Saturday, September 13, 2008

Tennyson and the Allure of the Medieval

Lord Alfred Tennyson composed some of the most famous lines in English poetry. Although he succeeded Wordsworth as Poet Laureate, his work has never gained the respect lavished on his predecessor, but his lonstanding popularity is unquestionable. I remember professors in University laughed at the idea of studying Tennyson. He was viewed as something of a literary joke, akin to Thomas Kinkade in the art world.

Tennyson's poetry had the ability of giving life to old narratives, particularly when it came to Arthurian literature. The Pre Raphaelites, who were drawn to this subject matter, often relied more heavily on Tennyson's interpretation of Medieval texts than they did on the original source material. This is particularly evident in "Mariana," "The Lady of Shallot," "Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere" and "Morte D'Arthur"--all of which were painted by Pre-Raphaelite artists.

Since I didn't post a copy of Tennyson's lovely poem, Mariana, the other day, I thought this would be an appropriate time to do so!


WITH blackest moss the flower-plots
Were thickly crusted, one and all:
The rusted nails fell from the knots
That held the pear to the gable-wall.
The broken sheds look'd sad and strange: 5
Unlifted was the clinking latch;
Weeded and worn the ancient thatch
Upon the lonely moated grange.
She only said, 'My life is dreary,
He cometh not,' she said; 10
She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!'

Her tears fell with the dews at even;
Her tears fell ere the dews were dried;
She could not look on the sweet heaven, 15
Either at morn or eventide.
After the flitting of the bats,
When thickest dark did trance the sky,
She drew her casement-curtain by,
And glanced athwart the glooming flats. 20
She only said, 'The night is dreary,
He cometh not,' she said;
She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!'

Upon the middle of the night, 25
Waking she heard the night-fowl crow:
The cock sung out an hour ere light:
From the dark fen the oxen's low
Came to her: without hope of change,
In sleep she seem'd to walk forlorn, 30
Till cold winds woke the gray-eyed morn
About the lonely moated grange.
She only said, 'The day is dreary,
He cometh not,' she said;
She said, 'I am aweary, aweary, 35
I would that I were dead!'

About a stone-cast from the wall
A sluice with blacken'd waters slept,
And o'er it many, round and small,
The cluster'd marish-mosses crept. 40
Hard by a poplar shook alway,
All silver-green with gnarl├Ęd bark:
For leagues no other tree did mark
The level waste, the rounding gray.
She only said, 'My life is dreary, 45
He cometh not,' she said;
She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!'

And ever when the moon was low,
And the shrill winds were up and away, 50
In the white curtain, to and fro,
She saw the gusty shadow sway.
But when the moon was very low,
And wild winds bound within their cell,
The shadow of the poplar fell 55
Upon her bed, across her brow.
She only said, 'The night is dreary,
He cometh not,' she said;
She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!' 60

All day within the dreamy house,
The doors upon their hinges creak'd;
The blue fly sung in the pane; the mouse
Behind the mouldering wainscot shriek'd,
Or from the crevice peer'd about. 65
Old faces glimmer'd thro' the doors,
Old footsteps trod the upper floors,
Old voices call'd her from without.
She only said, 'My life is dreary,
He cometh not,' she said; 70
She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,'
I would that I were dead!'

The sparrow's chirrup on the roof,
The slow clock ticking, and the sound
Which to the wooing wind aloof 75
The poplar made, did all confound
Her sense; but most she loathed the hour
When the thick-moted sunbeam lay
Athwart the chambers, and the day
Was sloping toward his western bower. 80
Then, said she, 'I am very dreary,
He will not come,' she said;
She wept, 'I am aweary, aweary,
O God, that I were dead!'


Judy said...

Tennyson compared to Thomas Kinkaide...yikes...that's cold!

Whenever I think of Tennyson I picture him as Julia Margaret Cameron photographed him!

willow said...

Beautiful. Is it this Tennyson piece that Eliza practices with in Pygmalion?

Melanie said...

Oh my it's been a while since I read that. How the minuti of life is noticed as there is so little to fill her day. you can understand how time can be so slow when you arewaiting for something/one yet speed past when you are having fun.

Margaret said...

I think I've seen that photo too, Judy.

--I think you might be right, Willow. I certainly remember her "I wish that I were dead" line, but it's been a while since I've seen the movie.

--So true, Melanie! Tennyson definitely puts a poetic twist on that old adage.

A World Away said...

Great post Margaret, Dumb question. Why the numbers at the end of every 5 lines?
I have to say I find the last lines of each stanza? "a little aweary" myself, and I would probably want to be dead if I had to read them all!

Margaret said...

They're just line numbers. And Tennyson is rather repetitive. I like it though. It makes his poetry really easy to memorize, and lends kind of a medieval story-teller's touch to his poems...even a kid will be able to chime in on the last line of each stanza.

Kalianne@BygoneBeauty said...

The depressed solitude of Mariana reminds me of geisha Cio Cio San in Madame Butterfly. I wonder if Tennyson's heroine influenced Puccini? Or maybe Shakespeare's Mariana influenced both? I'm glad I stopped by today. I have enjoyed discovering your blog!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I do so love this! And I'm not sure about Pygmalion, but it was certainly the one Audrey Hepburn pracitised with in My Fair Lady. I can still hear her saying "flower pot" with her mouth full of marbles.

Margaret said...

--Welcome, Kalianne!

--Yes, Pamela, I think this poem is both in the original stage version of Pygmalion, as well as in the musical. Thanks for pointing that out!