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The Lyrics of Lord Tennyson

M Victorian

TR. LE GALLIENNE, in recently reviewing Victorian literature, states that "we should miss a point of the most characteristic significance were we to miss its essentially religious seriousness;" and he adds, "More and more has 'Il Penseroso' become the muse of modern literature." This is tantamount to saying that Victorian and modern letters have become more and more meditative, while, as a matter of historical fact, such a type of thought and art has been mainly expressed of late through the medium of the lyric. But little noteworthy work has been done in the Victorian era either along the epic or dramatic lines; little that is epic in the Miltonic sense, or dramatic in the Shakespearean sense.-"The Ring and the Book" and "The Idylls of the King" being the most notable examples of epico-dramatic excellence. To this manifest poetic feature and tendency the late poet laureate is no exception, inasmuch as his best effort has been along lyric lines, in one or another of its manifold forms, in ode and sonnet and pastoral and elegy.

Whatever he has accomplished of worth within the sphere of narrative or histrionic verse, he has given to the world something better in the province of the idyllic, within which area, indeed, his

literary gifts have been more pronounced, and where he has succeeded in coming into closer contact with the innermost heart of the English people. Hence in such classifications or collections as his Juvenilia, Sonnets, Earlier and Later; The Lady of Shalott, and Other Poems, English Idylls, and Other Poems, Tiresias, and Other Poems, Ballads, and other Poems, Demeter, and Other Poems, the lyrical element is almost the exclusive one, while in his specifically narrative, dramatic, and semi-dramatic verse the lyric feature is by no means concealed.

If we have in mind such a division as that suggested by Van Dyke, "Melodies and Pictures, Studies and Portraits, Epics, Dramas, Patriotic and Personal Poems, and Poems of the Inner Life," it will be noticed that four of the six sections are characteristically lyric; the last one, "Poems of the Inner Life," being the most decidedly so, and chiefly, on the reflective side, dealing with "life, love, death, doubt, and faith.” Hence there is a valid sense in which the name applied to Tennyson's first collection of 1830, Poems Chiefly Lyrical, might be applied to his poetry as a whole. If, moreover, we inquire as to the limited or larger presence in this Tennysonian lyric of the special element we are studying-the meditative-we find the answer equally undoubted and impressive, the greater part of it, in truth, being of this specific order. Nor is it meant by this that as meditative it

is so in the same sense and to the same degree as is found to be true in other British bards. The contemplative type of a man or of a poet is unique, indicative of his own way of looking at the world of outward and inward phenomena; one thing in Milton, and one in Wordsworth, and one in Mrs. Browning, and one in Tennyson, and one in Matthew Arnold; modified in each case by character and mental habit, and by the individual author's attitude toward the questions that confront him. In no English author, however, is such a poetic habit more normal and wholesome than in Tennyson, singularly free from the extreme emotionalism of such a lyrist as Mrs. Browning, as also free from the morbid unrest and despondency of a Byron or an Arnold. Not that Tennyson is without his lyrical defects and errors, within the province of the reflective, but that they are so exceptional as in no sense to strike the keynote or set the dominant form of his verse.

Thus, while in such a poem as "The Higher Pantheism" he seems at times to eliminate all distinction between God and the world, and in such a poem as "In Memoriam" seems at times to cross over the border line from faith to doubt and actual denial, each departure from established belief is found to be but incidental and temporary, while the substantive teaching of his poems is clearly in the direction of fundamental truth, so that we cannot think of him as penning such a poem as "Dover

Beach," or writing in the hopeless tenor of Byron and Shelley and the sensual school.

There is such a thing as "intellectual seriousness," a healthy and healthful sobriety of mind and purpose, midway between the asceticism of the hermitpoet and the ungoverned freedom of the literary libertine, and this golden mean Tennyson reached and maintained. What critic has ever been so bold as to accuse him of Puritanic bigotry or of Cavalier frivolity? As sedate and self-poised as a stoic, he escaped alike the narrowness and the looseness of the school of Cato, and revealed to the England of his day that masterful verse might be reserved without being repellant, and interesting without being immoral. As he writes in his poem "The

Poet's Mind:"

Vex not thou the poet's mind

With thy shallow wit;

Vex not thou the poet's mind,

For thou canst not fathom it.

Clear and bright it should be ever,
Flowing like a crystal river;

Bright as light, and clear as wind.

From the composition of "Claribel " to "Crossing the Bar" this master of song kept his mind and heart "clear and bright," bringing to men a message of hope and ever summoning them to higher things. Hence it is that "In Memoriam," his great elegy, and his greatest lyric, if not, indeed, his greatest poem, fitly stands in time and character just midway in his brilliant career as a poet, as if to mark

the maximum of his poetic work, and the high seriousness that pervades it. Equally fitting is the fact that in the year of the publication of this great meditative lyric, 1850, Tennyson came, by right of merit, to the succession of the English laureateship, significantly following the poet Wordsworth, a lyrist of the same high type of thought and feeling. Worthy of emphasis, also, is the fact that in the large number of lyrics written before the middle of the century, and some of them classified as "Juvenilia," there is discernible this introspective habit of mind, though not, of course, in such mature and ripened form as in the closing decades of his long and notable career.

To cite the titles of Tennyson's contemplative lyrics, as distinct from those of a lighter, more secular, and freer order, would take us through the collected content of his verse, not to speak of the vain attempt to make selections of any length from any considerable number of them. It is just here when the literary student sits down to survey this verse from this particular point of view that he is impressed as never before with the fact of its lyric wealth and the fact of its deep and controlling introspectiveness.

Some of these titles declare their own character, as "Nothing Will Die," "All Things Will Die," "The Deserted House," "The Dying Swan,” “A Dirge," "Love and Death," "The Death of the Old Year," "On a Mourner," "The Vision of Sin," "De

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