« PreviousContinue »
through every page, like a golden thread through rich brocade. But with the sweet satiric touch there often mingles a tone of deep social wisdom, which exalts the poem far above mere pretti
Some of the intervening lyrics are the perfection of lingual music, especially those lines descriptive of the dying echo of a bugle-note sounded amid the rocky shores of a lake.
Early in life a great sorrow had fallen upon Tennyson. Arthur Henry Hallam, the historian's son, who had been the poet's bosom friend at college and had been affianced to his sister, died in 1833 at Vienna. Stunned by the heavy blow, the surviving friend long refuses to be comforted; and the black shadow of the pall and the coffin broods upon his soul. But merciful time works its
The shadows turn grey, are touched with light, and at last roll off in golden clouds. “The sad mechanic exercise” of weaving verses in memory of his dead companion restores the mourner to himself, and brings him back to take renewed pleasure in the days that pass. But the gaiety of youth is gone; the graver brow and somewhat saddened voice tell of one who has 1850 drunk of that bitter cup, which Infinite Wisdom often prepares to purify the soul and fit it for higher deeds. Such were the circumstances in which this work—the history of a human sorrow—was composed. Not until 1850 did the
poems, which, to the number of one hundred and twenty-nine, make
the tributary In Memoriam, appear in a printed volume. The stanza,
, in which all are written, is the well-known eight-syllabled quatrain ; to which a very simple modification of rhyme, an exchange between the third and fourth lines, imparts an uncommon tone, —
“ I hold it true whate'er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.” The lost friend, dying at Vienna, was borne to England and buried in the chancel of Clevedon Church in Somersetshire. How beautifully these circumstances are woven together in the following lines, which condense in their simple language the spirit of all the scenery round that lonely tomb:
CHANGE OF LIFE-SCENE.
“ The Danube to the Severn gave
The darkened heart that beats no more;
They laid him by the pleasant shore,
There twice a day the Severn fills ;
The salt sea-water passes by,
And hushes half the babbling Wye,
Tennyson's early life amid the fens of Lincolnshire and Cambridge led him to paint, in his earlier poems, the features of such landscapes as are common there. The barren moor—the tangled water-courses, embroidered with brilliant flowering weeds—the great mere, shimmering in the frosty moonlight—the pool, fringed with tall sword-grass and bristling with bulrushes, meet us continually in his first volumes. But his manhood has been spent in a different scene. At Farringford in the Isle of Wight, on the road from Alum Bay to Carisbrook, he has resided for many years, amid green undulating woodland, thick with appletrees, and fringed with silver sand and snowy rocks, on which the light-green summer sea and the black waves of winter flow with the changeful music of their seasons. The landscape of southern England, where green and daisied downs take the place of the grey wolds to which his young eyes were accustomed, is often painted in his later works. Within his quiet home by the sea the stalwart, dark-bearded poet lives among his children and his books, strolling often, no doubt, beyond the privet-hedge that bounds his lawn and garden, but seeing little society except that of a few chosen friends. When Wordsworth died in 1850, the vacant laurel was worthily
conferred on the author of “ Locksley Hall” and “The 1850 Princess." His Ode on the Death of Wellington, which is
the chief work he has produced in his official capacity,
though somewhat monotonous, sounds in many passages like the roll of the muffled drums that startle Nelson in his sleep beneath the pavement of St. Paul's, as the car of bronze bears a dead soldier to his side.
“THE IDYLLS OF THE KING.”
Maud and other Poems were published by Tennyson in 1855. “Maud” is scarcely so fine a work as many that preceded it from the same pen. A squire's daughter, wooed by a new-made lord, prefers another gentleman, who is somewhat of the Byronic stamp. The serenade or invocation, sung by the lover as he waits at dawn for Maud among the roses and lilies in the Hall garden, after the guests of the evening have gone, is full of passionate fire and delicacy of thought. In the duel, which results from the discovery of their meeting, Maud's brother is killed, and her sweetheart has to flee the land. The Crimean war is then hauled most incongruously into the dream,—for it is now the dream of a dead man,-and “the blood-red blossom of war with a heart of fire,” flaming from the cannon's mouth, lights up the concluding scene of a wild, ill-jointed tale, rich, however, in such splendours of English expression as few but Tennyson can produce.
We now notice, very briefly, the Laureate's latest work, of his longer poems undoubtedly the best.* Turning his gaze back into that dim past from which he had already drawn one or two striking scenes, he reproduced the shadowy court at Caerleon, where King Arthur and his knights won their dusky-bright renown. He has succeeded admirably in setting before us the brilliant and the darker sides of that old and well-nigh for- 1859 gotten life, in the four tales which form The Idylls of the King. The delicate Enid, riding in her faded silk before her cruel lord,—the sweet and faithful Elaine gazing tenderly on the shield of her absent knight, the crafty beauty, Vivien, weaving her spells round old wizard Merlin to shear him of his strength, and shrieking, as the forked lightning splinters an oak hard by,--and, finest picture of all, the guilty Queen Guinevere lying in an agony of remorse at the feet of Arthur, her tear-wet face crushed close to the convent floor, and her dark, dishevelled hair floating in the dust, while the noble forgiveness of the injured King and his sad farewell pierce her to the very soul,—these are the subjects of the song. The "Idylls” are in blank
* We must look upon “ In Memoriam " rather as a group of elegies-a funeral wreath of iningled asphodel and yew-than as a single poem.
SPECIMEN OF TENNYSON'S VERSE.
verse, whose fine polish and sweetly-varied music prove the Laureate to be a consummate master of that noble instrument in skilful hands--the English tongue.
It is understood that Tennyson's pen is now engaged upon a kindred theme,—the Story of Boadicea, that queen of the Iceni who suffered cruel wrongs at the hands of Roman soldiers. The tale is full of tears and blood; and its deep tragic interest will, we cannot doubt, draw from the lyre of the Laureate a noble music, worthy of his fame.
Then rode Geraint into the castle court,
And while he waited in the castle court,
SPECIMEN OF TENNYSON'S VERSE.
To think or say
“ There is the nightingale;” So fared it with Geraint, who thought and said, Here, by God's grace, is the one voice for me.'
It chanced the song that Enid sang was one Of Fortune and her wheel, and Enid sang :
“Turn, Fortune, turn thy wheel and lower the proud ; Turn thy wild wheel, through sunshine, storm, and cloud; Thy wheel and thee we neither love nor hate.
“Turn, Fortune, turn thy wheel with smile or frown ;
“Smile, and we smile, the lords of many lands; Frown, and we smile, the lords of our own hands ; For man is man, and master of his fate.
“ Turn, turn thy wheel above the staring crowd ;
“ Hark! by the bird's song you may learn the nest,"