Imágenes de páginas

be conceded, to the extreme of studied effort and mechanism. Thus, in "Gareth and Lynette"

"And tallest, Gareth, in a showerful spring
Stared at the spate. A slender-shafted pine
Lost footing, fell, and so was whirled away."

Again, in "Enid”—

"But when a rumor rose about the Queen,
Touching her guilty love for Lancelot."

So, of Arthur

"There on a day, he sitting high in hall,
Before him came a forester of Dean,
Wet from the woods."

So, in "Elaine ”—

"Lightly, her suit allowed, she slipt away,
And while she made her ready for her ride,

Her father's latest word humm'd in her ear."

So regular, indeed, is the alliteration, that a large number of lines may be chosen in which the Old English formula of sub-letters and chief letters is exactly carried. out; as in "Gareth and Lynette ”—

"And then, when turning to Lynette, he told

The tale of Gareth."

Tennyson's compound epithets are, also, a striking feature of the Diction, special attention being called by VanDyke to a similarity of usage here of Tennyson and Milton. Thus we note, "autumn-dripping," "tip-tilted," "manyknolled," "ruby - circled," "gloomy - gladed," "silvermisty," "princely-proud," "crag-carven," "ever-highering," "tourney-falls," "kitchen-knaves," "life-bubbling," "wan-sallow," "Lent-lily," "co-twisted," and so on-a feature common to Tennyson and Homer, Spenser and Swinburne.

In fine, the diction, as the style, is marked by what Swinburne has called "synthetic perfection," by a choice selection and use of words, by beauty of form and a due relation of sound to sense, by the specifically artistic or

architectural side of verse; so that all is resonant and rhythmic, pleasing to the ear and taste and every cultivated


(b) Attention should be called to the Dramatic Element in the Idylls. The poem cannot consistently be said to be a drama, as Elsdale has termed it, certainly not in the sense in which "Harold" and "Queen Mary" are such; but it has, from first to last, a dramatic cast and purpose, with here and there distinct dramatic passages. Though the poem is not presented in the regular form of acts and scenes, and though not histrionic in its character, it has definite dramatic and scenic features.

This appears especially in the personages and scenes brought vividly to view; as, Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere, the three leading dramatis personæ, to whom must be added Enid, Elaine, Vivien, Tristram, Pelleas, Ettarre, Gareth and Lynette, Bedivere, Sir Bevis Isolt and Dagmet, the seneschal and the sons, Gawain and Modred. Here we have characters and types of character; high and low, innocent and crafty; playing each a part, and together contributing to the sum-total of the effect of the Play as a vivid presentation of human life.

So, as to Scenes; such as the Coronation Scene in "The Coming of Arthur"; the Oriel Scene, in "Elaine"; the Diamond Scene and Castle of Astolat; the Conferences of Guinevere and Lancelot, especially the last, in "Guinevere"; the Parting Scene between Arthur and Guinevere; the Ghost of Gawain, as it appears to Arthur sleeping, and calls aloud; the Battle Scene, in "The Passing of Arthur," and so on, till the visions disappear.

In these and other respects, there is here seen an abundance of dramatic material, though not in dramatic form, the poet's limitations being thus evinced, as in his "Promise of May" and "The Cup and the Falcon." His forte was not here; and yet that criticism is certainly astray

which insists that we have in the "Idylls" no conspicuous dramatic element.

(c) Another marked feature of the Idylls is seen in the happy combination of the medieval and the modern, the old and the new, the mythical and the real. The vexed question as to just in what sense and to what degree the "Idylls" may be called an Allegory need not detain us. Those critics are wrong who say that the poem is virtually a Parable, or that it is in all its parts and meanings allegorical. This element is undoubtedly present, and the skill of the poet lies in the fusion of the symbolic and real without their confusion. The central personage, Arthur, illustrates the principle, in that it is still an open question among critics whether he was a real Celtic character or merely a symbol of heroism and virtue in the early age. That old Geoffrey of Monmouth believed him to be a historic personality is by no means sufficient evidence; while in him, as in the other characters, we feel, as we read, that we are dealing with something more than the visionary and phenomenal.

This skill in combination is especially seen in the way in which the poet puts the thoughts and feelings of the nineteenth century into the language of the sixth, twelfth, and fourteenth centuries. Romance and reality; knights, lords, and ladies, meet and interchange ideas with the modern thinker. The literal and the figurative alternate, and we pass without a warning from Faery Land and joust and tournament to Cheapside and the Strand and Temple Bar.

In all this the poet has subjected himself, as we know, to severe criticism, and, in some respects, justly, as being guilty of anachronism, and double-dealing with words; and yet we must emphasize the fact, that such combinations in their best form are a mark of poetic genius, and in the "Idylls" are presented with unwonted skill.

(d) The Lyric Excellence of the Idylls should be noted.

The author calls the earliest portion of the poem, "Morte d'Arthur," a fragment of an epic of King Arthur; and still the battle rages among the critics, as to whether the "Idylls" constitute an epic, and, if so, in what sense; whether the author at first so planned the poem, or whether it was an after-thought, or whether, perchance, the poem unwittingly assumed an epic form. When we note that there is a hero; that it is true, as has been said, "that no language has surpassed in epic dignity the English of these poems"; that they have "epic singleness of movement," and are "an admirable example of the grand style," -this is not to say that the poem is an epic, but that it is epical, as it is dramatic, having the heroic tone and quality and effect, but not the epic type and structure. As to the lyric element, however, all doubt disappears. From first to last, this is a dominant feature; so much so, that a volume of English lyrics might be gathered from these twelve Idylls, on the basis of which lyric verse might be studied both as an inspiration and an art. Hence the just comparison made by Stedman between Tennyson and Theocritus; as also, by Van Dyke, between Tennyson and Milton. Hence the correctness of the judgment, that the "Idylls are lyric, rather than philosophic or creative, full of idyllic and descriptive sweetness, and representing in numerous passages the highest reach of poetic art in these directions.

[ocr errors]

The "Idylls" are not without their faults. From their first appearance, critics have not been slow to note them. Taine compares Tennyson with De Musset, to the advantage of the latter. "Mr. Tennyson," writes another, "has no sound pretensions to be called a great poet." Swinburne takes strong exceptions, at many points, to the "Idylls," the "Morte d'Albert," as he calls them, objecting especially to Arthur as the central character. Devey, in his "Modern English Poets," continues the adverse comment; while Elsdale, in his "Studies," devotes a chap

ter to the anachronisms in the "Idylls," and to what he calls their "Drawbacks and Defects." His exceptions are all included in the one sweeping comment, that they exhibit lack of breadth, accretion rather than growth. He insists that they are fragmentary; that the allegory is partial; that the characters are inconsistent; that the conception of character is superficial, and that episodes and digressions mar the unity of the work.

More justly, it may be said, the great defects of the poem are want of epic and dramatic grasp and of profound and soul-moving passion. The defect of the "Idylls" is the signal defect of Tennyson's poetic work as a whole, the "In Memoriam" excepted, the subordination of the poet to the artist, the supremacy, as in Macaulay, in prose, of the antithetic. Just as Macaulay did not hesitate to modify an idea in order to construct an antithesis, so Tennyson often modified an idea to construct an alliteration or a verbal harmony. He is a master of words in poetry, as Peter Lombard was a master of sentences in prose, a literary architect, and herein lies the open question of his prospective fame as transient or permanent. No one of his poems rep

resents as clearly and fully as the "Idylls" his merits and limitations. It is because of the pronounced character of the latter that the "Idylls" must give place to "In Memoriam," while it is because of the pronounced character of the former that the "Idylls" must be called his second great poem. A recent critic is not far astray when he writes, "that the mind of Tennyson is of a somewhat feminine type." It is not possessed of masculinity in the sense of original force and scope. Hence, the superiority of his female characters, and, hence, the prominent excellence of the more subdued qualities of literary style, such as grace, finish, symmetry, propriety, charm of word and manner, and general æsthetic attraction.

Tennyson is a gracious presence in literature, but not a

« AnteriorContinuar »