Maud is a tour de force, a work of considerable complexity and originality in form and content. For its time, it had been a strikingly original internal monologue, unlike any of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s other poems and anticipating by more than half a century the poetic technique of T. S. Eliot in his “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915). Although most contemporary critics disparaged Maud, Robert Browning proclaimed it a great poem and is reputed to have read it many times.
The hallmark of Tennyson’s poem is ambiguity, and questions abound. For example, is the protagonist speaking or thinking? How long ago did his father die? How did Maud die? Are her postmortem visitations supernatural phenomena or hallucinations? Did Tennyson incorporate specific autobiographical elements into the poem, as some have maintained? These ambiguities are further complicated by the poem’s narrative technique. Eschewing the linear narration that he later employed in Enoch Arden, and Other Poems (1864), Tennyson chose to tell his story in the manner of such near-contemporary verse novels as George Meredith’s Modern Love, and Poems of the English Roadside (1862) and Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book (1868-1869; 4 vols.). Maud is a story related by implication with unclear time intervals, unspecified scenes, and abrupt transitions.
When Maud was published in 1855, it was met by a...
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