyson continues to elevate the land to a dreamlike, slumberous image. He utilizes language to allow the reader to understand the languidness of the land, using expressions such as “a land of streams” (10) and “slow-dropping veils of the thinnest lawn” (11) and “rolling a slumberous sheet of foam” (13) and “the charmed sunset lingered low” (19). Tennyson’s word choice in describing the land allows the reader to invoke an image of a lethargic, peaceful land, almost untouched by the destructive, busy, and complex natures of humankind. Indeed, the land seems to be almost untouched by even time; a land of eternal afternoons, “a land where all things always seem’d the same!” (24). The land seems eternal and unblemished to the sailors, a stark image contrasting the experiences that they have previously endured. After describing the etherealness of the land, Tennyson introduces the natives of the land, a people called the Lotos-eaters. He describes the Lotos-eaters as dark-skinned, but paled against the rosiness of the setting sun. He indicates that they are “mild-eyed” and “melancholy”, referring to their calm and languid nature. The introduction of the Lotos-eaters are in fact an allusion to Homer’s Odyssey, in which the epic hero Odysseus happens upon the land of the Lotos-eaters and struggles to retain his crew from the captivating flower.
Following the introduction of the natives and the description of their lethargic state, Tennyson tells of the flower that alters their nature in such as way: Branches they bore of that enchanted stem, / Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave To each, but whoso did receive of them, / And taste, to him the gushing of the wave Far far away did seem to mourn and rave / On alien shores; and if his fellow spake, His voice was thin, as voices from the grave; / And music in his ears his beating heart did make. (28-36) The Lotos-eaters provide the sailors with the Lotos fruit and flower, causing the sailors to be in an altered state. The sailor’s reality is changed; the sound of the waves is now humanized, mourning and raving; their voices become deathly and thin, concurrently slumbering and wide awake. The sailors even listen to their beating hearts as they would to music. The Lotos flower alters their state of mind, providing a hallucinogenic effect that changes their perception of reality.
After the sailors indulge in the Lotos flowers and their perception of reality is sufficiently altered, they reminisce about their homeland. However, while they long for their home, children, wives, and slaves, the inhibited sailors have no desire to return to the sea and make the journey to their island home. The shift in the poem, and the transition to the choric song occurs in the following lines: Then someone said, “We will return no more; / And all at once they sang, “Our island home Is far beyond the wave; we will no longer roam. (43-45) As soon as the sailors tasted the Lotos flower, any desire to return home vanished. Their home is simply too far away, and the languid state that the Lotos flower presses upon them has dissipated any interest in the journey. At the conclusion of the opening stanzas, the sailors begin to sing, transitioning into the choric song that remainder of the poem dissolves into.
The choric song institutes a shift in voice. While the opening stanzas are written in third-person, the choric song is written in first-person, as the sailors are singing as a whole. It begins with the sailors describing the marvelousness of the land. They describe the land as musical, soft, and blissful. Tennyson also includes an allusion to further mind-altering drugs: Here the cool mosses deep, / And through the moss the ivies creep, / And in the stream the long-leaved flowers weep, And from the craggy ledge the poppy hangs in sleep. (53-56) Poppy is known for being the source of opium, a hallucinogenic drug that has side-effects such as lethargy, which the sailors are currently suffering from. Tennyson’s inclusion of the poppy alludes to the sailors’ altered state caused by the Lotos flowers, and calls into question their ability to interpret their own reality.
Under the influence of the Lotos flower, the sailors continue on the question the difficulty of their own lives. They consider their own melancholy and weariness, and the distress of all mankind. They ponder the fact that although humankind is supreme over all other animals and living things, they are the only creatures that continuously have to toil while other beings rest. The sailors continue on to immerse themselves into a plant in the forest and ponder its existence from its blooming to its withering, including that the plant “hath no toil” (82). The stability and restfulness of the plant’s existence compared to the sailors’ own lives illustrates the complexity of humankind and shifted perspective that the sailors have on the nature of the world. After considering the plant’s existence, the sailors continue on to question their own. They ponder why, if they have to die eventually, their lives should be laborious. War and effort seem pointless now; only peace and rest appeal to the inhibited sailors. They sing: Let us alone. What pleasure can we have / To war with evil? Is there any peace / In ever climbing up the climbing wave? / All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave / In silence; ripen, fall and cease: / Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease. (93-98) Death even sounds appealing to the sailors over any sort of labor. The sailors are only interested in peaceful, unbothered rest, which they may find on the island of the Lotos-eaters. They wish to stay in this “half-dream”, the state produced by the Lotos flower that allows them to linger between sleep and wakefulness. Their single desire, repeated consistently throughout the poem, is to stay on this island and eat the Lotos flowers, thus adopting the lives of the natives: To lend our hearts and spirits wholly / To the influence of mild-minded melancholy; (108-109) As the sailors originally described the Lotos-eaters as “mild-eyed melancholy”, they too wish to be after allowing their minds to be numbed by the Lotos flower.
Although the sailors have no desire to return home, they still remember their families that they left behind. They understand that their families’ lives at home have changed without them, and use this to excuse their own abandonment. Tennyson includes another allusion to Homer’s Odyssey in the mentioning of the war in Troy, thus insinuating that the sailors are indeed Greeks returning home from the long war in Troy. They plan to abandon their weary journey and spend the rest of their days on the island of the Lotus-eaters.
In the final stanza of the poem, the sailors pay homage to the Lotos flower and swear an oath that they will never leave this resting place. They will never again anguish in the turmoil of the rest of mankind: Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore / Than labour in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar; Oh rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more. (171-173) The sailors conclude the poem with a final assertion that their journey is over; they have found peace on the island of the Lotos-eaters.
The comparison of the sailors in the opening stanzas and in the choric song is dramatic. In the beginning, the sailors were on a journey homewards; they have just finished fighting in a long ten-year war in Troy and are now returning to their families. However, once they arrive in the land of the Lotos-eaters and consume the flower, all perseverance vanishes. While the soldiers are rightly weary from their travels, the desire to finally return home is shockingly gone. Instead, the sailors appear enchanted with the land and the Lotos flower; they only wish for peace and restfulness, numbed by the mind-altering effects of the Lotos flower. By comparing to two states of the sailors before the consumption of the Lotos flower and after, Tennyson alludes to the idea of a flexible reality. Reality is not a fixed state; it is all dependent on one’s state of mind. When one’s mind is altered in any way, the perception of an idea, landscape, environment, scene, or feeling is changed. There is in fact no possible way to compare one’s own reality to another, or any reality at one moment to a different moment, for reality is influenced by the person experiencing it and his or her state of mind at the time. Reality is not stable, fixed, or reliable; and the ingestion of mind-altering substances alter one’s perception even more. The proof is in the sailors: men who should desire to return home more than anything only desire rest and the consumption of the mild-altering Lotos. Tennyson’s idea that reality is always fluctuating impacts the way one views the world. If reality is indeed unstable, every human experience is perceived by the subject in a unique way that cannot possible be truly understood by an outside mind. The influence of outside factors has too much sway in our understanding of reality. The sailors’ revolutionary choice to remain on the island indicate that our choices are not always truly our own; humans are too easily influenced by outside factors working on the mind. Humankind can only attempt to understand the shifting realities in order to maintain a firm grasp on what is truly knowable.
Regret in Tennyson’s The Lotos-Eaters
Tennyson’s The Lotos-Eaters is a poem which can be interpreted as having several meanings. While it can be understood as a lament for masculinity in peril, it can also be interpreted as expressing regret for the mariners’ indulgence in forbidden pleasures. Tennyson shows this in a number of different ways, the first being the vocabulary used in the poem before and after the actual ingestion of the lotus flowers; the mariners’ admiration of the island’s beauty provides an effective contrast to their disconnection from it, and everything else, once they have eaten the lotus. Another device which underlines this point is Tennyson’s drawing of parallels between the effects of the lotus, the topography of the island itself, and the state of the men, connecting them in such a way that one echoes another. This establishes a feeling of sameness which pervades the poem, and mimics the effects of the lotus on the mariners, highlighting all which has been lost by the mariners who chose to eat it.
From the first stanza, Tennyson uses pleasant words to extol the beauty of the island, and portray it as a desirable place to stay. Words such as “languid” (Tennyson line 5), “slender” (8) and “afternoon” (3) all carry pleasant connotations, and Tennyson’s repetition of certain phrases, such as “like a downward smoke” (8, 10) underlines how ethereal and picturesque the streams seem. Even the sound of the stream is subconsciously evoked by the sibilance of the repeated ‘s’ words in “…smoke, the slender stream” (8). This positive characterization carries on into the second stanza, too; a river is described as “gleaming” (14), and the mountain-tops as “sunset-flush’d” (17). These idyllic terms represent the allure of the island before the mariners partake of the lotus, and will be contrasted with harsher language in later stanzas, the comparison highlighting what the mariners have lost. The use of the word “charmed” (19) to describe the sunset is very telling, too, in that it has associations with magic and spells; in one sense, Tennyson is saying that the sunset is something which the mariners had the good fortune to see, but in another, he foreshadows the effects the lotus will have on them. This connection is made stronger by the use of the words “enchanted stem” (28) to describe the lotus itself later in the poem.
Once the island’s inhabitants, the “Lotos-eaters” (27), give the lotus to the mariners, the language employed by Tennyson suddenly changes. Instead of words with positive meanings and connotations, he starts using alienating and isolating words. The waves “mourn and rave” (32), suggesting that the sea itself is sad and angry with the men. Not only that, but it does so “on alien shores” (33), showing just how far away the men are from their previous life at sea and even their current location. The men’s perspective on the sea is also revealed to have changed; not only is it “far, far away” (32) but it is also “barren foam” (42), again emphasising how much the men have lost to the lotus. The distance between the men themselves is also shown to be great, as when they speak their voices sound like they’re coming “from the grave” (34). In the final stanza, what the men have given up is brought into sharp relief; it is made clear that they now only “dream of [their] Fatherland” (39), showing that the idea of home is no longer a reality to them. Even their slaves are thought of fondly, and included in their nostalgia, in the phrase “child, and wife, and slave” (40). Separated from their companions, their surroundings, and their hope, the mariners have given up everything for constancy of the lotus’s effects and have relegated themselves simply to dreams.
Constancy is also a very important through-line of the poem, with Tennyson describing the island as unchanging, chronologically. The mariners land on the island “in the afternoon” (3) and subsequently it is described as a place in which “it seemed always afternoon” (4). This immediately sets up the idea that this is a land which does not change, and whose beauty is both breathtaking and constant. Indeed, the sun and the moon are both out at once, confusing even the most basic measure of time. The sunset is said to have “linger’d” (19) and the island itself is directly said to be “a land where all things always seem’d the same” (24). The constancy is also highlighted by the extremely regular rhyme scheme of the poem, which does not deviate at any point from the pattern established in the first stanza. A more interesting picture still is painted by the meter of the poem; it is mostly in iambic pentameter, although the last line of every stanza is in hexameter, setting up a regular rhythm. Additionally, once the mariners have actually taken the lotus, the meter becomes much more regular, with ten syllables in every line except the last one of each stanza, which naturally has twelve, being in hexameter. The reason that these features are important is that monotonous, unyielding regularity is all the lotus has to offer, and it is that for which the mariners have given up the good and bad of their normal lives; the forbidden pleasures in which they have engaged have denied everything but sameness to them.
Another way in which this sameness is described is by conflating the features of the island with the effects of the lotus, in effect saying that the island, the lotus and those who take it are all the same. The word “seem” appears many times throughout the poem, describing the landscape, the men and the effects of the lotus on them, and this serves to unify them in a state of flux. The land itself “seemed always afternoon” (4), the sea “seem[ed] to mourn and rave” (32) and the men themselves are describes as “deep-asleep he seem’d” (35). Tennyson increases this effect in the rhyming couplets at the end of each stanza, each of which contains a comparison of two opposing ideas. In the first stanza, the stream appeared to “fall and pause and fall” (9); in the second, the “sunset-flush’d” (17) mountains are juxtaposed with the “shadowy pine” (18); in the third, the lotus-eaters’ faces are described as both “pale” (26) and “dark” (26); in the fourth, the men seem “deep-asleep” (35) and “all awake” (35), and in the fifth, the crux of the poem emerges, namely the contrast between “home” (44) and “roam” (45). The effect this has on the reader is to show how even disparate ideas are the same on this island, and under the effects of the lotus, again underlining how the men have sacrificed variety in favor of predictability.
Even the landscape, the main thrust of the poem for the first three stanzas, is completely forgotten once the men take the lotus. Instead of being characterized as beautiful or breathtaking, the island is now simply the place where the mariners will stay because they are too apathetic to go elsewhere; all of the aesthetic appeal of the island is irrelevant. It is arguable that the beauty of the island as it is described in the first three stanzas is actually the beauty of discovery and of novelty, which is lost to the mariners once they submit themselves to the sameness of the lotus, again showing the consequences of indulging in forbidden pleasures. The only thing which is characterized consistently throughout the poem is the sea (in other words, the only thing mentioned in the poem which is not directly related to the island); the foam is said to be “slumbrous” (13), and the sea “weary” (41).
The many poetic techniques used by Tennyson in this poem cumulatively serve to show the reader that the indulgence of the mariners has prevented them from achieving anything. The lotus provides stability, but as a consequence the mariners no longer want to explore, or discover. They simply want to sit on the shore and dream of their homes, rather than attempting to get back to their wives and children, and it is in this way that Tennyson expresses regret for forbidden pleasures; there is an implied value in traveling and discovery, and as shown by the lack of mention of the beauteous landscape towards the end of the poem, even the most stunning aesthetics eventually become commonplace and unworthy of mention. Ultimately, Tennyson shows that not only have the men lost their future, but they have also lost the present; they are unable to appreciate their surroundings, the beauty being the only saving grace of the island.
Instability in Maud
Instability, in its most basic sense, is something not likely to change or fail, this is a feeling or fear explored across various themes in Maud. Across the private and public spheres, instability is recognized in the mind, politics, existence, gender and class. Even the form of the poem itself is persistently unstable with a predominant trend of trimeter with the incorporation of tetrameter at irregular intervals. These serve to ‘disrupt the established order’ and echoes the narrators own mental and personal instability as it is manifested in the rhythm of his dramatic monologue. The form of the extremely personal first person narrative allows the reader to explore the instability of the narrator’s mind fully. The reader is absorbed into the unstable mind of the narrator who’s mind, from the beginning, is morbidly and determinedly obsessed with death. It is hard not to observe the instability of a man who’s opening discourse is fueled by the semantic field of death – ‘hate’, ‘blood-red’, ‘death’ – as he mourns the death of his father. The inferred suicide of the narrators father gives scientific weight to the instability of Tennyson’s narrator as Victorian psychological advances stressed the force of heritage and genetics on a man or woman’s mental health.
On another level, Rader believed the suicide of the narrator’s father could mirror Tennyson’s own instability in the suicide of his own father (1) Tennyson had a ‘family history of mental instability’ which is indirectly recorded and reflected upon in this poem, perhaps addressing fears for his own mental sanity and stability. The vicious description of the dead father’s body ‘mangl’d, and flatten’d and crush’d, and dinted’ uses polysyndeton and contracted adjectives which contribute to the blunt and morbid effect of Tennyson’s description. His overly brutal description of the body unleashes the narrator’s and perhaps his own instability in the form of confused anger and devastation. It also infers that the father’s own mental instability, such that led to his suicide, has already manifested itself in the narrator as he is consumed by morbid instability.
However, as suggested by O’Gorman, perhaps Maud is rather a declaration of Tennyson’s own stability. That is, in the context of ‘In memoriam’ which was ‘a meditation on types of posthumous return’ or the Victorian ‘ghostology’ (2) Maud is perhaps a response to this and an ‘expressive of the poets desires to place his feet more firmly on the ground’. Maud could be a maturation or rebuke for ‘an earlier inclination to yield to the chimerae produced by grief’. Though Tennyson’s morbid fascination with the dead or posthumous has not ended, that which is dead remains dead, unlike the surrealist haunting found in ‘In Memoriam’ ‘wild and wandering cries’. Whereas ‘In Memoriam’s’ elegiac form does have resonances in ‘Maud’ the latter is not overshadowed or haunted by ghosts as ‘Memoriam’ had been criticized for.
On the subject of ghostliness, the narrators mental instability also extends to his sexual desires. The scene’s sexual dynamic is explored though Maud’s presence as a ‘glorious ghost’, emphasized by Tennyson’s alliteration. Despite Maud’s ‘living deadness’ she is still the object of his sexual desire which animates a ‘sudden desire’ within him, adding a ‘frisson of necrophilia to the scene’s sexual dynamic.’ (3)
Maud’s ghostlike presence leads to an exploration of the instability of her very existence. Throughout the poem, Maud’s very existence is made ambiguous by Tennyson. ‘She is but dead’ This could suggest one of two things. Firstly that Maud is literally dead, alternatively a metaphorical dead to the narrator following the killing of her brother. Such ambiguity is explored by Tennyson again. ‘She comes from another stiller world of the dead.’ Which could imply that Maud is dead and he feel he is being haunted but this could also be hallucinatory grief. (4) Once again, Maud’s very existence is incredibly unstable as she exists only in a sort of literary limbo. Not empirically alive or dead yet present even to the poem’s closing lines. Surely this is the ultimate form of personal instability, what was once mental instability has penetrated the rest of her (not) existence.
It is not only Maud who is associated with the dead. The narrator’s mental instability seems to be accelerated as he fascinates and fetishizes the prospect of being buried alive. ‘Why have they not buried me deep enough’ as he even ruminates on what he can hear and how deep he has been buried. This strong pervading sense of nihilism stems from ‘deconstruction of the narratives by which Western culture has sought to order human life’ and exposes extremes instability in a clash between the narrators already unstable mind and the pressures and conventions of society and culture. (5)
Another type of instability is that between the narrator and Maud themselves. Even the narrator’s opinion is extremely unstable, that is, vulnerable to change. He originally felt ‘you are all unmeet for a wife’ the pronoun ‘you’ adds an extremely accusatory and angry tone to his stream of consciousness. It is not long until he can no longer resist her beauty and attraction ‘dream of her beauty with tender dread.’ However, despite the overarching sense of passion Tennyson is quick to remind us of instability. Firstly with the oxymoron ‘tender dread’ and secondly with the antithesis of ‘dread’ and ‘beauty’. Perhaps he is still referring to the narrator’s efforts to resist Maud or perhaps he is touching on something darker. The instability of their love or their ability to love, a struggle or imbalance between love and underlying morbidity and mental health issues.
Another form of instability expressed in Tennyson’s Maud is instability in the public sphere, especially relating to the Crimean war. Maud is overheard singing ‘a martial song like a trumpet’s call’ with the use of a simile which brings to mind instant connotations of war and battle. The most recent of which would be the Crimean war, a war which ‘was notoriously marked more by dissonance than by harmony’. A war which Tennyson critiqued largely in his poem The Charge of the Light Brigade, which follows six hundred men who unwittingly charge into the ‘valley of death’. Markovits argues that Tennyson’s unspecified war song in Maud could be filled with The Charge of the Light Brigade, a poem published while he was working on Maud as it recognizes ‘the presence of a set overlapping concerns: a common confusion as to the relationship between public and private selves, fascination with suicide and the expression of the hermeneutics of uncertainty.’(6) It is therefore not unreasonable to assume that these two poems, written at the same time, are linked in their dissonance of the Crimean war failures. If so, the instability of the public sphere of the ‘they’ in Battle of the Light Brigade has seeped into the instability of the ‘I’ in Maud as it did historically (people’s outrage ending in the toppling of the Aberdeen ministry).
Instability is also explored across gender and class issues which work at the forefront of Maud’s narrative. These instabilities foreground political, public and private, issues of class and gender tension. There is an instability in the ‘conflict between different models of masculinity shown. That is to say, the form of masculinity the narrator chooses to adapt, is also subject to change and therefore unstable. ‘And ah for a man to arise in me / that the man I am may cease to be’ the pronoun ‘a’ which distances himself from the type of man which he seems to wish to be, furthers this instability by creating literary distance between the gender ideal he is and one he is trying to become. This in turn, highlights the sense of instability, greatening it. Moreover, Maud is presented as a character who should not exist amidst the instability of Victorian gender politics – it is the class or economic power in combination with patriarchal views which will ‘annihilate her’. As she is seduced into marrying the ‘new made lord’. Marion Shaw probingly observes ‘She must die to save herself from death.’ (7) Maud’s own gender, that is to say her own inherent femininity is unstable as it is entirely denied. This is avoided of course through her ‘death’ not as a means to threaten the stability of her existence but that of her gender and the roles and conventions demanded by it.
In conclusion, instability is explored across a range of social issues, both public and private – the most unstable clash of all being that of the public and private spheres of life. Maud is a highly political poem that ventures beyond the instabilities of its two main characters into the ream of political dissonance, a world highly unstable during the highly unpopular Crimean war of Tennyson’s era. It’s themes of instability are further expressed when observed in comparison to ‘In Memoriam’ and ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ which reflect on unstable issues such as the Crimean war but also of the instability or stability of Tennyson’s own personal life.
1) Rader, R. (1978). Tennyson’s Maud. Berkeley: University of California Press.
2) O’Gorman F. (2010). What is haunting Tennyson’s Maud, Victorian Poetry 58.3
3) O’Gorman F. (2010). What is haunting Tennyson’s Maud, Victorian Poetry 58.3
4) Markovits S (2009) Giving voice to the Crimean war, Victorian Poetry 47.3
5) Stott, R. (1996). Tennyson. Routledge
6) Markovits S (2009) Giving voice to the Crimean war, Victorian Poetry 47.3
7) Marotti, A. (1993). Reading with a difference. Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press
“The Lady of Shalott”: How Tennyson Sets the Scene, and Comments on an Era
“The Lady of Shalott” was published in 1832, during the early Victorian epoch. It explores a series of themes that trigger the reader to question the societal prejudices that occurred during Queen Victoria’s reign. In order to stimulate thought, Tennyson paints a romantic picture of Camelot and uses an array of literary techniques to lure the reader into the story. The idyllic scene at the beginning of the poem juxtaposed with the desolation that it concludes with, injects a surge of drama, which emphasises the weight of unanswered cerebral questions directed at the reader. Writers during this period were reliant on public opinion in order to encourage commercial enterprise, thus Tennyson appealed to the civilisation of his day. Some argue contemporary literary opinion turned sharply against him during the twentieth century, as his writings reflected Victorian values. Therefore, morals that can be identified in this text should be used as guidelines that expose the hypocrisy underlying the foundation of Victorianism.
The four stanzas in part one employ the same basic structure. There are nine lines with a rhyme scheme of aaaabcccb and Tennyson emphasises the rhyme, using it to his literary advantage. The abrupt stop at the end of the flowing structure constructs an archaic medieval atmosphere that clouds the reader’s perception, forcing them into a dimension of ancient storytelling. Consequently reflecting the medieval theme of the poem and creating interest. One interpretation could suggest this mirrors the storyline of the Lady of Shalott, as her life concludes abruptly. Therefore the construction of the poem is a prophetic warning of the fate of the Lady of Shalott, demonstrating the vulnerability of women during the Victorian period, who were subject to the patriarchal values that underpinned civilisation. Susan Kent observed, “Women were so exclusively identified by their sexual functions that nineteenth-century society came to regard them as ‘the Sex’”. The polarised gender roles that men and women inhabited influenced the ideology of ‘separate spheres.’ This framework assigned conventional functions to men, such as ‘courage, intellect, independence’, while it attributed intrinsic feminine characteristics to women, ‘emotional, sensitive, selfless’.
Tennyson adheres to this doctrine by placing the Lady of Shalott on a higher pedestal in the context of innocence. The first part of the poem constructs a serene and majestical tone, creating the impression that the Lady of Shalott is sacrosanct. ‘Listening, whispers ’Tis the fairy Lady of Shalott.’ The referral to the townsfolk’s thoughts demonstrates the mythical nature of the Lady of Shalott, her existence seems enigmatic because of her involuntary confinement. A feminist interpretation would acknowledge the facade that surrounds the Lady. They might suggest that the whimsical and allegorical fantasy attached to her existence is a canvas that masks the true desolation of her incarceration. ‘But who hath seen her wave her hand? Or at the casement seen her stand?’ The rhetorical questions embed this apocryphal aspect of her identity and submerges the reader into a fictitious land of cyclical controversy.
The nature that surrounds the tower appears quaint and calm, creating the impression that Camelot is tranquil. This constructs suspense and dramatic irony, as it is not long before the mirage is shattered. Moreover, Tennyson employs pathetic fallacy to underline the future emotional turbulence the Lady faces. ‘Little breezes dusk and shiver Thro’ the wave that runs for ever By the island in the river’ The personification of the breeze could enhance the Lady’s feminine qualities. She is united with nature and this reflects qualities such as sensitivity and maternalism. Nature being associated with such characteristics can be traced back to Greek mythology. Gaia was the ancestral mother of all life and one of the Greek primordial deities. Consequently, Tennyson is moulding the scene for the Lady to adopt the conventional position of a ‘damsel in distress’. By accentuating her womanly persona, the reader will feel more inclined to wait in anticipation for her saviour.
‘Round an island there below, The island of Shalott.’ She lives on an island and castle, synechodchally described as ‘Four gray walls, and four gray towers’. This could demonstrate the extremity of her imprisonment. It also suggests there is an alternate, darker paradigm concerning her lifestyle. While the walls overlook ‘a space of flowers’, the contrast of the outside world against her confinement emphasises the asperity of the state of her affairs. A marxist interpretation would use the surroundings as a metaphor for the the lady’s social position. The tower is symbolic of psychological immurement and indoctrination from the state. However, one must note that her status is more inclined to be labelled as ‘bourgeoisie’. This can be seen from the array of ornaments that inhabit the tower and her title as ‘Lady’. Consequently, a Marxist interpretation would shift and suggest the failure to abide communism has resulted in chaos amongst the higher members of society. The fantasy of “The Lady of Shalott” projects a guiding light on Victorian society, warning them of an ill-fated future if they refuse to ignore the foundations of Communism. Although, it is important to bear in mind that Marx began writing in 1844 and this poem was published in 1832. While the term was first coined in 1777 by Victor d’Hupay, who focused on the legacy of the Enlightenments to principles which he lived up to, it was Karl Marx and others who galvanised the movement.
The enigma of the lady manufactures apprehension and sparks curiosity. Tennyson fabricates a peaceful panorama, which allows him to vigorously assault the reader’s lulled state later on and emphasise the austereness of the Lady’s circumstance. This introduction sets the perfect scene for a tragedy and the articulate, meticulous use of literary techniques paints a visual image that allows a fusillade of emotions to be accessed, thus making the poem improbably engaging.