I'm studying Tennyson's "Tears, Idle Tears" with some help from Brooks' work, "The Motivation of Tennyson's Weeper", and thinking of writing an essay on, roughly speaking, paradoxes used in the...

I'm studying Tennyson's "Tears, Idle Tears" with some help from Brooks' work, "The Motivation of Tennyson's Weeper", and thinking of writing an essay on, roughly speaking, paradoxes used in the poem.

The problem is that I am suffering from lack of ideas. I would really appreciate if anyone could suggest some ideas or questions regarding the topic.

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One particular idea about paradoxes that is evident in "Tears, Idle Tears" is the paradox of memory.  The premise of the poem is rooted in a paradox. Tennyson embraces the vision of Tintern Abbey, a force that caused so much in way of affirming reflection in Wordsworth.  However, when Tennyson envisions Tintern Abbey, he is besieged with sadness rooted in memory: "Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,/Tears from the depth of some divine despair."  The notion of sadness emanating from "some divine despair" is representative of a paradox.  For New Critics like Brooks, paradoxes in poetic expression were seen as "an assertion seemingly opposed to common sense, but that may yet have some truth in it."  It is the harvesting or exploration of this opposition where the poem's beauty lies.  Within his understanding of the poem in "The Motivation of Tennyson's Weeper," Brooks asserts that studying this dynamic is essential to understanding the poem's sense of authenticity and power:  "[W]hen the poet is able, as in 'Tears, Idle Tears', to analyze his experience, and in the full light of the disparity and even apparent contradiction of the various elements, bring them into a new unity, he secures not only richness and depth but dramatic power as well."  

Given how the base of Tennyson's poem is entrenched in the paradoxical relationship of memory, one that causes a sense of ache and joy within the individual, it might be a good idea to harvest this as part of what Brooks terms as the "new unity" of the poem.  Brooks supports the idea that what Tennyson wishes to do is illuminate a "specific moral problem" but not highlight potential answers to it.  In doing so, a "new unity" about what it means to be human is illuminated.  Tennyson displays this in the poem with images that bring forth the paradox brought about by memory.  Ideas such as "happy autumn fields" and "days that are no more" represent a paradoxical ache and joy within memory.  In such a collision of imagery, Tennyson suggests that the "new unity" of human definition is one that lives within such a paradox.  It is in this idea that Brooks suggests "There is a sense in which the man and the remembered days are one and the same.  A man is the sum of his memories." The "new unity" is one that seeks to combine the human being and their past, embracing the paradox intrinsic to both. For Brooks, this "new unity" is how the poem develops: "In this third stanza, the special kind of sadness and strangeness is suggested by one and the same figure . . . developed in some detail . . . a dawn scene, though ironically so, for the beginning of the new day is to be the beginning of the long night for the dying man."  The exploration of the paradox of what it means to be human is a way in which you can progress in the analysis of Tennyson's poem.  Exploring these images which seem to be paradoxical, but are unified because of what it means to be human are a part of this essence.  Approaching the poem in the manner of exploring the different paradoxes regarding memory and explaining how they help to define "the new unity" within human consciousness is an idea that can generate some very good thought about the poem and Brooks's analysis of it.

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