The Concept of Nature in Nineteenth-Century English Poetry

By Joseph Warren Beach | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV TENNYSON

TENNYSON is anything but a nature-poet in the sense in which this term applies to the romantic poets, Wordsworth and Shelley and Goethe. He is a notable landscape painter. The rich and cultivated English countryside appears in his poems in the form of deliberate pictorial compositions combining in unique fashion melting grace of line with a certain hard objective precision of detail. This rural country may be described at length for its own beauty or serve as setting for his stories and portraits, but is almost invariably stamped with the associations of immemorial social use. It carries accordingly the emotional freight implied in the loved humanity of which it is an expression as well as the pure esthetic appeal of line and color, of composition and nuance.

But Tennyson is the most clear-headed of poets. He indulges very little in unconscious pathetic fallacy. He never confuses the beauty of landscape with a conviction of the benevolence of nature. For him there would be practically no sense in Wordsworth's declaration that--

Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her.

Still less is there in his poetry anything like the complete ecstatic self-abandonment to the world-process shown by Goethe in his "Fragment über die Natur." His unromantic common sense and want of sympathy with Wordsworthian effusiveness over nature appear in that one of the "Juvenilia" entitled "Character." It is the satirical portrait of a cold-hearted, self-centered esthete and philosopher who, among other things, adheres to the cult of nature.

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