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established over God, from whom self-inflicted penance wrenches privilege; the incessant assertion of sin in apparent or real humility, lest God should catch him tripping; the steady underlying vanity and boastfulness; his contempt of the flesh-ridden people; his isolation-all these and far more are given in this admirable study, filled with thought and insight. Rarely has Tennyson thrown himself more completely out of himself. Moreover, and this is perhaps the best and most poetic thing in the piece, he does not make us dislike or despise the Saint. We touch the human soul of one whom we can pity, and even admire. Nearly forty years of that mad existence had not unmanned the ascetic altogether. To convey that impression was an excellent trait of art.
I cannot find a like pleasure in The Two Voices. As much as Tennyson has gone outside himself in Simeon Stylites, so much has he gone into himself in The Two Voices. A man may do that and be still poetic, and the poem proves this. It is full of a poet's power, especially in the illustrations taken from Nature, like that of the dragon-fly and the mountain-angle jutting clear from the mist; but the self-involution of the poem places it on a lower level than poetry which loses self-thought in the creation of a being beyond the self of the poet. Moreover, the argumentative form lowers still more the power of making excellent poetry. The best part is where the disputing voices have ceased to talk, where the poet throws open the window, and sees every one going to church in the summer morning.
The Vision of Sin is, on the contrary, one of the
very good things in this book. It is allegorical, but not too allegorical. The youth who rides to the palace and who rides away into the waste, a ruined cynic, dominates the allegory by his personality; and our interest in him and his fate is greater than that we feel in the meaning of the poem. Nevertheless, both the thoughts and the allegory are of a quality as original as they are just. Tennyson has never done better thinking. The youth who rides the horse of the soul, winged with aspiration and imagination, weighs the horse down, for he has already been mastered by the flesh. He is led into the palace of sensual pleasure, not but refined pleasure, slipping incessantly, however, into coarser forms. The main contention of the allegory is that subtilised sensuality is finally driven, in order to capture fresh pleasure, into wilder, fiercer, and baser forms, till all pleasure dies. Then the mist of satiety,'
A vapour heavy, hueless, formless, cold,
creeps slowly on from where Eternal Law, sitting beyond the darkness and the cataract and annexing the punishment of exhaustion to unbroken indulgence, makes himself an awful rose of dawn.
The end of the youth is shamelessness and malice, disbelief in love and goodness, scorn of self and scorn of man, sour cynicism-and the picture of this state of mind is admirably drawn in the jumping verses that follow. But Tennyson does not leave him to utter loss. The mystic mountain range arises again. In the gulf below, the sensual who in their youth were half divine are devoured by worms, and quicken into lower
forms; but three Spirits apart, three Spirits of judgment, speak of the youth who has ruined his life. The world beyond takes interest in him.
The first says:
Behold! it was a crime
Of sense avenged by sense that wore with time.
The truth could not be more briefly or better put. Every lust of sense is driven, in order to retake the original pleasure, to increase the stimulant, to make it fiercer and more brutal. At last no stimulation awakens the sense, for the stimulation has paralysed it. This is sense avenged by sense. But the man is forced to go on with the sensual effort, as a drunkard is forced to go on drinking, while at the same time no pleasure attends the effort. The sense has worn with time. Justice is done.
But the loss of all pleasure has made him hate happiness, call it vile, and scorn both God and So another Spirit cries:
The crime of sense became
The crime of malice, and is equal blame.
Nevertheless, the man is not wholly lost. Were he absolutely evil, he would have had no feeling, no scorn, no mockery; he could not even see the love and goodness at which he grins. So another Spirit
He had not wholly quenched his power.
A little grain of conscience made him sour.
Then a voice cries, Is there any hope? and the close of the poem is majestic.
To which an answer peal'd from that high land,
Moreover, this poem, with the Ulysses, marks with great clearness what an advance Tennyson had made in his art since 1833. It was plain now that he deserved his audience, and that he was determined to be more and more master of his art. He had laboured at perfecting its powers. Metre is no more a difficulty. The rush of the lines of Locksley Hall is like the incoming of billows on the beach. The thing to be said is always given a poetic turn; there is not a line of prose in the whole book. The subjects are worthy, are human, are at our doors. They are still evolved out of his own consciousness, out of his own life and feeling; but they are moving on to the time when the subjects will come from without, when the thought and feeling of universal man will press on him, and demand that he should express it. Not only the present, but the future is beginning to interest him,
For he sings of what the world will be
THE CLASSICAL AND ROMANTIC POEMS OF 1842 WITH THE LATER CLASSICAL POEMS
THE classical poems in the volume of 1833 were two, Enone and The Lotos-Eaters. I have kept them for separate treatment, because in 1842, when they reappeared, they were so largely recast, and their landscape so changed, that it would have been unfair to Tennyson to consider them save in the finished form he gave them in 1842. In that year also he added another classical poem to these, the Ulysses. These are the three, and the first thing to think of is their landscape, which is distinct and invented,
I have said that Tennyson, when he worked on natural scenery outside of his own land, was not a good landscapist. Not only had he little sympathy with southern Nature, but he also required to assimilate during long years of companionship the scenery he described, before he could, with his full power, embody it in verse. But the impressions he received in travel were brief. They did not soak into him, and he could not reproduce them well. This, I said, was the case when he painted direct from Nature,