The Artistry & Tradition of Tennyson's Battle Poetry

The Artistry & Tradition of Tennyson's Battle Poetry

The Artistry & Tradition of Tennyson's Battle Poetry

The Artistry & Tradition of Tennyson's Battle Poetry

Synopsis

Many readers are aware of Alfred Tennyson's treatment of legendary battles in such poems as 'Boadicea', 'The Revenge', 'Battle of Brunanburh' and 'Achilles over the Trench'. Yet among Tennyson's most neglected works are his first battle poems, pieces that reflect the poet's immersion in the literature of the heroic age. J. Timothy Lovelace argues that Tennyson's war poems reflect image patterns of the Iliad and the Aeneid , and reinvigorate the heroic ethos that informs these and other ancient texts. Highlighting the heroic aspects of Maud and the Idylls of the King , this book shows that Tennyson's early grounding in the Homeric tradition greatly influenced his later, celebrated work on martial subjects.

Excerpt

The diversity of the tennysonian canon has elicited a diversity of scholarly opinion as to Tennyson’s most characteristic themes. the editors of the Norton Anthology of English Literature describe Tennyson as “essentially a poet of the countryside” and declare that “the past became his great theme” (Abrams 1056). To Harold Bloom, Tennyson is “one of the three most authentically erotic poets in the language” (“Tennyson: in the Shadow of Keats” 29). “For me, ” writes Harold Nicolson, “the essential Tennyson is a morbid and unhappy mystic” (27). “Most characteristic of Tennyson, ” states Robert Langbaum, “is a certain life-weariness, a longing for rest through oblivion” (89). George Barker observes that “the Tennysonian characteristic is ambivalence” (v). “The Tennysonian theme is frustration, ” Arthur J. Carr remarks (606), while Roger Ebbatson recognizes numerous themes: “longing and frustration; the mask of age; sceptical doubt; the role of the artist in society; the evolutionary principle; the clash between social order and inner disorder” (37).

Most assessments of Tennyson fail to take into account the fact that he wrote no fewer than fifty-four battle poems. Many of Tennyson’s admirers have been discomfited by these works, and most scholars tend to regard them as aberrant in spite of their profusion. “Tennyson scholars give little weight to the poet’s sentiments on war, seeing them as shallow or alien to the main body of his thought, ” observes Michael C. C. Adams (405). in turning a disdainful ear to Tennyson’s trumpet tones, his critics have distorted the image of the poet Carlyle called a “Life Guardsman” (Martin 303) and Kipling characterized as “the commander in chief” (Martin 577).

This book argues that Tennyson’s battle poetry is an important part of his oeu-vre by virtue of its sophistication both artistic and philosophical. Tennyson’s songs . . .

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