Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
“Locksley Hall” is typical of Tennyson’s poetry, in that the pattern of the poem follows one characteristic of much of the poet’s work. A personal experience sparks Tennyson’s creative imagination, and he uses that incident as a springboard for investigating issues of greater social concern.
The biographical germ of the poem lies in Rosa Baring’s rejection of Tennyson as a suitor in 1837; the poet’s poor financial position made him unsuitable for her as a husband, and she rejected him in favor of a man of greater means. In “Locksley Hall,” Tennyson transforms his own disappointment and grief over this rejection into a bitter analysis of the society in which materialism takes precedence over love. The speaker of the poem, a young suitor whose beloved Amy leaves him to marry a boorish man of suitable financial means, rebukes both his beloved and her new husband. His maundering attack leads him to consider the world in which true love can be dismissed so lightly, and he eventually begins to daydream about a future in which people, driven by greed, will eventually clash in world war to satisfy their insatiable materialistic appetites. In passages that border on science fiction, Tennyson describes “airy navies” engaging in battle. There is a ray of hope, however; the speaker finally sees an end to nationalistic strife, and the formation of a “Parliament of man,” a worldwide federation that will eventually bring peace to warring...
(The entire section is 450 words.)
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