How has Tennyson portrayed the imgaes of after-death in the poem "Maud: A Monodrama"? This question is based on an excerpt from lines 239 - 258: "Dead, long dead...Is enough to drive one mad."...

How has Tennyson portrayed the imgaes of after-death in the poem "Maud: A Monodrama"?

This question is based on an excerpt from lines 239 - 258: "Dead, long dead...Is enough to drive one mad." Give your answer based on the lines from the poem "Maud: A Monodrama."

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Alfred Tennyson portrays the images of a post-death (after death) experience in the following quotes:


And my heart is a handful of dust,...
And my bones are shaken with pain, / For into a shallow grave they are thrust,...
Beat into my scalp and my brain...
I thought the dead had peace, but it is not so; / To have no peace in the grave, is that not sad?...
Ever about me the dead men go; / And then to hear a dead man chatter / Is enough to drive one mad.


Now to explicate (explain) these quotes. In the first, Tennyson makes a Biblical allusion to the idea that man is made from dust and after death returns to dust (i.e., the dust, or dirt, of the earth): "my heart is a handful of dust." In the second, Tennyson imagines the physical experience of a corpse as one of pain as the bared bones are shaken and vibrated ("thrust") against the hard bottom of a "shallow grave." The fact that it is "bones" and not some earlier stage of a corpse's deterioration establishes that this is a long dead speaker in an old or perhaps ancient grave.

The next adds to the picture of the dead's physical pain and adds an idea of the dead's self-perception. Something beat into a skeleton's "skull" is readily identifiable: skulls survive decay. But Tennyson adds "brain." Brains do not survive decay. The dead skeleton retains its association with its brain, which is the source of cognition (thought), perception (experience of the five senses) and communication.

In the next quote, the dead complain to have no peace because the city teeming with irrationally bustling people earlier described is loud and constant and disturbing. (Maybe if order and purpose could be recognized in the activity and motion of humanity, the bustling wouldn't be so peace-shattering.)

Further the dead are identified as having emotion as the speaker is "sad" and asks that the reader agree that it's plight is sad. Finally the greatest revelation comes in that the dead consider those who still walk the face of the earth, with their horses and weddings and burials are--dead. This of course is a symbolic representation through which Tennyson voices his philosophy about the meaningless lives lived by humanity.

It is further revealed that the dead even perceive all mankind's philosophical conversations, pursuits of science and the arts along with daily friendly conversation or the talk of villainous criminals to be nothing more than "chatter." Chatter is what a bird does or, at best, what a very young child does. Chatter is idle, irritating and meaningless, so much so that it drives the dead mad, which adds an association between the dead and their continued psychological (i.e., the relation between emotion and thought and motive) nature.

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