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Tennyson’s Poems - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume I - Autobiography and Literary Essays 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume I - Autobiography and Literary Essays, ed. John M. Robson and Jack Stillinger, introduction by Lord Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981).
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towards the close of the year 1830 appeared a small volume of poems, the work of a young and unknown author, and which, with considerable faults (some of them of a bad kind), gave evidence of powers such as had not for many years been displayed by any new aspirant to the character of a poet. This first publication was followed in due time by a second, in which the faults of its predecessor were still visible, but were evidently on the point of disappearing; while the positive excellence was not only greater and more uniformly sustained, but of a higher order. The imagination of the poet, and his reason, had alike advanced: the one had become more teeming and vigorous, while its resources had been brought more habitually and completely under the command of the other.
The notice which these poems have hitherto received from the more widely-circulated and influential organs of criticism consists, so far as we are aware, of two articles—a review of the first publication, in Blackwood’s Magazine, and of the second, in the Quarterly Review.[*] The article in Blackwood, along with the usual flippancy and levity of that journal, evinced one of its better characteristics—a genuine appreciation and willing recognition of genius. It was not to be expected that a writer in Blackwood could accomplish a criticism on a volume of poetry, without cutting capers and exhibiting himself in postures, as Drawcansir says, “because he dare.”[†] The article on Mr. Tennyson is throughout in a strain of mocking exaggeration. Some reviewers write to extol their author, others to laugh at him; this writer was desirous to do both—first to make the book appear beyond all measure contemptible, next in the highest degree admirable—putting the whole force of his mind alternately into these two purposes. If we can forgive this audacious sporting with his reader and his subjects, the critique is otherwise not without merit. The praise and blame, though shovelled out rather than measured, are thrown into the right places; the real merits and defects of the poems are pointed out with discrimination, and a fair enough impression left of the proportion between the two; and it is evident that if the same writer were to review Mr. Tennyson’s second publication, his praise, instead of being about equally balanced by his censure, would be but slightly qualified by it.
Of Mr. Tennyson’s two volumes, the second was the only one which fell into the hands of the Quarterly Reviewer; and his treatment of it, compared with the notice taken by Blackwood of its more juvenile predecessor, forms a contrast, characteristic of the two journals. Whatever may be in other respects our opinion of Blackwood’s Magazine, it is impossible to deny to its principal writers (or writer) a certain susceptibility of sense, a geniality of temperament. Their mode of writing about works of genius is that of a person who derives much enjoyment from them, and is grateful for it. Genuine powers of mind, with whatever opinions connected, seldom fail to meet with response and recognition from these writers. The Quarterly Review, on the other hand, both under its original and under its present management, has been no less characterised by qualities directly the reverse of these. Every new claim upon its admiration, unless forced upon it by the public voice, or recommended by some party interest, it welcomes, not with a friendly extension of the hand, but with a curl of the lip: the critic (as we figure him to ourselves) taking up the book, in trusting anticipation of pleasure, not from the book, but from the contemplation of his own cleverness in making it contemptible. He has not missed the opportunity of admiring himself at the expense of Mr. Tennyson: although, as we have not heard that these poems have yet, like those of Mr. Robert Montgomery, reached the eleventh edition,[*] nor that any apprehension is entertained of danger to the public taste from their extravagant popularity, we may well be astonished that performances so utterly worthless as this critic considers them, should have appeared to him deserving of so much attention from so superior a mind. The plan he adopts is no new one, but abundantly hacknied: he selects the few bad passages (not amounting to three pages in the whole), and such others as, by being separated from the context, may be made to look ridiculous; and, in a strain of dull irony, of which all the point consists in the ill-nature, he holds forth these as a specimen of the work. A piece of criticism, resembling, in all but their wit, the disgraceful articles in the early Numbers of the Edinburgh Review, on Wordsworth and Coleridge.[†]
Meanwhile, these poems have been winning their way, by slow approaches, to a reputation, the exact limits and measure of which it would be hazardous at present to predict, but which, we believe, will not ultimately be inconsiderable. Desiring, so far as may depend upon us, to accelerate this progress, and also not without a desire to exhibit, to any who still have faith in the Quarterly Review, the value of its critical judgments, we propose to lay before those of our readers who are still unacquainted with the poems, such specimens as may justify the terms in which we have spoken of them—interspersing or subjoining a few remarks on the character and the present state of developement of Mr. Tennyson’s poetic endowment.
Of all the capacities of a poet, that which seems to have arisen earliest in Mr. Tennyson, and in which he most excels, is that of scene-painting, in the higher sense of the term: not the mere power of producing that rather vapid species of composition usually termed descriptive poetry—for there is not in these volumes one passage of pure description: but the power of creating scenery, in keeping with some state of human feeling; so fitted to it as to be the embodied symbol of it, and to summon up the state of feeling itself, with a force not to be surpassed by anything but reality. Our first specimen, selected from the earlier of the two volumes, will illustrate chiefly this quality of Mr. Tennyson’s productions. We do not anticipate that this little poem will be equally relished at first by all lovers of poetry: and indeed if it were, its merit could be but of the humblest kind; for sentiments and imagery which can be received at once, and with equal ease, into every mind, must necessarily be trite. Nevertheless, we do not hesitate to quote it at full length. The subject is Mariana, the Mariana of Measure for Measure, living deserted and in solitude in the “moated grange.”[*] The ideas which these two words suggest, impregnated with the feelings of the supposed inhabitant, have given rise to the following picture:
In the one peculiar and rare quality which we intended to illustrate by it, this poem appears to us to be pre-eminent. We do not, indeed, defend all the expressions in it, some of which seem to have been extorted from the author by the tyranny of rhyme; and we might find much more to say against the poem, if we insisted upon judging of it by a wrong standard. The nominal subject excites anticipations which the poem does not even attempt to fulfil. The humblest poet, who is a poet at all, could make more than is here made of the situation of a maiden abandoned by her lover. But that was not Mr. Tennyson’s idea. The love-story is secondary in his mind. The words “he cometh not” are almost the only words which allude to it at all. To place ourselves at the right point of view, we must drop the conception of Shakspeare’s Mariana, and retain only that of a “moated grange,” and a solitary dweller within it, forgotten by mankind. And now see whether poetic imagery ever conveyed a more intense conception of such a place, or of the feelings of such an inmate. From the very first line, the rust of age and the solitude of desertion are, on the whole, picture. Words surely never excited a more vivid feeling of physical and spiritual dreariness: and not dreariness alone—for that might be felt under many other circumstances of solitude—but the dreariness which speaks not merely of being far from human converse and sympathy, but of being deserted by it.
Our next specimen shall be of a character remote from this. It is the second of two poems, “The May Queen” and “New Year’s Eve”[†] —the one expressing the wild, overflowing spirits of a light-hearted girl, just chosen Queen of the May; the latter, the feelings of the same girl some months afterwards, when dying by a gradual decay. We regret that the opening of the latter poem must lose in our pages the effect of contrast produced by its immediately succeeding the former:
This poem is fitted for a more extensive popularity than any other in the two volumes. Simple, genuine pathos, arising out of the situations and feelings common to mankind generally, is of all kinds of poetic beauty that which can be most universally appreciated; and the genius implied in it is, in consequence, apt to be overrated, for it is also of all kinds that which can be most easily produced. In this poem there is not only the truest pathos, but (except in one passage)* perfect harmony and keeping.
The next poem which we shall quote is one of higher pretensions. Its length exceeds the usual dimensions of an extract. But the idea which would be given of the more perfect of Mr. Tennyson’s poems, by detached passages, would be not merely an incomplete but a false idea. There is not a stanza in the following poem which can be felt or even understood as the poet intended, unless the reader’s imagination and feelings are already in the state which results from the passage next preceding, or rather from all which precedes. The very breaks, which divide the story into parts, all tell.
If every one approached poetry in the spirit in which it ought to be approached, willing to feel it first and examine it afterwards, we should not premise another word. But there is a class of readers, (a class, too, on whose verdict the early success of a young poet mainly depends,) who dare not enjoy until they have first satisfied themselves that they have a warrant for enjoying; who read a poem with the critical understanding first, and only when they are convinced that it is right to be delighted, are willing to give their spontaneous feelings fair play. The consequence is, that they lose the general effect, while they higgle about the details, and never place themselves in the position in which, even with their mere understandings, they can estimate the poem as a whole. For the benefit of such readers, we tell them beforehand, that this is a tale of enchantment; and that they will never enter into the spirit of it unless they surrender their imagination to the guidance of the poet, with the same easy credulity with which they would read the Arabian Nights, or, what this story more resembles, the tales of magic of the middle ages.
Though the agency is supernatural, the scenery, as will be perceived, belongs to the actual world. No reader of any imagination will complain, that the precise nature of the enchantment is left in mystery.
In powers of narrative and scene-painting combined, this poem must be ranked among the very first of its class. The delineation of outward objects, as in the greater number of Mr. Tennyson’s poems, is, not picturesque, but (if we may use the term) statuesque; with brilliancy of colour superadded. The forms are not, as in painting, of unequal degrees of definiteness; the tints do not melt gradually into each other, but each individual object stands out in bold relief, with a clear decided outline. This statue-like precision and distinctness, few artists have been able to give to so essentially vague a language as that of words: but if once this difficulty be got over, scene-painting by words has a wider range than either painting or sculpture; for it can represent (as the reader must have seen in the foregoing poem), not only with the vividness and strength of the one, but with the clearness and definiteness of the other, objects in motion. Along with all this, there is in the poem all that power of making a few touches do the whole work, which excites our admiration in Coleridge. Every line suggests so much more than it says, that much may be left unsaid: the concentration, which is the soul of narrative, is obtained, without the sacrifice of reality and life. Where the march of the story requires that the mind should pause, details are specified; where rapidity is necessary, they are all brought before us at a flash. Except that the versification is less exquisite, the “Lady of Shalott” is entitled to a place by the side of the “Ancient Mariner,” and “Christabel.”[*]
Mr. Tennyson’s two volumes contain a whole picture-gallery of lovely women: but we are drawing near to the limits of allowable quotation. The imagery of the following passage from the poem of “Isabel,” in the first volume, is beautifully typical of the nobler and gentler of two beings, upholding, purifying, and, as far as possible, assimilating to itself the grosser and ruder:
We venture upon a long extract from what we consider the finest of these ideal portraits, the “Eleänore.” The reader must not, in this case, look for the definiteness of the “Lady of Shalott;” there is nothing statuesque here. The object to be represented being more vague, there is greater vagueness and dimness in the expression. The loveliness of a graceful woman, words cannot make us see, but only feel. The individual expressions in the poem, from which the following is an extract, may not always bear a minute analysis; but ought they to be subjected to it? They are mere colours in a picture; nothing in themselves, but everything as they conduce to the general result.
It has for some time been the fashion, though a fashion now happily on the decline, to consider a poet as a poet, only so far as he is supposed capable of delineating the more violent passions; meaning by violent passions, states of excitement approaching to monomania, and characters predisposed to such states. The poem which follows will show how powerfully, without the slightest straining, by a few touches which do not seem to cost him an effort, Mr. Tennyson can depict such a state and such a character.
The second publication contains several classical subjects treated with more or less felicity. The story of the Judgment of Paris, recited by Œnone, his deserted love, is introduced in the following stately manner:
The length to which our quotations have extended, and the unsatisfactoriness of short extracts, prevent us from giving any specimen of one of the finest of Mr. Tennyson’s poems, the “Lotos-eaters.” The subject is familiar to every reader of the Odyssey.[*] The poem is not of such sustained merit in the execution as some of the others; but the general impression resembles an effect of climate in a landscape: we see the objects through a drowsy, relaxing, but dreamy atmosphere, and the inhabitants seem to have inhaled the like. Two lines near the commencement touch the key-note of the poem:
The above extracts by no means afford an idea of all the variety of beauty to be found in these volumes. But the specimens we have given may, we hope, satisfy the reader, that if he explore further for himself, his search will be rewarded. We shall only subjoin a few remarks, tending to an estimation of Mr. Tennyson’s general character as a writer and as a poet.
There are in the character of every true poet, two elements, for one of which he is indebted to nature, for the other to cultivation. What he derives from nature, is fine senses: a nervous organization, not only adapted to make his outward impressions vivid and distinct (in which, however, practice does even more than nature), but so constituted, as to be, more easily than common organizations, thrown, either by physical or moral causes, into states of enjoyment or suffering, especially of enjoyment: states of a certain duration; often lasting long after the removal of the cause which produced them; and not local, nor consciously physical, but, in so far as organic, pervading the entire nervous system. This peculiar kind of nervous susceptibility seems to be the distinctive character of the poetic temperament. It constitutes the capacity for poetry; and not only produces, as has been shown from the known laws of the human mind, a predisposition to the poetic associations, but supplies the very materials out of which many of them are formed.* What the poet will afterwards construct out of these materials, or whether he will construct anything of value to any one but himself, depends upon the direction given, either by accident or design, to his habitual associations. Here, therefore, begins the province of culture; and, from this point upwards, we may lay it down as a principle, that the achievements of any poet in his art will be in proportion to the growth and perfection of his thinking faculty.
Every great poet, every poet who has extensively or permanently influenced mankind, has been a great thinker;—has had a philosophy, though perhaps he did not call it by that name;—has had his mind full of thoughts, derived not merely from passive sensibility, but from trains of reflection, from observation, analysis, and generalization; however remote the sphere of his observation and meditation may have lain from the studies of the schools. Where the poetic temperament exists in its greatest degree, while the systematic culture of the intellect has been neglected, we may expect to find, what we do find in the best poems of Shelley—vivid representations of states of passive and dreamy emotion, fitted to give extreme pleasure to persons of similar organization to the poet, but not likely to be sympathized in, because not understood, by any other persons; and scarcely conducing at all to the noblest end of poetry as an intellectual pursuit, that of acting upon the desires and characters of mankind through their emotions, to raise them towards the perfection of their nature. This, like every other adaptation of means to ends, is the work of cultivated reason; and the poet’s success in it will be in proportion to the intrinsic value of his thoughts, and to the command which he has acquired over the materials of his imagination, for placing those thoughts in a strong light before the intellect, and impressing them on the feelings.
The poems which we have quoted from Mr. Tennyson prove incontestably that he possesses, in an eminent degree, the natural endowment of a poet—the poetic temperament. And it appears clearly, not only from a comparison of the two volumes, but of different poems in the same volume, that, with him, the other element of poetic excellence—intellectual culture—is advancing both steadily and rapidly; that he is not destined, like so many others, to be remembered for what he might have done, rather than for what he did; that he will not remain a poet of mere temperament, but is ripening into a true artist. Mr. Tennyson may not be conscious of the wide difference in maturity of intellect, which is apparent in his various poems. Though he now writes from greater fulness and clearness of thought, it by no means follows that he has learnt to detect the absence of those qualities in some of his earlier effusions. Indeed, he himself, in one of the most beautiful poems of his first volume (though, as a work of art, very imperfect), the “Ode to Memory,” confesses a parental predilection for the “first-born” of his genius.[*] But to us it is evident, not only that his second volume differs from his first as early manhood from youth, but that the various poems in the first volume belong to different, and even distant stages of intellectual development;—distant, not perhaps in years—for a mind like Mr. Tennyson’s advances rapidly—but corresponding to very different states of the intellectual powers, both in respect of their strength and of their proportions.
From the very first, like all writers of his natural gifts, he luxuriates in sensuous* imagery; his nominal subject sometimes lies buried in a heap of it. From the first, too, we see his intellect, with every successive degree of strength, struggling upwards to shape this sensuous imagery to a spiritual meaning;* to bring the materials which sense supplies, and fancy summons up, under the command of a central and controlling thought or feeling. We have seen, by the poem of “Mariana,” with what success he could occasionally do this, even in the period which answers to his first volume; but that volume contains various instances in which he has attempted the same thing, and failed. Such, for example, are, in our opinion, the opening poem, “Claribel,” and the verses headed “Elegiacs.”[*] In both, there is what is commonly called imagination—namely, fancy: the imagery and the melody actually haunt us; but there is no harmonizing principle in either;—no appropriateness to the spiritual elements of the scene. If the one poem had been called “A solitary Place in a Wood,” and the other, “An Evening Landscape,” they would not have lost, but gained. In another poem, in the same volume, called “A Dirge,” and intended for a person who, when alive, had suffered from calumny—a subject which a poet of maturer powers would have made so much of, Mr. Tennyson merely glances at the topics of thought and emotion which his subject suggested, and expatiates in the mere scenery about the grave.†
Some of the smaller poems have a fault which in any but a very juvenile production would be the worst fault of all: they are altogether without meaning: none at least can be discerned in them by persons otherwise competent judges of poetry; if the author had any meaning, he has not been able to express it. Such, for instance, are the two songs on the Owl; such, also, are the verses headed “The How and the Why,” in the first volume, and the lines on To-day and Yesterday, in the second.[*] If in the former of these productions Mr. Tennyson aimed at shadowing forth the vague aspirations to a knowledge beyond the reach of man—the yearnings for a solution of all questions, soluble or insoluble, which concern our nature and destiny—the impatience under the insufficiency of the human faculties to penetrate the secret of our being here, and being what we are—which are natural in a certain state of the human mind; if this was what he sought to typify, he has only proved that he knows not the feeling—that he has neither experienced it, nor realized it in imagination. The questions which a Faust calls upon earth and heaven, and all powers supernal and infernal, to resolve for him, are not the ridiculous ones which Mr. Tennyson asks himself in these verses.
But enough of faults which the poet has almost entirely thrown off merely by the natural expansion of his intellect. We have alluded to them chiefly to show how rapidly progressive that intellect has been.* There are traces, we think, of a continuance of the same progression, throughout the second as well as the first volume.
In the art of painting a picture to the inward eye, the improvement is not so conspicuous as in other qualities; so high a degree of excellence having been already attained in the first volume. Besides the poems which we have quoted, we may refer, in that volume, to those entitled, “Recollections of the Arabian Nights,” “The Dying Swan,” “The Kraken,” and “The Sleeping Beauty.”[†] The beautiful poems (songs they are called, but are not) “In the glooming light,” and “A spirit haunts the year’s last hours,” are (like the “Mariana”) not mere pictures, but states of emotion, embodied in sensuous imagery.[‡] From these, however, to the command over the materials of outward sense for the purpose of bodying forth states of feeling, evinced by some of the poems in the second volume, especially “The Lady of Shalott” and “The Lotos-eaters,” there is a considerable distance; and Mr. Tennyson seems, as he proceeded, to have raised his aims still higher—to have aspired to render his poems not only vivid representations of spiritual states, but symbolical of spiritual truths. His longest poem, “The Palace of Art,” is an attempt of this sort.[*] As such, we do not think it wholly successful, though rich in beauties of detail; but we deem it of the most favourable augury for Mr. Tennyson’s future achievements, since it proves a continually increasing endeavour towards the highest excellence, and a constantly rising standard of it.
We predict, that, as Mr. Tennyson advances in general spiritual culture, these higher aims will become more and more predominant in his writings; that he will strive more and more diligently, and, even without striving, will be more and more impelled by the natural tendencies of an expanding character, towards what has been described as the highest object of poetry, “to incorporate the everlasting reason of man in forms visible to his sense, and suitable to it.”[†] For the fulfilment of this exalted purpose, what we have already seen of him authorizes us to foretell with confidence, that powers of execution will not fail him; it rests with himself to see that his powers of thought may keep pace with them. To render his poetic endowment the means of giving impressiveness to important truths, he must, by continual study and meditation, strengthen his intellect for the discrimination of such truths; he must see that his theory of life and the world be no chimera of the brain, but the well-grounded result of solid and mature thinking;—he must cultivate, and with no half devotion, philosophy as well as poetry.
It may not be superfluous to add, that he should guard himself against an error, to which the philosophical speculations of poets are peculiarly liable—that of embracing as truth, not the conclusions which are recommended by the strongest evidence, but those which have the most poetical appearance;—not those which arise from the deductions of impartial reason, but those which are most captivating to an imagination, biassed perhaps by education and conventional associations. That whatever philosophy he adopts will leave ample materials for poetry, he may be well assured. Whatever is comprehensive, whatever is commanding, whatever is on a great scale, is poetical. Let our philosophical system be what it may, human feelings exist: human nature, with all its enjoyments and sufferings, its strugglings, its victories and defeats, still remain to us; and these are the materials of all poetry. Whoever, in the greatest concerns of human life, pursues truth with unbiassed feelings, and an intellect adequate to discern it, will not find that the resources of poetry are lost to him because he has learnt to use, and not abuse them. They are as open to him as they are to the sentimental weakling, who has no test of the true but the ornamental. And when he once has them under his command, he can wield them for purposes, and with a power, of which neither the dilettante nor the visionary have the slightest conception.
We will not conclude without reminding Mr. Tennyson, that if he wishes his poems to live, he has still much to do in order to perfect himself in the merely mechanical parts of his craft. In a prose-writer, great beauties bespeak forgiveness for innumerable negligences; but poems, especially short poems, attain permanent fame only by the most finished perfection in the details. In some of the most beautiful of Mr. Tennyson’s productions there are awkwardnesses and feeblenesses of expression, occasionally even absurdities, to be corrected; and which generally might be corrected without impairing a single beauty. His powers of versification are not yet of the highest order. In one great secret of his art, the adaptation of the music of his verse to the character of his subject, he is far from being a master: he often seems to take his metres almost at random. But this is little to set in the balance against so much excellence; and needed not have been mentioned, except to indicate to Mr. Tennyson the points on which some of his warmest admirers see most room and most necessity for further effort on his part, if he would secure to himself the high place in our poetic literature for which so many of the qualifications are already his own.
APHORISMS: THOUGHTS IN THE CLOISTER AND THE CROWD
[[*] ]John Wilson, “Tennyson’s Poems,” Blackwood’s Magazine, XXXI (May, 1832), 721-41; and John Wilson Croker, “Poems by Alfred Tennyson,” Quarterly Review, XLIX (Apr., 1833), 81-96.
[[†] ]George Villiers, The Rehearsal (London: Dring, 1672), p. 38 (IV, i).
[[*] ]Presumably a reference to Robert Montgomery, The Omnipresence of the Deity. A Poem, 11th ed. (London: Maunder, 1830), which contains, as well as the title poem, a section entitled “Poems.”
[[†] ]See, e.g., Francis Jeffrey, “Poems by W. Wordsworth,” Edinburgh Review, XI (Oct., 1807), 214-31, and anon. (Thomas Moore or William Hazlitt?), “Coleridge’s Christabel,” ibid., XXVII (Sept., 1816), 58-67.
[[*] ]See Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, III, i.
[[*] ]“Mariana,” in Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, pp. 14-18.
[[†] ]In Poems, pp. 90-4, 95-100.
[* ]We allude to the second line of the second stanza. The concluding words of the line appear to us altogether out of keeping with the rest of the poem.
[* ]In this most striking passage, which we should have thought would have commanded admiration from every one who can read, all that the Quarterly Reviewer could see is, that the rhymes are incorrect! [See Croker, “Poems by Alfred Tennyson,” p. 86.]
[* ]This exquisite line, the egregious critic of the Quarterly distinguishes by italics as specially absurd! proving thereby what is his test of the truth of a description, even of a physical fact. He does not ask himself, Is the fact so? but, Have I ever seen the expression in the verses of any former poet of celebrity? [See Croker, p. 86.]
[* ][Poems, pp. 8-19.] We omit the remaining stanza, which seems to us a “lame and impotent conclusion,” where no conclusion was required. [See Shakespeare, Othello, II, i, 161.]
[[*] ]Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere,” in Wordsworth and Coleridge. Lyrical Ballads with Other Poems (London: Arch, 1798), pp. 1-51; and Coleridge, “Christabel,” in Christabel: Kubla Khan, a Vision; The Pains of Sleep (London: Murray, 1816), pp. 3-48.
[[*] ]Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, p. 8.
[[*] ]Poems, pp. 27-31.
[[*] ]Ibid., pp. 65-7.
[* ][Ibid., pp. 51-2.] The small critic of the Quarterly finds fault [see Croker, p. 89,] with the frequent repetition, in Œnone’s recital, of the following two verses.
To return continually to the same refrain is, as the reader must have observed even in our extracts, a frequent practice of Mr. Tennyson, and one which, though occasionally productive of great beauty, he carries to a faulty excess. But on this occasion, if ever, it was allowable. A subject from Greek poetry surely justifies imitation of the Greek poets. Repetitions similar to this are, as everybody knows, universal among the pastoral and elegiac poets of Greece, and their Roman imitators, and this poem is both pastoral and elegiac.
[[*] ]Homer, The Odyssey (Greek and English), trans. Augustus Taber Murray, 2 vols. (London: Heinemann; New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1919), Vol. I, p. 308 (Bk. IX, ll. 82-104).
[* ]It may be thought, perhaps, that among the gifts of nature to a poet, ought also to be included a vivid and exuberant imagination. We believe, however, that vividness of imagination is no further a gift of nature, than in so far as it is a natural consequence of vivid sensations. All besides this, we incline to think, depends on habit and cultivation.
[[*] ]See Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, p. 63.
[* ]Sensuous, a word revived by Coleridge, as he himself states, “from our elder classics.” [Biographia Literaria, Vol. I, p. 159.] It is used by Milton, who, in his little tract on Education, says of poetry, as compared with rhetoric, that it is “less subtile and fine, but more simple, sensuous, and passionate.” [Milton, “Of Education,” in Prose Works, ed. Charles Symmons, 7 vols. (London: Johnson, et al., 1812), Vol. I, p. 281.] The word sensual is irretrievably diverted to another meaning; and a term seems to be required, which (without exciting any ethical associations) shall denote all things pertaining to the bodily senses, in contradistinction to things pertaining to the intellect and the mental feelings. To this use, the word sensuous seems as well adapted as any other which could be chosen.
[* ]We conceive ourselves warranted, both by usage and the necessity of the case, in using the word spiritual as the converse of sensuous. It is scarcely necessary to say that we do not mean religious.
[[*] ]Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, pp. 1-2, 9-10.
[† ][Ibid., pp. 104-7.] There are instances in the volume, of far worse failures than these. Such are the two poems “The Merman” and “The Mermaid” [Pp. 24-6, 27-30.] When a poet attempts to represent to us any of the beings either of religious or of popular mythology, we expect from him, that, under the conditions prescribed by the received notion of those beings, some mode of spiritual existence will be figured, which we shall recognise as in harmony with the general lawsof spirit, but exhibiting those laws in action among a new set of elements. The faculty of thus bringing home to us a coherent conception of beings unknown to our experience, not by logically characterizing them, but by a living representation of them, such as they would, in fact, be, if the hypothesis of their possibility could be realized—is what is meant, when anything is meant, by the words creative imagination. Mr. Tennyson not only fails in this, but makes nothing even of the sensuous elements of the scene: he does not even produce, what he in no other instance misses—a suitable representation of outward scenery. He is actually puerile.
[[*] ]“Song.—The Owl,” “Second Song.—To the Same,” and “The ‘How’ and the ‘Why,’ ” Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, pp. 46, 47, 11-13; and “Song,” Poems, p. 142.
[* ]With the trifling exceptions already mentioned, the only pieces in the second volume which we could have wished omitted are, the little piece of childishness beginning “O darling room,” and the verses to Christopher North, which express, in rather a commonplace way, the author’s resentment against a critique, which merited no resentment from him, but rather (all things considered) a directly contrary feeling. [Poems, pp. 152-3, 153. “Christopher North” is John Wilson, whose review of Tennyson’s Poems, Chiefly Lyrical is cited at p. 397n above.]
[[†] ]Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, pp. 48-57, 101-3, 130, 143-6.
[[‡] ]Ibid., pp. 65-6, 67-8. Both entitled “Song.”
[[*] ]Poems, pp. 69-89.
[[†] ]For the sense, but not the exact words, see Wordsworth, “Preface to the Second Edition of Lyrical Ballads,” in Poetical Works (1827), Vol. IV, p. 360 (para. 5).