Rebellion and conformity is a theme usually associated with youth, especially the transitional years between childhood and adulthood when children typically challenge the restrictions of adult life, perhaps in the knowledge that soon the pressures of earning a living and taking on adult responsibilities will be inevitable. It is also a theme more commonly associated with the novel, which lends itself to following the progress of a child to adulthood in the Bildungsroman. Poets have approached it with a variety of attitudes, however, and have not restricted the discussion to young people.
George Crabbe (1754–1832) is not well known now, except for his long poem “The Village” (c. 1815), but one of his lyrics, “The Whistling Boy” (c. 1815), neatly confronts the question of rebellion in youth. The first stanza tells the story of the whistling boy, a young plowman who yearns to break free from his dull life and become a soldier, but “he knows not how/To leave the land he loves so well.” In the second stanza, a village girl who loves him decides not to follow her dream of a different, more exciting life in London. The third stanza compares the speaker's fear of rebellion to that of the boy and the maid. Vacillating between resolve to go and reluctance to leave familiar scenes, which “to minds disturbed … appear/In melancholy charms arrayed,” the speaker fails to make up his mind, a dilemma that was probably Crabbe's own. As a boy he worked as a day laborer in the country while studying to be a doctor. Eventually someone paid for him to go to London, where he went into the ministry rather than the medical profession.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson's “Locksley Hall” also drew on the poet's own experience. Written in 1837–1838, the poem was influenced by Tennyson's bitter discovery that the young woman with whom he had fallen in love, the wealthy Rosa Baring, was a shallow flirt. The speaker of this
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Publication information: Book title: Thematic Guide to British Poetry. Contributors: Ruth Glancy - Author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 2002. Page number: 215.
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