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 Arthur’s 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 Browning’s robust optimism :
               God’s in his heaven
                All’s right with the world .
But Browning’s 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 soul’s development . 
If Tennyson’s masterpiece is In Memorium Browning’s 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 husband’s 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 Guido’s 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. Tennyson’s best of mind is lyrical and narrative , Browning ‘s thoughtful and dramatic Doubt skepticism are constant accurateness in Tennyson’s poetry , whereas faith and optimism are those in Browning's . Tennyson’s is the cult of sensibility , Browning’s 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 )

Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert, 
      2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
      3. Microsoft Students’ Encarta


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