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VICTORIAN POETRY WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO TENNYSON

AND BROWNING

While romantic poetry is a movement , Victorian poetry is a chronological


phenomenon. Consequently , if a broad group of characteristics such as a
rebellious spirit , a spontaneity of effusion , a return to nature , an interest in the
self and a luxuriant sensibility may be said to characterized almost all romantic
poetry , no such effluence of poetic characteristics may be predicated of Victorian
poetry . Not only is the display of poetic tallest from the fourth decade of the
eighteenth century to its end prolific , but also subtly varied in the wide range of
its colouring .Even though they imbibed many qualities from the romantic , and
even though romanticism was the strongest and most obvious feature of many
Victorian poets , the spiritual change and the atmosphere of another age modified
their art in various ways . Their poetry displays either a more disciplined and
elaborate perfection of form , or an interest in emotions which are not narrowed
down to that of the subjective self , or an imagination which also partakes of a
conscious intellectualism . Although Victorian poetry is extensive and varied , one
may listing two groups of poets who are not divided by any well defined
antagonisms and are actually united by many intermediary shades . While one
group seems to favour the idealistic reaction of romantic poetry with its desire for
emotion , its cult of beauty , and its dreamy and occasionally melancholy
tendency , the other group stresses the need for objectivity , balance precision of
ideas , and an identification with the contemporary movement in intellectual and
critical though these two groups of almost antagonistic qualities of Victorian
poetry may be said to be crystallized around the poetry and personalities of
Tennyson
and
Browning
.
Tennyson was influenced early on by the romantics , and although the effect of
Shelley upon him was intermittent and slight , the effect of Keats was profound .
This effect may be seen in his early poetry , in the luxuriant texture and rich
colouring of some of the poems , chiefly Lyrical (1830), such as
Recollections of the Arabian night and Mariana . While some of the poems
exemplify the contemporary vogue of prettiness , there are some in which there is
real passion , and there are yet others in which the young poet luxuriates in
stately melancholy . The theme of the palace of Art is the conflict between
wisdom and Beauty and suggests a deliberate effort at self discipline as though
the poet were rejecting the aestheticism to which he had been devoting his gift .
The death of his friend Hallam caused him profound sorrow , but in the
magnificent dramatic monologue Ulysses , he looked to the future , although
without the old strength . The determination to follow knowledge wherever it
may lead is characteristic of the scientific speculation of the time . In Morte d
Arthur Tennyson sets the narrative of Arthurs last battle within a frame of
modern life . The theme of the princess suited the general taste because of its
mild liberalism and gentlemanly support of the cause of female education .

In Memoriam (1850) is the one poem over which largely rests Tennyson's fame
and recognition as a poet . The death of his close friend Arthur Henry Hallam (in
1883) added an abiding sense of loss to his personal worries , and the grief and
the worries came together over a number of years to produce slowly the series of
linked lyrics he called In Memoriam . The series describes , broadly speaking ,
the way of the Soul as Tennyson sometimes called it , in the presence of a great
loss. The regret felt by the living for the dead and of the louging for his bodily
presence is gradually transformed into a sense of spiritual contact and possession
, and a wider love and faith in humanity and god :
One god , one law , one element
And one far off divine event
To which the whole creation moves .
The epilogue in the form of a Prothalanion on the marriage of the poets sister
Cecilia , was designed to bring the work to an optimistic close . Modern readers
are still won by its sustained beauty , its deep feeling , its wealth of imagery
ranging from the tender and intimate to the gorgeous and the elaborate ; and its
revelation of the poets personality .
The two other poems of interest in the later period are Maud and Idylls of the
King . Maud is a monodrama , an extended dramatic monologue in which the
psychopathology of love , madness and death is unfolded in a succession of
soliloquies . Idylls of the king is almost epical in scope , and consists of twelve
books of which the opening idyll , The coming of Arthur and the final idyll
The passing of Arthur are the most famous .
Browning began his literary carter with Pauline (1833) which was written under
the influence of Shelley but is incoherent in spite of its promise of greatness , and
too self centered and morbid to count as genuine poetry . After this false start ,
he evidences himself as a youth of genius in Paracelsus , which won
recognition from the likes of Wordsworth and Landon . His subsequent poem
Sordello has become a byword for impenetrable obscurity in subject treatment
and style . But Pippa passes included within Bells and Pomegranates
proved popular for giving the first hint of Brownings robust optimism :
Gods in his heaven
Alls right with the world .
But Brownings true vocation as a poet lay not in lyrics but in dramatic
monologues , a mode which he not only popularized , but also perfected . He had
initially attempted dramas , but his interest in psychology and the human mind
led to too little action , although action is the sine qua non of the stage .
However , the dramatic monologue , with its scope for dramatic detachment as
well as for probing the motives of character , proved the adequate instrument of
Browning . His Men and Women ,as well as Dramatis personae contains
poems like Fra Lippo Lippi , Andrea del Sarto , Rabbi Ben Egra , poems
which reveal him to be almost Shakespearean in his creation of characters . He is
like Shakespeare also in his understanding of the weak, erring , and the self
received . His theatre is the human spirit , his great subject the souls
development .

If Tennysons masterpiece is In Memorium Brownings is The Ring and the


Book (1868 69 ) The story is an old Italian one in which count Guido marries
Pompilia , the only daughter of a couple , in the expectation of a great inheritance
. The cruelty of her husband and the lust of the husbands brother leads Pompilia
to escape back to her parents in Rome . Count Guido accuses her of adultery , and
later , when he finds that she is in fact an adopted rather than a real child ,
murders the couple and mortally wounds Pompilia . Count guido appeals far
special privileges , but is ultimately beheaded .
Succeeding books narrate the story from different points of view : gossips in
Rome fovourable to count Guide , those favourable to the hapless Pompilia , an
impartial observer , Guido himself , the man who helped Pompilia escape , and
Pompilia on her deathbed . These are followed by statements for defense and for
the prosecution , the Pope's soliloquy on the nature of evil , and his decisive to let
the death sentence stand . The closing books are occupied by Guido's expression
of object cowardice . But Browning leaves it an open question whether Guidos
last cry to Pompilia was not a recognition of truth and consequently a sign of
salvation .
Thus Tennyson and Browning epitomize the two opposite extremes of Victorian
poetry. Tennysons best of mind is lyrical and narrative , Browning s thoughtful
and dramatic Doubt skepticism are constant accurateness in Tennysons poetry ,
whereas faith and optimism are those in Browning's . Tennysons is the cult of
sensibility , Brownings of intellectual . Tennyson is musical , simple and lucid;
Browning is rugged , complex and obscure . Rightly has George Saintsbury
commented that There is no contrast of contemporaries in English literature so
curious as provided by the poetry of Alfred Tennyson and that of Robert
Browning . . . . Their methods were at once curiously unlike and curiously
complementary. ( A short History of English literature )
Ardhendu De
Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert,
2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
3. Microsoft Students Encarta
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