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Alfred Tennyson was entered as a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, and there he formed friendships which lasted through life, though one friend, Arthur Hallam by name, the dearest of all, and the promised husband of Tennyson's sister, died in 1833. But he is connected with Tennyson's memory more than all who lived, for his death so moved the poet as to keep him silent for ten years.
He had published a volume of poems after leaving the university, and again in 1832, but now he buried himself in study and meditation, seeing but few persons, and brooding over great thoughts which found expression in the series of poems afterward published under the title, In Memoriam A. H. H., that is, To the Memory of Arthur Henry Hallam. In this, one of the famous books of the century, Tennyson seeks to bring life and immortality to light. Carlyle describes him thus at this time :
“One of the finest-looking men in the world. A great shock of rough dusty-dark hair; bright, laughing hazel eyes ; massive aquiline face, most massive, yet most delicate; of sallow-brown complexion, almost Indian-looking ; clothes cynically loose, free-and-easy; smokes infinite tobacco. His voice is musical-metallic — fit for loud laughter and piercing wail, and all that may lie between ; speech and speculation free and plenteous : I do not meet, in these late decades, such company over a pipe !”
In Memoriam, though written during these ten years of half solitary life, was not published for some time. Meanwhile, in 1842, his Poems appeared in two volumes, and gave him at once a high rank; in 1847, he published The Princess, and when, in 1850, he published In Memoriam, he became the great successor of Wordsworth, who died this same year.
He was appointed Poet Laureate in Wordsworth's place, and thereafter was looked upon till his death, October 6, 1892, as the greatest of living English poets.
His position as poet laureate led him to write, from time to time, noble patriotic poems, like the Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington, and The Charge of the Light Brigade. He showed his ardent love of England in other ways. His Idylls of the King was a poetic effort to bring to modern minds the chivalric ideal as dimly shadowed in the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Maud was a passionate protest against a selfish indifference to national honor and mere regard for material wealth, and he wrote tragedies intended to reconstruct old English history. In 1884, he was made Baron of Aldworth and Farringford, so that thereafter he bore the title of Lord Tennyson.
It is impossible to sum up in brief space an estimate of the essence of Tennyson's poetic greatness. In any analysis of it, the purity, elevation, and depth of thought, the pervading quality of imagination, and the constant beauty of structure must primarily be reckoned with. In other words, his mind was amply adequate to supplying him with the most noble and lovely themes, and his mastery over his art enabled him to put them into noble and lovely forms. He gathered up in himself many of the beauties of poets who went before him, and has won the tribute of so much imitation often by persons no doubt unconscious of imitating - that nearly the whole body of English poetry in our second half century has been different because of him.
Enoch Arden appeared as the principal poem of the volume bearing its name in 1864. It is the main product of a period of reaction from the work which dealt, in the Idylls of the King, with the great legends of England. As in other poems of its period, Tennyson attempted to draw near to the actual life of the English people. The sympathetic reader will feel especially in the poem the fitness of the means to the end in view; the many metaphors of the sea, the stress that is laid upon the elements of superstition and the supernatural, - elements well in keeping with the characters of the story. The beauty of the descriptive passages needs no pointing out.
LONG lines of cliff breaking have left a chasm; And in the chasm are foam and yellow sands; Beyond, red roofs about a narrow wharf In cluster; then a moulder'd church ; and higher 5 A long street climbs to one tall-tower'd mill; And high in heaven behind it a gray down With Danish barrows; and a hazelwood, By autumn nutters haunted, flourishes Green in a cuplike hollow of the down.
Here on this beach a hundred years ago,
And Enoch Arden, a rough sailor's lad
7. Danish barrows, burial mounds supposed to date from the Danish incursions into England.
Among the waste and lumber of the shore,
And built their castles of dissolving sand
And flying the white breaker, daily left
A narrow cave ran in beneath the cliff;
While Annie still was mistress ; but at times
“ Mine too,” said Philip, “turn and turn about: 30 When, if they quarrell’d, Enoch stronger made
Was master: then would Philip, his blue eyes
The little wife would weep for company,
And say she would be little wife to both.
But when the dawn of rosy childhood past,
Was felt by either, either fixt his heart
But Philip loved in silence; and the girl
purpose evermore before his eyes, 36. A line which skillfully foreshadows the tragedy of the poem.
To hoard all savings to the uttermost,
A luckier or a bolder fisherman,
For leagues along that breaker-beaten coast
Full sailor; and he thrice had pluck'd a life 55 From the dread sweep of the down-streaming seas:
And all men look’d upon him favorably :
For Annie, neat and nestlike, halfway up 60 The narrow street that clamber'd toward the mill.
Then, on a golden autumn eventide, The younger people making holiday, With bag and sack and basket, great and small,
Went nutting to the hazels. Philip stay'd 65 (His father lying sick and needing him)
An hour behind; but as he climb'd the hill,
Enoch and Annie, sitting hand-in-band,
All-kindled by a still and sacred fire,
Then, as their faces drew together, groan’d, 75 And slipt aside, and like a wounded life
Crept down into the hollows of the wood; 54. Full sailor may be taken as equivalent to “able seaman." 67, 68. Where the woods grew thinner and lighter.