« AnteriorContinuar »
"Gareth and Lynette," and "Balin and Balan," this last Idyll being included in the Collection "Tiresias and Other Poems."
One of the singular features of the poem as to structure is seen in the fact that the order of original composition is by no means the order of later arrangement, the Introduction appearing in 1869, and the Conclusion in 1869, a portion of it, "The Death of Arthur," having been the first part published, 1842. There is absolute correctness, therefore, in the statement of critics "that he began with the end ('Morte d'Arthur'), and continued with the beginning (The Coming of Arthur'), and ended with the middle of the story" (“Balin and Balan" and "Gareth and Lynette"). He thus made it evident, that, while he had the entire content of the poem in mind, it was only in the most general way and without any very definite idea as to just how the different sections or Idylls were to stand related to each other and to the poem as a whole.
Hence, the open discussion as to the Unity of the Idylls, the safest position being, that, while there is enough sequence and symmetry to affirm that the various Idylls have a common idea, and constitute one poem rather than twelve poems, there is, on the other hand, such a freedom of adjustment and commingling of facts and truths, that the principle of unity cannot be pressed to its logical fullness. There is, as Aristotle demands, a beginning, a middle, and an end, but, this said, all is said, while, as already seen, these very parts in their relation to each other, as the poem now stands, do not express the original order of composition.
It is not improbable, moreover, that some portions of the poem, such as "Gareth and Lynette," were afterthoughts, nor is there such an absolute need of each of the twelve parts to complete the supposed unity, that one or more of them could not be spared and the logical unity of the poem be preserved.
Still further, as to poetic structure, the excellence of Tennyson's Blank-verse as seen in the "Idylls" should be emphasized. Having the benefit of all the preceding use of it by English authors, from the time of Surrey and Milton to his own day, he so brought to the application of it his own poetic genius and sense of beauty that, as Stedman states it, "it impressed itself upon the English mind as a new and vigorous form of our grandest English measure." It is, moreover, noticeable that his use of it in the earlier portions is superior to that of the later, and this, in part, from the fact that the four Idylls of 1869, taken together, are of such poetic excellence as to have evoked the poet's best ability as a mechanician in verse. Here, as elsewhere, it is evident that the better the poetry is in its essential quality, the better is the external structure that it may be made to assume.
3. We may now inquire as to the Central and Subordinate Teachings of the Poem.
As to its main teaching, the poet himself has not left us in doubt, as he states it in the "Dedication to the Queen" at the close of the Collection
"Accept this old, imperfect tale,
New-old, and shadowing Sense at war with Soul."
It is, thus, subjectively, the old and ever new struggle between the flesh and the spirit; the lower and the higher nature, the essence of the Pauline doctrine represented in legend and song.
On the objective side, the central truth may be said to be the fortunes of King Arthur and his knights; the glory, decline, and downfall of the Round Table, its dissolution and ruin being caused by the grievous sin of Queen Guinevere in her relation to Launcelot. It is to this external teaching that the poet especially refers at the opening of the "Idylls," as he dedicates them to the memory of Prince Albert, the Good, and consoles the sorrowing
queen by comparing him to Arthur, the ideal knight. Critics have spoken of this dominant teaching under various forms, as-"Man's conflict with sin and fate," as the protest in man against the supremacy of the bestial; as the mission of man to his fellows, or, in the words of Elsdale, "as one long study of failure." Whatever the form, the primal principle is the same, and makes the poem a great object-lesson on the Philosophy of Life, its evil and good; its rewards and punishments.
Closely connected with this central teaching are others of subordinate, and yet important, interest; such as, the poet's lofty ideal of womanhood, given us in "Enid” and "Elaine"; his devotion to the beauty of the natural world, as seen in Lynette's spontaneous outbursts to stars and sun and birds and flowers; the vanity of fame and wealth; the mighty power of evil in the soul and in the world; the sureness of Nemesis to the guilty; the temptations of youth and manhood and old age; the evil workings of suspicion, as in Geraint's attitude toward Enid; passion and retribution, as in Elaine; the glory of fidelity to simple duty, as in the Holy Grail, and so on from one teaching to another through the series as a whole.
In fine, we see here a great ethical or meditative poem, evincing all that variety of truth which naturally belongs to so profound and fruitful a topic in the hands "of one who is aware of the profound realities. . . lying everywhere beneath the visible surface of things in this world.” Dr. Van Dyke has gathered up, in an interesting way, “A List of Biblical Allusions and Quotations in the Works of Tennyson." Not a few of these are from the "Idylls"; so much so as to give to the poem a decidedly devout tone, and make its final purpose conducive to the development of conscience and character. It is, in fact, one of the distinctive merits of the poem, that the author has taken this confused mass of earlier legend and conjecture, and, on the
basis of it, constructed a poem of an elevated order. There is a sense in which, in this particular, there is a strong resemblance in the final purpose of the "Idylls" and of "The Faerie Queene." Just as Spenser aimed to set forth the character and life of an English gentleman in the most exalted meaning of the term, for a pattern to the youth of England, so Tennyson has pictured an "ideal knight," if so be English youth might be stimulated thereby to high endeavor and worthy living. Here, also, the "Idylls" and "In Memoriam" agree, in that, with all their many differences, they exalt the supremacy of truth and right and justice and love; the triumph of beauty over the beast; the incoming of the kingdom of God; the final triumph of the Son of man.
4. We are now prepared to note the Characteristics or Salient Features of Style, Method, Scope, and Content, by which the "Idylls" are best judged, and through which they have obtained that place in English Letters which they may now be said to hold.
(a) First of all, the Diction of the poem is noteworthy. Tennyson's English in this poem, as elsewhere, has evoked the highest eulogium of all literary critics; so that the text of such a work would form a good basis for the study of poetic usage, and reveal the wealth of the English language in this regard.
We may view the subject in several phases. There is, for example, a pronounced Old English element in the "Idylls." G. C. Macaulay, in his study of "Gareth and Lynette," has called the attention of students to this, remarking that the poet, in this respect, followed Spenser as Spenser followed Chaucer, using such words as "ruth" and "clomb," "bought," in the sense of "fold," and "worship," in the sense of "honor," carrying out, thus, the general method of the Elizabethan writers, as indicated by Abbott and others. The use of such terms as "incres
cent" and "decrescent" exhibits a strict etymological The simplicity and strength of Tennyson's English are thus among its notable features, seen not only in his preference for shorter words and native words, but in his selection, among foreign words themselves, of the simplest forms and those most akin to the vernacular. So manifest is this, that it may be clearly confirmed by a minute examination of separate Idylls and sections taken almost at random. A writer in the Edinburgh Review has given us the results of such an examination of one hundred lines from different poems, comparing the percentage of foreign, and, especially, Latin words, with that found in other writers, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, and Wordsworth. The result is reached, that Tennyson ranks with Chaucer and Shakespeare in the nativeness of his diction, secured, on his part, by a definite purpose to keep within the lines of his own speech, and thus reveal what could be done therein. Here and there, it is true, there is noticeable a peculiar usage of words, purely Tennysonian, of words obsolete and obsolescent, or of words and phrases in special senses. Thus, the word "spate," in "Gareth and Lynette," meaning "flood-water," and "wit," in the sense of "knowledge." Thus, the phrase "made it spire to heaven," spoken of Merlin. So, in the same poem,
"Oilily bubbled up the mere."
So, in the scene between Tristram and Iseult, it is said"And after these had comforted the blood."
In these and similar passages, the poet insists, and rightly, that the departure from the established usage is exceptional, and justified on the grounds of variety and poetic interest.
The alliteration of his verse is apparent on every page; so much so that it would appear to be an essential part of the poet's poetic nature and method, often carried, it must