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That is a pregnant with the dream-mood of the dreamers are
Music that gentlier on the spirit lies
remark, a key to unlock a good deal of Tennyson's work with. Byron and Shel ley, though they are carried out of them selves in contemplating nature, do not, I think, often take her as interpreter of moods alien to their own. In Words. worth's " Excursion," it is true, Mar- so entirely restful and happy in their simgaret's lonely grief is thus delineated plicity. If art would always blossom so, through the neglect of her garden and the she might be forgiven if she blossomed surroundings of her cottage; yet this is only for her own sake; yet this connot so characteristic a note of his nature-troversy regarding art for art need hardly poetry. In "The Miller's Daughter" and have arisen, since art may certainly bloom for her own sake, if only she consent The Gardener's Daughter" the lovers to assimilate in her blooming, and so exwould be little indeed without the associated scene so germane to the incidents hale for her votaries, in due proportion, narrated, both as congenial setting of the all elements essential to nature, and hupicture for a spectator, and as vitallymanity; for in the highest artist all facul
fused with the emotion of the lovers; while never was more lovely landscapepainting of the gentle order than in "The Gardener's Daughter." Lessing, who says that poetry ought never to be pic torial, would, I suppose, much object to Tennyson's; but to me, I confess, this mellow, lucid, luminous word-painting of his is entirely delightful. It refutes the criticism that words cannot convey a picture by perfectly conveying it. Solvitur ambulando; the Gardener's Daughter standing by her rose-bush, "a sight to make an old man young," remaining in our vision to confound all crabbed pedants with pet theories.
In his second volume, indeed, the poet's art was well mastered, for here we find the "Lotos-Eaters," Enone," "The Palace of Art," "A Dream of Fair Women," the tender "May Queen," and "The Lady of Shalott." Perhaps the first four of these are among the very finest works of Tennyson. In the mouth of the lovelorn nymph Enone he places the complaint concerning Paris into which there enters so much delightful picture of the scenery around Mount Ida, and of those fair immortals who came to be judged by the beardless apple-arbiter. How deliciously flows the verse! though probably it flows still more entrancingly in the Lotos Eaters," wandering there like clouds of fragrant incense, or some slow, heavy honey, or a rare amber unguent poured out. How wonderfully harmonious
ties are transfigured into one supreme organ; while among forms her form is the most consummate, among fruits her fruit offers the most satisfying refreshment. What a delicately true picture have we here
And like a downward smoke, the slender
no further than throughout this poem, and | simple, even ordinary in character, and by "expression" of course I do not mean sometimes it will be ornate, elaborate, pretty words, or power-words for their dignified. He who can thus vary his lanOwn sweet sake, for these, expressing guage is the best verbal artist, and Tennothing, whatever else they may be, are not nyson can thus vary it. In this poem, the "expression;" but I mean the forcible or "Morte d'Arthur," too, we have "deepfelicitous presentment of thought, image, chested music." Except in some of feeling, or incident, through pregnant and Wordsworth and Shelley, or in the magbeautiful language in harmony with them; nificent “Hyperion" of Keats, we have though the subtle and indirect suggestion had no such stately, sonorous organ-music of language is unquestionably an element in English verse since Milton as in this to be taken into account by poetry. "The poem, or in "Tithonus," " Ulysses," "LuPalace of Art" is perhaps equal to the cretius," and "Guinevere." From the former poem for lucid splendor of descrip- majestic overture, tion, in this instance pointing a moral, allegorizing a truth. Scornful pride, intellectual arrogance, selfish absorption in æsthetic enjoyment, is imaged forth in this vision of the queen's world-reflecting palace, and its various treasures - the end being a sense of unendurable isolation, engendering madness, but at last repentance, and reconcilement with the scouted commonalty of mankind.
The dominant note of Tennyson's poetry is assuredly the delineation of human moods modulated by nature, and through a system of nature-symbolism. Thus, in "Elaine," when Lancelot has sent a courtier to the queen, asking her to grant him audience, that he may present the diamonds won for her in tourney, she receives the messenger with unmoved dignity; but he, bending low and reverently before her, saw "with a sidelong eye"
The shadow of some piece of pointed lace In the queen's shadow vibrate on the walls, And parted, laughing in his courtly heart. The Morte d'Arthur" affords a striking instance of this peculiarly Tennysonian method. That is another of the very finest pieces. Such poetry may suggest labor, but not more than does the poetry of Virgil or Milton. Every word is the right word, and each in the right place. Sir H. Taylor indeed warns poets against wanting to make every word beautiful." And yet here it must be owned that the result of such an effort is successful, so delicate has become the artistic tact of
this poet in his maturity. For good expression being the happy adaptation of language to meaning, it follows that sometimes good expression will be perfectly
But the loveliest lyrics of Tennyson do not suggest labor. I do not say that, like Beethoven's music, or Heine's songs, they may not be the result of it. But they, like all supreme artistic work, "conceal," not obtrude art; if they are not spontaneous, they produce the effect of spontaneity, not artifice. They impress the reader also with the power, for which no technical skill can be a substitute, of sincere feeling, and profound realization of their subject-matter.
So all day long the noise of battle rolled
onward to the end, the same high eleva-
But this very picturesqueness of treatment has been urged against Tennyson as a fault in his narrative pieces generally, from its alleged over-luxuriance, and tendency to absorb, rather than enhance, the higher human interest of character and action. However this be (and I think it is an objection that does apply, for instance, to "The Princess"), here in this poem picturesqueness must be counted as a merit, because congenial to the semimythical, ideal, and parabolic nature of Arthurian legend, full of portent and supernatural suggestion. Such Ossianic hero-forms are nearly as much akin to the elements as to man. And the same answer holds largely in the case of the other Arthurian idylls. It has been noted how well-chosen is the epithet "water" applied to a lake in the lines,
On one side lay the ocean, and on one Lay a great water, and the moon was full. Why is this so happy? For as a rule the concrete rather than the abstract is poetical, because the former brings with it an image, and the former involves no vision. But now in the night all Sir Bedevere could observe, or care to observe, was that there was "some great water." We do not
he did not want to know exactly what it was. Other thoughts, other cares, preoccupy him and us. Again, of dying Arthur we are told that "all his greaves and caisses were dashed with drops of onset." "Onset" is a very generic term, poetic because removed from all vulgar associations of common parlance, and vaguely suggestive not only of war's pomp and circumstance, but of high deeds also, and heroic hearts, since onset belongs to mettle and daring; the word for vast and shadowy connotation is akin to Milton's
The brawny spearman, let his cheek Bulge with the unswallowed piece, and turning stared;
or thus characterizes a pun, "and took the word, and play'd upon it, and made it of two colors." This kind of ingenuity, indeed, belongs rather to talent than to genius; it is exercised in cold blood; but talent may be a valuable auxiliary of gen. ius, perfecting skill in the technical departments of art. Yet such a gift is not without danger to the possessor. It may tempt him to make his work too much like a delicate mosaic of costly stone, too hard and unblended, from excessive elaboration of detail. One may even prefer to art thus highly wrought a more glowing and careless strain, that lifts us off our feet, and carries us away as on a more rapid, if more turbid torrent of inspiration, such as we find in Byron, Shelley, or Victor Hugo. Here you are compelled to pause at every step, and admire the design of the costly tesselated pavement under your feet. Perhaps there is a jewelled glitter, a pre-Raphaelite or Japanese minuteness of finish here and there in Tennyson, that takes away from the feeling of aërial perspective and remote distance, leaving lit tle to the imagination; not suggesting and whetting the appetite, but rather satiating it: his loving observation of minute particulars is so faithful, his knowledge of what others, even men of science, have observed so accurate, his fancy so nimble in the selection of similitudes. But every master has his own manner, and his reverent disciples would be sorry if he could be without it. We love the little idiosyncrasies of our friends.
I have said the objection in question does seem to lie against "The Princess."
very serious conclusion, and weighty moral is drawn from the story, the workmanship being labored to a degree, and almost encumbered with orna mentation. But the poet himself admits the ingrained incongruity of the poem. The fine comparison of the princess Ida in the battle to a beacon glaring ruin over raging seas, for instance, seems too grand for the occasion. How differently, and in what burning earnest has a great poetwoman, Mrs. Browning, treated this grave modern question of the civil and political position of women in "Aurora Leigh"! Tennyson's is essentially a man's view, and the frequent talk about women's beauty must be very aggravating to the "blues." It is this poem especially that gives people with a limited knowledge of Tennyson the idea of a "pretty" poet; the prettiness, though very genuine, seems to play too patronizingly with a momentous theme. The princess herself, and the other figures are indeed dramatically realized, but the splendor of invention, and the dainty detail, rather dazzle the eye away from their humanity. Here, how. ever, are some of the loveliest songs that this poet, one of our supreme lyrists, ever sung: "Tears, idle tears!""The splendor falls," "Sweet and low," "Home they brought," "Ask me no more," and the exquisite melody, "For Love is of the valley." Moreover, the grand lines toward the close are full of wisdom:
For woman is not undeveloped man,
I feel myself a somewhat similar incongruity in the poet's treatment of his more homely, modern, half-humorous themes, such as the introduction to the "Morte d'Arthur," and "Will Waterproof;" not at all in the humorous poems, like the "Northern Farmer," which are all of a piece, and perfect in their own vein. In this introduction we have,The host and I sat round the wassail bowl, Then half-way ebb'd;
Till I, tired out
but this metaphorical style is not (fortu nately) sustained, and so, as good luck would have it, a metaphor not being ready It contains some of the most beautiful to hand, we have the honester and homepoetic pearls the poet has ever dropped; lier line, but the manner appears rather disproportionate to the matter, at least to the subject as he has chosen to regard it. For it is regarded by him only semi-seriously; so lightly and sportively is the whole topic viewed at the outset, that the effect is almost that of burlesque; yet there is a
With cutting eights that day upon the pond; yet this homespun hardly agrees with the above stage-king's costume. And so again I often venture to wish that the poet-laureate would not say "flowed"
when he only means "said." Still, this may be hypercriticism. For I did not personally agree with the critic who objected to Enoch Arden's fish-basket being called ocean smelling osier." There is no doubt, however, that " Stokes, and Nokes, and Vokes" have exaggerated the poet's manner, till the "murex fished up" by Keats and Tennyson has become one universal flare of purple. Beautiful as some of Mr. Rossetti's work is, his expression in the sonnets surely became obscure from over-involution, and excessive fioriture of diction. But then Rossetti's style is no doubt formed consider ably upon that of the Italian poets. One is glad, however, that this time, at all events, the right man has "got the porridge."
In connection with "Morte d'Arthur," I may draw attention again to Lord Tennyson's singular skill in producing a rhythmical response to the sense.
The great brand Made lightnings in the splendor of the moon, And flashing round and round, and whirl'd in an arch, here the anapest instead of the iambic in the last place happily imitates the sword Excalibur's own gyration in the air. Then what admirable wisdom does the legend, opening out into parable, disclose toward the end! When Sir Bedevere laments the passing away of the Round Table, and Arthur's noble peerage, gone down in doubt, distrust, treachery, and blood, after that last great battle in the west, when, amid the death-white mist, "confusion fell even upon Arthur," and "friend slew friend, not knowing whom he slew," how grandly comes the answer of Arthur from the mystic barge, that bears him from the visible world to "some far island valley of Avilion "!
The new commencement of this poem, called in the idyls "The Passing of Arthur," is well worthy of the conclusion. How weirdly expressive is that last battle in the mist of those hours of spiritual perplexity, which overcloud even strongest natures and firmest faith, overshadowing whole communities, when we know not friend from foe, the holiest hope seems doomed to disappointment, all the great aim and work of life have failed; even loyalty to the highest is no more; the fair polity built laboriously by some godlike
spirit dissolves, and “all his realm reels back into the beast;" while men "falling down in death" look up to heaven only to find cloud, and the great-voiced ocean, as it were destiny without love and without mind, with voice of days of old and days to be, shakes the world, wastes the narrow kingdom, yea, beats upon the faces of our dead! The world-sorrow pierces here through the strain of a poet usually calm and contented. Yet "Arthur shall come again, aye, twice as fair;" for the spirit of man is young immortally.
Who, moreover, has moulded for us phrases of more transcendent dignity, of more felicitous grace and import, phrases, epithets, and lines that have already become memorable household words? More magnificent expression I cannot conceive than that of such poems as "Lucretius," "Tithonus," "Ulysses.' These all for versification, language, luminous picture, harmony of structure, have never been surpassed. What pregnant brevity, weight, and majesty of expression in the lines where Lucretius characterizes the death of his namesake Lucretia, ending,
And from it sprang the commonwealth, which breaks
As I am breaking now!
What masterly power in poetically embodying a materialistic philosophy conge nial to modern science, yet in absolute dramatic keeping with the actual thought time, what tremendous grasp of the terof the Roman poet! And at the same rible conflict of passion with reason, two natures in one significant for all epochs! In "Tithonus" and "Ulysses" we find embodiments in high-born verse and illustrious phrase of ideal moods, adventurous, peril-affronting enterprise contemptuously tolerant of tame household virtues in "Ulysses," and the bane of a burdensome immortality, become incapable even of love, in "Tithonus." Any personification more exquisite than that of Aurora in
the latter were inconceivable.
M. Taine, in his "Littérature Anglaise," represents Tennyson as an idyllic poet (a charming one), comfortably settled among his rhododendrons on an English lawn, and viewing the world through the somewhat insular medium of a prosperous, domestic, and virtuous member of the English comfortable classes, as also of a man of letters who has fully succeeded. Again, either M. Taine, M. Scherer, or some other writer in the Revue des deux Mondes, pictures him, like his own Lady of Shalott, viewing life not as it really is, but
depict the battle of Senlac. The dra matic characterizations in “Harold" and " Queen Mary" are excellent - Mary, Harold, the Conqueror, the Confessor, Pole, Edith, Stigand, and other subordinate sketches, being striking and successful portraits; while "Harold" is full also of incident and action — a really memora ble modern play; but the main motive of 'Queen Mary" fails in tragic dignity and interest, though there is about it a certain grim, subdued pathos, as of still life, and there are some notable scenes. Tennyson is admirably dramatic in the portrayal of individual moods, of men or women in certain given situations. His plays are fine, and of real historic interest, but not nearly so remarkable as the dramatic poems I have named, as the earlier "St. Simeon Stylites,' Ulysses," "Tithonus," or as the Northern Farmer," "Cobblers," and "Village Wife," among his later works. These last are perfectly marvellous in their fidelity and humorous photographic realism. That the poet of
reflected in the magic mirror of his own
bones that had laughed and had cried, Theirs! Ono! They are mine, not theirs
they had moved in my side.
Then the heart-gripping phrase breaking forth ever and anon in the imaginative metaphorical utterance of wild emotion, to which the sons and daughters of the peo: ple are often moved, eloquent beyond all eloquence, white-hot from the heart!Dust to dust low down! let us hide! but they set him so high,
That all the ships of the world could stare at him passing by.
In this last book of ballads the style bears the same relation to the earlier and daintier that the style of "Samson Agonistes" bears to that of "Comus." "The Revenge" is equally masculine, simple, and sinewy in appropriate strength of expression, a most spirited rendering of a heroic naval action-worthy of a place, as is also the grand ode on the death of Wellington, beside the war odes of Campbell, the " Agincourt" of Drayton, and the "Rule Britannia" of Thomson. The irregular metre of the “ Ballad of the Fleet" is most remarkable as a vehicle of the sense, resonant with din of battle, fullvoiced with rising and bursting storm toward the close, like the equally spir. ited concluding scenes of "Harold," that
Enone," "The Lotus-Eaters," and the Arthur cycle should have done these also is wonderful. The humor of them is delightful, and the rough, homely diction perfect. One wishes indeed that the "dramatic fragments" collected by Lamb, like gold-dust out of the rather dreary sandexpanse of Elizabethan playwrights, were son's short, dramatic poems are quintesso little fragmentary as these. Tennysential; in a brief glimpse he contrives to reveal the whole man or woman. You would know the old "Northern Farmer," with his reproach to "God Amoighty" for
not "letting him aloan," and the odious farmer of the new style, with his "Proputty! proputty!" wherever you met them. But "Dora," "The Grandmother,"
Lady Clare," "Edward Gray," "Lord of Burleigh," had long since proved that Tennyson had more than one style at command; that he was master not only of a flamboyant, a Corinthian, but also of a sweet, simple, limpid English, worthy of Goldsmith or Cowper at their best.
Reverting, however, to the question of Tennyson's ability to fathom the darker recesses of our nature, what shall be said of "The Vision of Sin"? For myself I can only avow that, whenever I read it, I feel as if some horrible grey fungus of the grave were growing over my heart, and over all the world around me. As for passion, I know few more profoundly passionate poems than "Love and Duty." It paints with glowing, concentrated power the conflict of duty with yearning, pas