The Age of Tennyson : Victorian Poetry


Good morning everyone let me welcome you again
to this NPTEL course the History of English language and Literature. In today’s session having already given
an introduction to the Victorian literature in the previous session, we move
on to look at Victorian poetry also known as the age
of Tennyson. Tennyson being the most representative figure
of this age across genres it is also imperative that we began discussing Tennyson
in detail. And before that we also take a look at the
varied influences which had shaped Victorian poetry in
the 19th century. These influences were quite diverse in nature
we are also seen how many things where coming together in the beginning of
the 19th century onwards to culminate in the eventuality of the Victorian literature which
was inaugurated with the ascension of queen Victoria through the English throne. Among this varied influences some of them
deserve special mention those one being the influence of medievalism this significance
of industrial revolution in shaping the literature and also the temperament of the period. The floating of various kinds of Darwinian
theories which challenged to the balance between faith, reason
and scientific rationality and also the various ways in which the British empire was expanding
across the world and the way in which the Britain was also beginning to emerge as a
leading world power and finally it is important to note
that this was also the period which witnessed the emergence of many genres it also saw the
emergence of different kinds of styles of writing and various themes coming together
as well. And from the Victorian period onwards as we
noted in the introductory session itself it is very
difficult to concentrate only on one or two genres the influence being so varied and so
diverse. So as Hudson began with a caveat when he began
discussing the Victorian period we also begin this lecture with an attempt to provide a
bare sketch of the entire period. The important Victorian poets include Alfred
Tennyson, Robert Browning, Matthew Arnold, Arthur Hugh Clough, George Meredith, William
Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti and Algernon
Charles Swinburne. Then of course many minor poets apart from
these but however the central discussion has always
been on Tennyson, Browning and Arnold and these three are considered as a most representative
of the Victorian era in general. Talking about Victorian poetry is also useful
to remember that the Victorian period was not really dominated
by poetry the most dominant genre was novel. So as
Routledge History of English Literature highlights at the outset, Victorian poetry is generally considered to be in the shadow of the popular
genre of the novel a reversal of the situation in the
romantic age. We have been noticing right from our beginning
of our discussion throughout this course that various ages had different dominant genres
but it really did not mean that the other genres sees to
existed only meant that there was always a predominance of one genre over the other in
most of the literary ages. So with that note we begin our discussion
on Alfred, Lord Tennyson who lived from 1809 till
1892 in that sense he is quite rightfully considered as most representative figure of
the 19th century because he lived and wrote almost
throughout the 19th century from 1809 till 1892. It is
said about Tennyson’s influence that Tennyson was to Victorian England what Spenser had
been to Elizabeth in England and many other historians
and critics were also very kind to compare him to Milton he is considered as a most conscientious
and accomplished poetic artist after Milton. Tennyson began his writing career quite early
in fact one of his first recognitions was when he was at the age of 20 and also still
a student, he received the chancellor’s gold medal at
Cambridge for a poem that he wrote over there titled Timbuktu. So thus became his literary career which spanned
over decade and almost throughout the 19th century. Tennyson was significantly influenced by romanticism
because he was living during a time when the romantic period also had reached
its heights Tennyson was extremely erudite and he could claim to his credit a wide breadth
of classical learning which also heavily influence many of his writings and also has thematic
and structural compositions. In Tennyson we can find the poetic exponent
of the of the cautious spirit of Victorian liberalism
and it was because of this reason as well that he is considered as a most representative
figure of the 19th century. Though Tennyson lived at an age of transition
where there was a tussle going on between the old and the new he was one
of the very few who preferred and opted for the
traditional belief systems over the modern ones. And we also see that in spite of this preference
of the tradition he was also extremely delighted and extremely fascinated by the new concepts
of evolution which were getting presented from
the 19th century onwards and we find him putting a very persistence belief in the idea of
evolution but it did not really shake his faith and that was considered as a quite an
interesting phenomena because that was a time when many
of the writers and even the common people were
losing faith in their belief systems and also in the tenants of religion because of the
influence of the evolutionary ideas that Darwin had begun
to propose but on the contrary we find that the
ideas of evolution only cemented these beliefs in Tennyson thus interestingly we find that
the beliefs in these new ideas of evolution only
steadied and encouraged them further. In fact since through his writing career and
throughout his lifetime we do not find him losing
faith like many others did during the Victorian period, he was also a combination of many
different things put together he was recluse and an aristocrat but that did not mean that
he was completely away from the real ground realities
of common life he was also interested in people and common things of life he was rightly given
the position of the poet laureate in 1850 after
Wordsworth death and he also remained in that position till his death in 1892 this becoming
one of the longest serving poets in this post. Wordsworth considered him as one of the greatest
living poets and wrote about him that he is decidedly the greatest of our living poets
and we also tend to believe that this complement was
given to Tennyson quite rightfully when we analyze the kind of literary output that he
had during his lifetime. It is very interesting and important to note
that Tennyson wrote for more than 60 years and one
of the critics of Tennyson Stopford Brooke he commence that for more than 60 years he
lived to closed to the present life of England as far
as he was capable of comprehending and sympathizing with its movements and he inwove
what he felt concerning it into his poetry. So
talking about the poetry concerned and the thematic concerns that he had as part of his
writing career he was interested in the classical
and romantic and also on modern subjects and he could
also at the same time engage with humble and rustic life and he was also interested with
English history and Celtic legends and he was also
deeply engaged with philosophy and aspects of
religion. So in his poetry we find the combination of
all of these things coming together he has been
rightfully called as the poet who could engage with all these digressing ideas and all of
these diverse ideas which dominated the Victorian
era. His important work Locksley Hall was
published in 1842 and it many feel that the restless spirit of young England is and it
also talks about the faith and science, commerce and the progress of mankind. So we continue to see a very different personality
in Tennyson here is someone who is rotten in
the traditional beliefs who never loses his religious faith and at the same time as by
the various ideas of progress and the various
ideas of commerce which is also leading England to a newer face in terms of world leadership. But however we do find that Tennyson had to
move away and depart from some of these principles
that he believed in. A poem which could be considered as a sequel
to the first poem Locksley Hall it was published in 1886 titled Locksley Hall Sixty Years After
in this he begins to show a sense of revulsion towards a many things that he idealized in
the beginning of his life and he also begin the sense
that the rapid development of science was not always positive but it also began to threatened
the very foundations of religion itself and he
also began to realize that commerce was not always the
good thing it also contributed to a lot of greed of gain as well. So these shifting tendency was not particular
or peculiar to Tennyson alone we find many of the
others isolating between these different principles and these different idea because it was a
very new vision which was getting open in front
of the Victorian England and many did not even
know how to engage with these diverse influences that they ended up losing their faith or just
clinging on to faith in the in the face of many threatening things that were coming up. Tennyson’s work The Princess it grappled
with pressing issues of the contemporary it also
engaged with a very significant concern of those times the higher education of women
and their status in modern society. In that sense we also find him and many others
like him sympathizing with the many concerns that women had during
those time. Tennyson is perhaps best
remembered for his work in memoriam which is an elegy on the death of Arthur Hallam
who is also a very close friend of him and also a
poet. There is a poem in memoriam was written as
a meditative poem and it also in cased with the
Victorian crisis of faith even when it was primarily concerned with the moaning of the
loss of a dear friend. This poem was deeply admired by queen Victoria
herself in fact the Victoria continue to be a very ardent admire of Tennyson
throughout and her husband prince Albert was the one who even instated a Tennyson to the
of the poet . Queen Victoria is said to have remarked and even told Tennyson
herself that she was much soothed than pleased by
In Memoriam after Prince Albert’s death. So after the elegy written in the country
church yard which is was product of the previous age in
memoriam became the most celebrated elegy of these times. The other significant works of Tennyson include
Maud, Idylls of the King, The May Queen, Enoch Garden and Dora but some he also wrote
many short poems which were published together in 1830 under the title Poems Chiefly
Lyrical they include poems just Clarible and Mariana. And he is also best remembered for short poems
such as The Lady of Shalott which also was a
the cause of controversy for a while and he also wrote Tears idle Tears it was considered
as a poem infused with the lot of pathos and emotion. We do find a strain of romanticism in
Tennyson’s poetry but unlike Wordsworth Tennyson was a person who could nature with
the eye of the poet and the scientist. So repeatedly we find the influence of poetry
and as well as a scientific temperament infusing Tennyson’s poetry with the new kind of spirit
and a new kind of energy. It is said that Tennyson’s
approach to nature was more realistic in the sense that he loved its beauty but he also
was aware of indifference in cruelty that nature was
capable of. So this rational temperament guided his
poetry throughout and it also gave it a sense in which it could come closer to real life. Many also feel that in Tennyson’s poetry
we can find reflection of the two voices of the century
the two dominant voices being voices of faith and doubt which were always in conflict with
one another. And there was also a as in aid there was also
the two events of democracy of rationality of scientific progress all of those also trying
to increase this tussle between faith and doubt. Tennyson was not just a poet he also experiment
with other genres and other forms of writing we
find him writing three historical place titled Queen Mary, Harold and Becket though none
of these were staged they did prove his genius
and his powers of experimentation. His poem The Ancient Saga had challenged current
materialism and asserted the eternal verities of God and immorality. We find him asserting his faith on eternity
and his faith on God throughout and we do find that was the one
thing that kept insane throughout the Victorian crisis
of faith. The classicists in Tennyson could not help
but keep returning to the Greek and Roman legends so as a result we find three significant
works of this time titled Tithonus, The Lotos Eaters and Ulysses in these three are considered
as one among the best works of the time and Ulysses continues to be celebrated as a supreme
work of not just a Victorian period but as also as
a work which four shadows many things which were about to happen in the modernist period. When we analyze Tennyson poetry we see a multiple
kinds of influences on his poetry we find that his divided self gets reflected in it
he is also interested in historical past and the mythological
past his faith in religion his faith in god and eternity is quite strong and its quite
evident throughout his work but he could also encage
with science and religion in a way that it did not
really take away his faith in humanity or his faith in religion. He was also interested in nature
and all together he could be considered as a typical Victorian which makes it all the
more right to make him the most representative figure of
the century itself. Tennyson is best known for some of his off
quoted lines from his poetry, it is better to have loved
and lost than never to have loved at all. Thiers not to reason why / Theirs but to do
and die. To
strive, to seek, to find and not to yield. Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. The old order
changeth, yielding place to new. We find that all of these lines from his poetry
they have been oft quoted and even misquoted. And this also has contributed much to the
development of language and also for enriching the
kind of writing that where to follow in the coming decades and the coming centuries. As we wrap up our discussion on Tennyson let
us also quote from one of his well-known poems Ulysses which was written in 1833 but was
published only by 1842 this is considered as one of
the representative writings of the age itself because it captured the essence of what it
meant to be a Victorian during that time. I am become a name; For always roaming with
hungry heart Much have I seen and known – cites of men And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all — And drunk delight of battle with the peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy. I am part
of all that I have met; Yet all experience is an arch where through Gleams that untraveled
world whose margin fades Forever and forever when
I move. With this we move to the next important figure
Robert Browning who lived from 1812 till 1889 here also we find that he dominated the century
in almost a same way that Tennyson did, his first
work was published in 1833 that sense he also got an early start quite like Tennyson his
first work Pauline was quite successful and it also
let him to devote his entire life to writing we find
his career paralleling that of Tennyson. Paracelsus published in 1835 was one of the
works which ensured his literary reputation for ever. In this we find him getting increasingly fascinated
by classical allusions and obscure imagery. His work in Sordello in 1840 further cemented
this reputation that Browning had. Like Tennyson
we find Browning also experimenting with various genres accordingly Strafford was a tragedy
produced by Macready at Covent Garden it was in 1837 his collection of miscellaneous poem
was published around the time 1814 and 1846 it was titled Bells and Pomegranates. In 1846 a life turning event happened to Robert
Browning he married rather eloped with Elizabeth Barrett and moved to Italy for a
while and in fact Elizabeth Barrett was also renowned
poet of those times and she had a better reputation than Robert Browning as a poet then and
together they spend 15 happy years in Italy till Elizabeth death in 1861. So during the time that
they spent together it was also a fruitful poetic period for Browning he published Christmas
eve and Easter day in 1850 and Men and Women in
1855 and after Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s death he also written to England and continued
writing his Dramatis Personae was published in 1864 and The Ring and the Book which was a
collection of dramatic narrative poems published in sequential form it also ran into 4 volumes
it was published in 1868 to 69. Significantly
Browning’s last volume of poets titles Asolando was published on the very day that he died
on 12 December 1889. Browning poetry many critics and historian
feel that they had many obvious defects but his
greatness is beyond dispute. He is someone through his poetry try to engage
with aspects of knowledge, truth, evidence and faith and the
aspect of faith was quite common to most of the
writers who were writing during Victorian England. There is also a group of ardent supporters
who came up with the Browning cult who continued to support and continued to celebrate
whatever Browning wrote and published. And his important lyrical work include Two
in the Campagna which was concerned with love and
faith, we find that the aspects of love and faith
continued to be two dominant teams around which most of Browning’s poetry as constructed. And if we could quote from a line in Two in
the Campagna, Let us, O my dove, Let us be unashamed of soul / As earth lies bare to
heaven above! / How is it under our control / To love or
not to love. So one could not held but be amassed by the
poetic genius through he could connect aspects of love, religion and faith in a world
which was getting extremely torn apart through the
crisis of faith and through various doubt inflecting events. When we talk about dramatic genius
of browning it is useful to remember that he almost perfected the aspect of dramatic
monologue. Dramatic monologue is something that he continued
to write throughout his lifetime and a we find many of the modernist writers also experimenting
a lot with this technique of dramatic monologue and many critics also feel that
perhaps there was a significant element of dramatic
genius built into the poetic abilities of Robert Browning. In many of his poems we find that
Browning had wonderful capacity to explore the construction of the self and we also find
that his ironic gaze was often directed inwards. And some of his successful dramatic monologues
include My Last Duchess, Soliloquy in a Spanish Cloister and Andre del Sarto and Andre
del Sarto also has this much quoted line a man’s
reach should exceed his grasp / Or what’s a heaver for. This was a kind of optimism that
from most of Browning’s poetry. Browning was an uncompromising foe of scientific
materialism in that sense we also find a contrasting trade in him compared to that
of Tennyson, he continued to preach God and immorality as the central truths of his philosophy
of life. And in his poetry and in his life there was
no place for something like and that also made him quite different from poetic genius
of Tennyson. And we do not find him even for a moment losing
his robustly optimistic faith and this was a
huge reassurance for many of those times who was struggling to hold down to their faith
in the middle of the many kinds of crisis which was
irrupting in Victorian England. And some of his best quoted lines also profess
this faith that he had in the energy and the kind of
belief system that he could gain through religion and through Christianity and his message to
the contemporary society was to Hope hard in the
subtle thing that’s spirit. Browning spirit could be
best summed up in this single line which is part of his poetry God’s in his heaven all’s
right with the world and this is in fact his poetic response
to the question which was dominating Victorian England whether life was really worth the
living. Let us wrap up our discussion on Browning
with one of his famous poems Childe Roland, Childe
in fact was a term used for an of knight this was a medieval term we find many of the
romantic and the Victorian poets using and getting influenced by this term. This poem the Childe
Roland was treated as an allegory of Victorian heroism and the face of Spiritual uncertainty. There they stood, ranges along the hill-sides
– met To view the last of me, a living frame For one
more picture ! in a sheet of flame I saw them and I knew them all. And yet Dauntless the slughorn to my lips
I set And blew. “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came”. It only appropriate that we move on to discuss
Elizabeth Barrett Browning who was also the wife
of Robert Browning, she overcame an early romantic influence specially that of Byron
and turned to social themes of class and women. She in that sense could be considered as a
different kind of poet with their very different temperament
particularly because of the gender differences and we also find him not following the major
tenants of the day and also departing significantly to talk about class differences and also gender
parity. Her most important work Aurora Leigh was published
in 1857 it was a loosely structured work it is said that she never had the firm coherence
that her husband Browning had but however it was
full of intense moments and there is also a made Aurora Leigh an instant success, though
she did not live throughout her lifetime within England
she was a very popular poet and she enjoyed much popularity during her lifetime itself. But however later when the canon was shaped
we do not find here being accorded the status that
Browning later got. Aurora Leigh was considered as a novel in
verse and it was also about the life story of a women
writer and many feel that Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning anticipates Virginia
Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own which was a modernist text to be published in the 20th
century. And many celebrated this also as a female
Prelude, Prelude being one of the important works by
Wordsworth. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s work had a
very significant concern which also made her different from most of the Victorian writers
of the day, she engaged with suffering, poverty, exploitation and courage did not invest much
for energy to talk about the many dilemmas of
many abstract dilemmas of faith and reason and doubt. And we also find her talking about the differences
between the elites and the lower classes and trying to highlight the need to somehow overcome
all of these differences to progress towards a
more democratic and a secular kind of world. In fact was very interesting that she saw
this obsession with the past as unhealthy and we
find her being quite unlike others including Browning in this aspect because in Tennyson’s
and Browning’s poetry we noticed that there is a
continued fascination with the past and we find most of them continuing to live in the
past and almost looking at all of those things quite
nostalgically but Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a
poet who argued that the poet needs to represent the age and accordingly live in the
contemporary or talk about the present age rather than looming in the past. Her important work published in 1850 titled
Sonnets from the Portuguese though it was a
translated work it was also a record of the stage of her love for Robert Browning. So having
taken a look at the three important poets Tennyson, Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning
we try to wrap up today’s session and we will also continue the discussion of the same
in the following session. Thank you for listening and look forward to
seeing you in the next session where we continue to look at the other major
Victorian poets.

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