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A Hero and Some Other Folks by William A. Quayle

Tennyson has written drama and epic too


Lyric

differs from epic poetry in sustainedness. One form of poetry runs into another imperceptibly, as darkness into daylight or daylight into darkness, so that the dividing line can not be certified. Lyric poetry may be dramatic in spirit, as Browning's "The Ring and the Book;" or dramatic poetry may be lyric in spirit, as Milton's "Comus." Tennyson has written drama and epic too; for such, I think, clearly he proposed the "Idyls of the King" to be. This we must say: Despite the genial leniency of Robert Browning's criticism of the dramatic success of "Harold," and "Becket," and "The Cup," we may safely refuse concurrence in judgment. Trying made the failure of the play impossible when he was character in them. There is no necessity of denying that the so-called trilogy has apt delineation of character, and that Green, the historian, was justified in saying that "Becket" had given him such a conception of the character of that courtier and ecclesiastic as all his historical research had not given; nor need we deny that these dramas are rich in noble passages. These things go without the saying, considering the author was Alfred Tennyson. In attempting a criticism of the dramatic value, however, the real question is this: Would not "Harold" and "Queen Mary" have been greater poems if thrown out of the dramatic into the narrative form, like "Guinevere" or "Enoch Arden?" "Maud" is really the most dramatic of Tennyson's poems, and in consequence the least understood. Most men
at some time espouse what they can not successfully achieve. Was not this Tennyson's case? Are not the portrayal of character and the rhythm and the melody of the drama qualities inherent in Tennyson, and are they in any distinct sense dramatic? If we declare Tennyson neither epic nor dramatic, but always lyric, adverse criticism melts away like snow in summer. As lyrist, all is congruous and enthralling. "The Idyls of the King," as a series of lyric romances, is beyond blame in technique. Tennyson tells a story. Dramatic poetry takes the story out of the poet's lips and tells itself. The epic requires a strong centrality of theme, movement, and dominancy, like a ubiquitous sovereign whose power is always felt in every part of his empire. Viewing "The Idyls of the King" as singing episodes, told us by some wandering minstrel, not only do they not challenge hostile criticism, but they take rank among the noblest contributions to the poetry of any language. "Columbus," "Ulyses," "Eleanore," "Enoch Arden," "Lucretius," "The Day-Dream," "Locksley Hall," "Dora," "Aylmer's Field," "The Gardener's Daughter," have all the subdued beauty of Wordsworth's narrative poems, and are as certainly lyric as those unapproachable lyrics in "The Princess." The ocean is epic in its vast expanse; tragic in its power to crush Armadas on the rocks and let them

"Rot in ribs of wreck;"

and lyric in its songs, whether of storm outsounding cataracts, or the singing scarce above the breath of waves that silver the shores of summer seas. Commend me to the ocean, and give all the ocean to me. Dispossess me of no might nor tragedy nor melody. Let the whole ocean be mine. So, though Tennyson be not epic as Milton, nor dramatic as Browning, he is yet a mine of wealth untold. He is more melodious than Spenser (and what a praise!) Tennyson can not write the prose, but always the poetry of life. So interpreted, how perfect his execution becomes! His words distill like dews. Take unnumbered extracts from his poems, and they seem bits of melody, picked out from nature's book of melodies, and in themselves and as related they satisfy the heart. Let these songs sing themselves to us:


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