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A Hero and Some Other Folks by William A. Quayle

Tennyson celebrates the return to nature


The historical trilogy belongs to the mediaeval centuries; "Harold," "a Becket," and "Queen Mary" are of yesterday. Tennyson reached backward, as a child reaches over toward its mother. "Boadicea" belongs to a still earlier age of English history; and certainly "The Idyls of the King" "Sir Galahad," "St. Simeon Stylites," "St. Agnes," "The Mystic," "Merlin and the Gleam," belong to the romantic, half-hidden era of history and of thought. "Sir John Oldcastle" and "Columbus" belong to the visible historic era, while in his wonderful "Rizpah" the poet has knit the present to dim centuries of the remotest past; and the tragic "Lucretius" takes us once more into the classic period. To the purely romantic belong "Recollections of the Arabian Nights," "The Lotos-Eaters," "The Talking Oak," "A Dream of Fair Women," and "Godiva." Now subtract these poems and their kin from the bulk of Tennyson's poetry, and the remainder will appear comparatively small. Certainly we may affirm with safety that Tennyson was poet of the past.

You can get the poetry of the Alhambra only by moonlight; and to a mind so wholly poetic as Tennyson's it seemed possible to get the poetry of conduct only by seeing it in the moonlight of departed years. To-day is matter-of-fact in dress and design; mediaevalism was fanciful, picturesque, romantic. Chivalry was the poetry of the Christ in civilization; and the knight warring to recover the tomb of God was the poem among soldiers, and in entire consonance with his nature, Tennyson's poetic genius flits back into the poetic days, as I have seen birds flit back into a forest. In Tennyson's poetry two things are clear. They are mediaeval in location; they are modern in temper. Their geography is yesterday, their spirit is to-day; and so we have the questions and thoughts of our era as themes for Tennyson's voice and lute. His treatment is ancient: his theme is recent. He has given diagnosis and alleviation of present sickness, but hides face and voice behind morion and shield.

Tennyson celebrates the return to nature. This return "The Poet's Song" voices:

"The rain had fallen, the Poet arose; He passed by the town and out of the street; A light wind blew from the gates of the sun, And waves of shadow went over the wheat, And he sat him down in a lonely place, And chanted a melody loud and sweet, That made the wild-swan pause in her cloud, And the lark drop down at his feet.

The swallow stopt as he hunted the bee, The snake slipt under a spray; The wild hawk stood with the down on his beak, And stared, with his foot on the prey; And the nightingale thought, 'I have sung many songs, But never a one so gay; For he sings of what the world will be When the years have died away.'"

Away from palaces to solitude; out of cities to hedgerows and the woods and wild-flowers,--there is the secret of perennial poetry. And Tennyson is the climax of this dissent from Pope and Dryden as elaborated in Goldsmith, Cowper, Burns, Thomson, and Wordsworth. The best of this wine was reserved for the last of the feast; for Tennyson appears to me the greatest of the nature poets. And this return to nature, as the phrase goes, means taking this earth as a whole, which we are to do more and still more. Thomson's poetry was not pastoral poetry at its best; seeing inanimate nature is not in itself sufficient theme for poetry, lacking passion, depth, power. Sunrise, and flowing stream, and tossing seas are valuable as associates of the soul and helping it to self-understanding. Tennyson took both men and nature into his interpretation of nature. His voice it is, saying,


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