The Columbia History of British Poetry

By Carl Woodring; James Shapiro | Go to book overview

Wordsworth and Tennyson

TWO of the great seminal poems of the English nineteenth century appeared within weeks of each other in 1850--The Prelude and In Memoriam--the one a long-awaited landmark of what literary historians have called the Age of Wordsworth, the other an eloquent witness, likewise long in preparation, to the new Age of Tennyson. At the end of that same year, largely on the strength of his elegy, Tennyson was called to succeed Wordsworth as poet laureate, an office he regarded with some misgiving, for he disliked all public ceremony and most verse written for state occasions. Yet recognizing the prestige Wordsworth had given the post, he agreed without much delay to accept "This laurel greener from the brows / Of him that uttered nothing base." He was, in other words, humbly proud to assume the mantle of the Romantic master--and indeed to reify that metaphor, for on his presentation to the queen he wore the same too-small court dress that the great, gaunt Wordsworth had borrowed in 1843 for his own installation as laureate.

The Prelude and In Memoriam differ greatly in form and purpose, yet each stands as a public record--a reflection of the essential concerns, hopes, and fears of the society from which it arose. And each is also an intensely personal confession. If In Memoriam A. H. H., as its full title announces, was designed as a tribute to Arthur Henry Hallam, its focus turns quickly to Alfred Tennyson, the depth of his bereavement, and the process by which he recovers assent to life in a world of doubt and denial. The Prelude of 1850, clearly labeled "An Autobiographical Poem," is even more directly subjective as it recounts--though with calculated

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The Columbia History of British Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Old English Poetry 1
  • Middle English Poetry 23
  • Chaucer 55
  • Poetry in Scots: Barbour to Burns 81
  • From Ballads to Betjeman 110
  • Printing and Distribution of Poetry 132
  • Varieties of Sixteenth-Century Narrative Poetry 156
  • Sixteenth-Century Lyric Poetry 179
  • Spenser, Sidney, Jonson 203
  • Lyric Poetry from Donne to Philips 229
  • Milton 254
  • Dryden and Pope 274
  • Poetry in the Eighteenth Century 301
  • Blake 327
  • Coleridge 341
  • Poetry, 1785-1832 353
  • Byron, Shelley, and Keats 381
  • Wordsworth and Tennyson 405
  • The Victorian Era 425
  • Victorian Religious Poetry 452
  • Pre-Raphaelite Poetry 478
  • The 1890s 505
  • 1898-1945: Hardy to Auden 532
  • Yeats, Lawrence, Eliot 554
  • Poetry in England, 1945-1990 577
  • Problems and Cleavages 605
  • Brief Biographies of the Poets 643
  • Editions 671
  • Notes on Contributors 678
  • Index 683
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