What is the Victorian crisis as reflected in Tennyson's poetry.
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A very good question indeed.
In the Victorian era, there was a huge conflict occurred especially because of Darwin's theory between science and religion. Darwin suggested that humans are actually originated from the apes. This struck the Orthodox, and moved the faith of people in religion. Besides, the industrial revolution caused rapid growth of factories, mills, industries, and people began to yield to mammon while capitalism enveloped spirituality. Human race became calculating and materialistic. Science brought new inventions and these inventions, while doing good to humans, but also, were making them more mechanized. They were more interested in business than religion, were busy in working and making money.
This conflict between science and religion is wonderfully depicted in the poems of those poets who were extremely worried because of the conflict, Matthew Arnold is one of those. Poets like Arnold of nineteenth century started to hold a very pessimistic view about the Victorian crisis, and in almost all his poems, he seems to express only a negative attitude toward his contemporary age. But we see a quite dissimilar attitude in the poems of his most renowned contemporary, Alfred Lord Tennyson. Unlike Arnold, he expressed a compromising attitude to his age and its intricate problems. Tennyson, we find, in his Ulysses, The Lotos Eaters, The Charge of the Light Brigade, holds such a sort of view which is supposed to find a middle ground. He is neither too melancholic like Arnold nor too optimistic like Robert Browning, another contemporary, in terms of the tone, mood and theme of his poetry. He tries to portray in his poems a real and clear picture of the problems of contemporary age in an implicit way, and then shows a positivity or a ray of hope at the end of almost all his poems. In fact the poem 'the Charge of the Light Brigade' which is based upon the Crimean War, describes the marvelous courage of the British soldiers and pays homage to them.
In fact, the frequent use of myths in many of his poems proves that, Tennyson believed not to stagnate in a melancholic state. Rather through going back to classical myths, he is trying at least to find a sort of solution to some extents.
Because of the quality to look for a middle ground, Tennyson is considered as a compromising craftsman who does neither yield to the crisis of his age nor possess a carefree attitude towards the problems, rather keeps compromising and finding a solution.
Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) carries to its furthest extent the quest of Keats and that other great Romantic, Shelley. The music of the English language has never been more skillfully composed into verbal melody and harmony than under Tennyson’s hand. Tennyson was obsessed with the Odyssey, but where other poets concentrated on the battles and ordeals, Tennyson was much more interested in the feelings of melancholy, world-weariness, and spiritual lassitude of Odysseus and his men.
The Victorians exhibited an astounding dynamism and confidence that allowed them to build much of the infrastructure of modern Great Britain, but the reverse side of this was the melancholy that Tennyson eloquently captured. The “Lotus-Eaters” episode from the Odyssey, in which those who ingested the plant were overcome with lethargy, fascinated Tennyson. His poem titled “The Lotos-Eaters” opens with Ulysses exhorting his sailors to have courage and gives a beautiful description of the land they discover. Tennyson knew, from early life, that he wanted to be a poet. He achieved the pinnacle of his career when he became poet laureate, in succession to Wordsworth, in the 1850s. Tennyson was crowned again when Queen Victoria, who loved his poetry, made him a baron in 1884.
Tennyson’s output was vast. Critical opinion would probably nominate as his greatest work the poem of religious faith and doubt, “In Memoriam,” that he wrote on the death of his friend Arthur Hallam. Another famous poem of Tennyson’s, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” demonstrates the public side of this poet. In 1854−1855, Britain was allied with France against Russia in the Crimean War. This conflict was the first to be covered by war correspondents and photographers, who brought home the blunders of the war to the population in England. The Times published a report of the futile charge of the English cavalry—what was, effectively, a suicide mission—that took place on November 13, 1854. This report included the words “someone had blundered,” which also appear in Tennyson’s poem. The command had been given to charge the Russian guns, which were firing into the cavalry as the men galloped forward. The guns were eventually taken, but 118 cavalrymen were killed, 127 were wounded, and 400 horses were destroyed. Tennyson’s famous poem was read by hundreds of thousands of people in England while the event was still reverberating, and he made no attempt to vindicate the military stupidity that led to the slaughter. Military history in Britain has repeatedly shown that commanders are unworthy of the men they lead. The poem is also striking for its connection with new media. Dispatches were telegraphed in from the field, and the poem was published in a newspaper a couple of weeks later, with accompanying photographs.
While Browning was a warrior, Tennyson is a worrier. He was religious more by virtue of his doubts than by his faith. The Darwinian philosophy and the rise of science in the Victorian Age brought agnostic ideas to the mind of the people Tennyson was aware of the crisis and his In Memoriam was his representative poem. But he was also known for his orthodoxy and Victorian compromise. In a poem like Lotos Eaters Tennyson gives vent to the mood of weary disgust in which doubts will force themselves on the mind whether life has any prize to offer worth the toil and trouble of winning. Thought is the disease of the civilisation. According to Tennyson life is contemplation and not action. Even in a poem like Ulysses , there is the same elegiac note. After all his heroic resolution, Tennyson's Ulysses feels that he is old. His philosophy is the philosophy of a weary soul.
It may be argued that Tennyson depicts in his poem the double vision- the entrepreneurship and the consumerism in capitalism.
The crisis of religious faith that was so keenly expressed in Arnold's picture of 'sick hurry and divided aims' is beautifully expressed in Tennyson's poetry.
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