Monday, September 5, 2011

"Locksley Hall", by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 - 1892)

"Locksley Hall" is a poem by the Victorian poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Tennyson was the most famous poet writing in English in his day. No poet writing in English since has been so revered in his own lifetime. His work was adored throughout the Empire, and in the United States, Ireland, and by English-speaking colonials across the globe, as well. To modern ears he might seem a bit stilted now, particularly since the "barbaric yawp" of Whitman changed poetry in English forever and the High Modernists, led by Ezra Pound, threw off the tyranny of the rhymed pentameter ("that was the first heave") and other traditional forms for a less mannered and more natural music. Tennyson uses an unusual line in this poem, an octametric line with the last foot having a missing syllable [catalectic octameter]. It might sound ponderous to a modern ear, but was much admired in his day.

This poem is relevant to the blog here, because the title of Colum McCann's masterpiece of a novel, Let the Great World Spin, is gleaned from "Locksley Hall". You will find it in a fragment of a line toward the end of the poem.

There are also many famous lines in the poem, often misquoted. You might recognize some that you have heard before.

This poem describes a young man's disillusion and heartbreak, and his resolution to set out into the world nursing a deep inner wound; it describes both an excursion from and return to childhood and young heartbreak; in a meditative moment he has a vision of the future in which science and technology bring wonders and unity to Mankind, an expression of the Victorian ideal of Progress and its vision of hope and an Earthly salvation. Home, hearth, and heath are the starting point, but he steps out into the void of an unknown future, a sort of Victorian version of the Byronic hero.

I had to break the reading up into two parts because of YouTube's 15-minute limit. Here is Part 1:

Part 2:

Decades later, an older man, Tennyson composed a response, "Locksley Hall Sixty Years After", in which he looks ironically at his young man's bitter Romanticism, and described a settled, phlegmatic personal history greatly in contrast to the young man's dramatic angst, and a larger history in which the young man's glowing vision of Mankind's future, rooted in new technology and science, has gone awry. But Tennyson recapitulated the rhythmic structure of the original, looking back at youthful passion and folly, and yet in continuing the form also valuing his young idealism, however misplaced, in late-life retrospect.

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