« AnkstesnisTęsti »
mould into which cast their poetry.
and slippered wording of the contemporary verse, but they are still of that Mrs. Hemans and the rest The poet, even though he is to become a leader of fresh song, is then like one of those figures we see in the medieval pictures of the Resurrection at the Last Judgment, half risen from the earth, their heads and arms uplifted to the new light of life, their legs still clasped by the encumbering earth.
This was exactly the case with Tennyson. He is partly sunk in the old clay, but he is partly risen. There are poems in this book of 1830 in which the fresh utterance of a new Maker of song is ringing clear, in which he has got free altogether of the past. And one of the earliest things he wrote ("written very early in life" is his own addition to the title) is one of these prophetic things. This is the Ode to Memory. We hear in it faint echoes of Coleridge, or of Milton; but we also hear a clear, original and dominant note of his own, belonging to none; self-felt, self-invented; thought and emotion unknown before; music and phrasing new. No wonder, having done this as a boy, he felt himself a man apart, with the laurel of Apollo within his reach. When we hear a verse like this:
Listening the lordly music flowing from
we know that he who wrote it has begun work which has the power to continue.
And when we read this description of a natural landscape, we know that we are listening to one *This is also used in Timbuctoo.
who will reveal to us Nature under a new light, He is still speaking
and new worlds of Nature.
Thou wert not nursed by the waterfall
pillar of white light upon the wall
Come from the woods that belt the gray hillside,
That stand beside my father's door,
And chiefly from the brook that loves
To purl o'er matted cress and ribbèd sand,
The filter'd tribute of the rough woodland,
Pour round mine ears the livelong bleat
The metrical movement is untrained, there is not sufficient rejection of the superfluous; but there is the original thing. The sight of Nature and its expression owe something to owe something to Wordsworth and Keats. But beyond the echoes there is the sounding of a new horn on Apollo's hill. Nor does this stand alone. There are at least twelve poems in this first book which are like the gates into a fresh world, and better work at every point than this Ode to Memory. Among these are Mariana, Recollections of the Arabian Nights, The Poet, The Dying Swan, Love and Death, Oriana, The Sleeping Beauty, The Sea Fairies.
In these Tennyson's picture-poetry begins in a number of elaborate studies of Nature, with one figure in them to give them human interest; and
these studies are of two kinds. Some are carried through a poem of many verses, like Mariana, where the one landscape is described at various times of day and night, where birds and animals correspondent to the emotion are introduced, and where all are led up to one lonely figure. Others are in short single verses a whole landscape set in the frame of a quatrain-like those composed in 1833 for The Palace of Art. This was, on both its sides, a new method. The previous poets had not invented it. Here is a passage from Mariana of pure landscape. I quote from the volume of 1830:
About a stone-cast from the wall,
A sluice with blacken'd waters slept,
All silver-green with gnarlèd bark;
The last two lines illustrate his homelike love for a land of wide horizons and low skies, fringed with humble hills, such as he saw continually in the fen country; such as he pencils out in one rapid sketch in Oriana, where in only two lines we see and hear the wintry world with equal vividness—
When the long dun wolds are ribb'd with snow,
There is already the full-mouthed vowel-music of Tennyson; one of the characteristics of his careful art in words, of which no one before, except Milton, was so skilled, so conscious, or so continuous a master. A whole essay might be written
on this part of his technic art; and it is worth a reader's while, for once at least, to collect together these great vowel - passages from his
The Recollections of the Arabian Nights is another of these landscape poems. Every verse is a picture of a new reach of the river Tigris; the sound of every word is studied in them, so that the
words in their varied sound should do the same office for the poetry that the various tones of colour do for a painting. And to accomplish this the better, he now invented, but far too much and with a luxuriance which he afterwards pruned away, a number of double adjectives, chosen as much for their sound as for their images. All the poems about women are filled with these-sudden-curved, goldennetted, forward-flowing, silver-chiming, fountainfragrant, shadow-chequered, hollow-vaulted, sablesheeny-and very many more: a dangerous trick to gain, and one from which it is difficult to escape. Tennyson loved these double-shotted words, but he had power enough afterwards to bring their use into moderation.
There is another poem, The Sea Fairies, not much in itself, but also prophetic of a new world in poetry. The first three lines in the song of the Sirens is the first true note of the singing quality, both in metre and in unity of theme, which afterwards made the songs of Tennyson so distinguished. The other songs in this book might have been written by half a dozen other men-they belong to the merely graceful — but this is his own, and its quality is altogether of a new kind. It begins:
Whither away, whither away, whither away? Fly
Whither away with the swinging sail? whither away
Whither away from the high green field and the
This is the easy movement of a metrist's wing in an early flight, singing all the time. I say an early flight, for his metrical movement, as most of the poems in this book declare, was at this time broken, halting, and unmusical. Coleridge said, when he read these poems, that Tennyson had "begun to write verses without very well understanding what metre is"; and indeed he arrived at the excellence he did attain in metre more by study than by natural gift. But the capability of fine artistic song is as clearly shadowed forth in The Sea Fairies, as the full sunlight is by the colours of the dawn. What it was to become, after some years of training, any one may read in the song in The LotosEaters, of which this poem is, as it were, the first sketch.
Moreover, there is another
characteristic Tennyson's future poetry in The Sea Fairies.
is the first of the small classical studies in which he excelled, and it is built on the same foundation as the rest of them. When he takes a classical subject he builds it up with one underlying thought which, running through the whole of the poem, gives it unity. He chooses a simple thought, common to all mankind; felt by the ancients, but to which he gives continual touches and variations which grow out of modern life, and out of his own soul. This is the case with Ulysses, Enone, Tithonus, and the rest. But the unity