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28. Fields of sleep.—The time is morning, and the quiet of night has not yet been broken by the noises of the day.
37. Ye blessed creatures = the objects of nature, animate and inanimate, mentioned in the preceding stanza.
39. Jubilee = joyfulness, exultation. From the Hebrew yobel, a blast of a trumpet, a shout of joy, through the Lat. and Fr.
41. Coronal = wreath or garland as worn at Roman and Grecian banquets.
55. Pansy =a species of violet. From Fr. pensie, a thought; "thus, it is the flower of thought or remembrance." 57. Visionary = vision-like.
59. Our birth, etc.—In this stanza the poet explains the source of that glory which invests objects in childhood. He adopts for the time the Platonic doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul, and makes the glory of nature as seen in childhood a reflection of the splendor of our previous state of existence. As we grow older objects are apt to become commonplace. Compare the lines of Hood: —
"I remember, I remember,
The fir-trees dark and high;
Were close against the sky.
But now it's little joy
Than when I was a boy."
An interval of more than two years came between the writing of the fourth and the fifth stanza. The transition seems a little abrupt.
73. Nature's priest = one living in close fellowship with nature, discerning its beauty and understanding its secrets.
82. Homely nurse = this world; called homely in comparison with "that imperial palace," whence her foster-child has come.
Compare the following lines from Pope's " Essay on Man: " —
"Behold the child, by Nature's kindly law,
86. Behold the child, etc. — Wordsworth had in mind a particular child, Hartley Coleridge, but the language is applicable to childhood in general.
87. Pigmy = a very diminutive person. From Gr. pugme, the distance from the elbow to the knuckles, through the Lat. 'and Fr. Originally applied to a fabulous race of dwarfs.
89. Fretted = vexed, annoyed.
103. Cons = to study over, examine into. From A. S., cunnian, to test, examine.
104. Humorous stage — the stage on which the whims, follies, and caprices of mankind are exhibited.
105. Persons = dramatis persona:, characters.
111. Best philosopher, because of his spontaneous love, joy, trust. See sketch of Wordsworth.
128. Custom =the ordinary usage and requirements of practical life.
144. Fallings from us, vanishings, etc. — Refer to the shadowy remembrances of a previous life — remembrances that startle us at times with a consciousness of our immortality, and lead our thoughts to higher things than the material world about us. See Wordsworth's note above.
For half a century Alfred Tennyson stood at the head of English poetry. It is hardly too much to claim that he was the best representative of the culture of the Victorian age. His extraordinary poetic genius was supported by broad scholarship. He absorbed the deepest and best thought of his age; and instead of mere passing fancies, his poetry embodies a depth of thought and feeling that gives it inexhaustible richness. Viewed from an artistic standpoint, his work is exquisite. He surpassed Pope in perfection of form; he equalled Wordsworth in natural expression; he excelled both Scott and Byron in romantic narrative; and he wrote the only great epic poem since the days of Milton.
Few poets have been more fortunate than Tennyson. His life was one of easy competence. In the retirement of a cultivated home, and in a narrow circle of congenial friends, he steadily pursued his vocation. Never did a poet consecrate himself more entirely to his art. He wrote no prose. He did not entangle himself in business, which has fettered many a brilliant genius. He encumbered himself with no public office, by which his poetic labors might have been broken. His career, like an English river, quietly flowed on among fertile hills and blooming meadows. Perhaps it might have been better had he lived a little less in retirement. Contact with the rude world might have given a more rugged strength to his verse, relieving in some measure the excessive refinement that is possibly its greatest fault.
The principal events in the life of Tennyson are the publication of his successive volumes. He was born at Somersby in Lincolnshire in 1809, the son of a clergyman, and the third of twelve children. It was a gifted family, which Leigh Hunt called "a nest of nightingales." After a careful training in the parsonage under his father, Alfred was sent, with two brothers, to Trinity College, Cambridge. The bent of his mind early showed itself; and in 1827, in connection with his brother Charles, he sent forth, as yet an undergraduate, a volume entitled "Poems, by Two Brothers." As in the case of Byron, this first volume gave no token of genius. The poetry was correct, but unreadably dull.
In 1829, in competition with Arthur Hallam, Tennyson won a medal for his prize poem on the subject of "Timbuctoo." This work contained some faint intimations of his latent powers. His literary career really opened in 1830 with a volume of "Poems, Chiefly Lyrical." With much that was faulty and immature — suppressed by the author in subsequent editions of his works — this volume announced the presence of a genuine poet. He did not, however, receive the recognition he deserved. Christopher North, in Blackwood's Magazine, mingled censure and praise — his censure being of the positive kind then in vogue. The poet resented the criticism; and in a volume published a little later, we find the following reply :—
"You did late review my lays,
Among the pleasing lyrics in this volume are "Lilian," " Recollections of the Arabian Nights," and especially " Mariana."
"The sparrow's chirrup on the roof,
The clock slow ticking, and the sound
Her sense; but most she loathed the hour
When the thick-moted sunbeam lay
Athwart the chambers, and the day
Then said she, "I am very dreary,
He will not come," she said;
O God, that I were dead!"
At this period the poet's muse was very active. In 1832 appeared another volume, which exhibited more fully his poetic gifts, and made a notable contribution to English verse. He easily took his place at the head of the younger race of singers. His lyrical power, his mastery of musical rhythm, his charm of felicitous expression, and his exquisite handling of form and color, are everywhere apparent. His breadth of sympathy is shown by his successful treatment of ancient, mediaeval, and modern themes. The "May Queen," with its tender pathos, at once touched the popular heart. In " Lady Clara Vere de Vere," the nobility of character is presented in proud contrast with the nobility of birth : —
"Howe'er it be, it seems to me,
In " The Lotus-Eaters," how exquisitely the sound is wedded to the sense : —
"In the afternoon they came unto a land,
Among the other pieces deserving mention in this volume are "The Lady of Shalott," "CEnone," "The Miller's Daughter," "The Palace of Art," and "A Dream of Fair Women."