Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 376

In this poem, the narrator visits a place called Locksley Hall, where he spent some years in his youth and where he fell in love with his cousin, Amy. Although she loved him too, she eventually abandoned him—at her parents's behest—to marry a man who had more money but is, in the narrator's words, "a clown" who loves her only a bit more than he loves his horse or his dog. He questions whether he ought to wish for her happiness, knowing that she married someone with lesser feelings and a "narrower heart" than he simply because the other man was richer. He believes that Amy has become a clown because she married a clown, and the "grossness of his nature" weighs her down and affects her as well. The narrator curses the "social wants that sin against the strength of youth!" He feels that greed and materialism are held in higher esteem that true love, like the love he felt for Amy in his youth. Wealth is prized more than happiness; because he had no wealth, Amy's parents would not allow her to marry him, though he loved her so much and would have made her happy (he believes).

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The narrator goes on to lament and critique the state of the world. It isn't only his marriage to Amy that was prevented by her parents greed; in fact, the world only offers good opportunities to those with riches. He says, "Every door is barr'd with gold, and opens but to golden keys." People with money seem to stand in his way, and only people with money have the resources needed to succeed. He laments the greed and materialism that seem to form the backbone of society at large; Amy's parents's decision now seems merely a symptom of the catastrophic greed that runs throughout all of society. He imagines that this materialism and greed will inevitably corrupt the world, causing a world war between the nations. Only after this breakdown will cooler, wiser heads prevail in the creation of a "Parliament of man," a "Federation of the world." Common sense, then, will rule, and peace will reign. In the meantime, however, the world's focus on acquisition and commerce will continue to make people unhappy.

The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 427

“Locksley Hall” is a dramatic monologue in which the youthful speaker, revisiting the site of an earlier love affair, comes to terms with his rejection by the woman he once loved. Through the course of the poem he seeks consolation first in imagining his beloved’s future misery with her new husband; next in foreseeing a brighter future for humankind, based on his own childhood visions of the future; and finally in dreaming of escape from the restrictive society that played a role in ending the lovers’ relationship.

The poem begins with the speaker’s arrival at Locksley Hall, the stately home of his wealthy uncle, where, after his own father’s death, he came to nourish “a youth sublime” with “the fairy tales of science” and nights of gazing at the stars. He then recalls the youthful romance that blossomed between himself and his cousin, Amy. Unfortunately, however, their relationship ended unhappily, for the speaker cries, “Oh my cousin, shallow-hearted! O my Amy, mine no more!” His cousin, “Puppet to a father’s threat,” has married another, presumably wealthier, suitor.

The poem then turns to an exploration of the jilted speaker’s mingled feelings of jealousy, resentment, and lingering affection toward his former lover. He asks “Is it well to wish thee happy?” in spite of his lover’s decision to settle on “a range of lower feelings and a narrower heart than mine!” He continues to wrestle with this issue, asking, “Can I think of her as dead, and love her for the love she bore?” Yet he must answer himself, “No—she never loved me truly: love is love for evermore.”

Dejected, the speaker tries to hide from his own “deep emotion” by recalling an earlier time in his life, when he yearned for the “large excitement that the coming years would yield.” Seeking “the wild pulsation that I felt before the strife,” he imagines a fantastic future of flying machines, aerial combat, and one-world government. However, the plodding pace of progress forces him to ask, “What is that to him that reaps not harvest of his youthful joys?”

After entertaining notions of retreating to a simpler life, however, the speaker rejects this option in favor of continuing to serve the cause of progress that he sees as his own society’s chief purpose in the world. At the conclusion of the poem the speaker bids a final farewell to Locksley Hall with a claim to have renewed the “ancient founts of inspiration” that had previously been emptied by his own bitterness and frustration.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 555

“Locksley Hall” takes the form of a dramatic monologue, in which a fictional character assumes the speaking role, rather than the poet himself, as in the case of a lyric poem. The thoughts expressed by this character cannot, therefore, be directly attributed to Tennyson himself, but must be understood as those of a fictional persona who may or may not reflect the poet’s own attitudes. Tennyson said of the poem that it “represents young life, its good side, its deficiencies, and its yearnings.”

Nevertheless, it is clear that the poem does largely reflect Tennyson’s attitudes about the inhibiting social and economic restrictions imposed upon his generation, as well as his earnest hopes for the possibilities of scientific, as well as social, progress.

The occasion upon which this dramatic monologue takes place is the speaker’s return to Locksley Hall after a prolonged absence. This event acts as a frame for the retelling of his sad tale, as well as for his bitter reflections about the past and his hopes for the future. The frame also serves as a transition from one section of the poem to another, as when the speaker emerges from his reverie to hear his “merry comradessounding on the bugle-horn.”

The poem consists of 194 lines, arranged into ninety-seven rhymed couplets. The simplicity of the rhyme scheme is offset, however, by the complex meter—trochaic octameter—as well as the unusual length of the lines, which allows Tennyson to make full use of his familiar rolling cadence. This distinctive pattern is perhaps one reason why “Locksley Hall” has produced a large number of quotable slogans for every cause from scientific advancement to British imperialism. At the poem’s inspiring conclusion Tennyson coins this oft-quoted cheer for technological progress: “Forward, forward let us range,/ Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.” (It is interesting to note that Tennyson based this line on his mistaken belief that the newly developed steam locomotive ran in grooves, rather than on rails.)

In rejecting the temptation to run off to an exotic island in the East, Tennyson’s speaker also utters the declaration, “Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.” This became a catch phrase for the superiority of the progressive West over what was then considered to be the static East.

Perhaps the most famous line from “Locksley Hall,” however, is the perhaps all-too-familiar “In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” While it is quite distant in tone from the poem as a whole, the phrase has taken on a life of its own.

One of the more effective devices used in “Locksley Hall” is that of apostrophe, in which the speaker addresses a listener who is not actually present. In this case the absent auditor is Amy herself, who is bluntly told by the speaker, “thou art mated with a clown,/ And the grossness of his nature will have weight to drag thee down.”

When she eventually comes to regret her choice of a husband, as the rejected suitor predicts she will, Amy is told simply to “Turn thee, turn thee on thy pillow: get thee to thy rest again.” Tennyson’s repeated use of apostrophe is far more effective than a third-person description of the same events.

The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 456

An unnamed narrator has just returned to his childhood home of Locksley Hall. He asks a group of friends there to leave him in solitude so he may reflect on his past. He recalls his life in the large country house, which included leisurely contemplation and an education in the classics and science. The estate belongs to the narrator’s uncle, who took him in after the death of his parents.

The narrator is now despondent because Amy, the woman he loves, has broken their engagement and plans to marry another man. She apparently made the decision at her parents’ insistence on the grounds that the other man has more desirable prospects. After recalling in detail idyllic walks on the beach with Amy, the narrator denounces her bitterly and predicts that her husband will mistreat and neglect her. Unable to forget Amy, he questions the nature and endurance of love. Amy may find comfort from her husband’s predicted aloofness in the love of a child, but the narrator imagines her hypocritically warning her own daughter of the dangers of yielding to one’s emotions.

In order to forget Amy, the narrator resolves to turn to further adventures. Economic forces in his society deny him access to military glory or commercial success. He recalls the dreams of his younger years, when he saw infinite possibilities for both himself and others, including technological advances and the advent of an international government that would eliminate war. The future no longer seems so positive to the narrator in his present depressed mood, however. He makes dire predictions of a world overcome by an increasingly hungry population. Platitudes that have previously reassured him that all is for the best are powerless against his current emotions.

The narrator’s friends sound a horn to call for him, and he is brought out of his reveries into the present. In a violent reaction to the returning memory of his lost love, he denounces all women as inferior to men and seeks a more distant escape from his stifling society. He will return to India, where his father fell in battle defending Britain’s empire, or he may travel even farther. He dreams of exotic and isolated islands where he could lead a carefree life surrounded by the beauty of nature.

Once again, however, the dream fails him. He realizes that he will never be able to give up his own country. European culture, moving ahead with the advances of modern science, dominates the globe and offers him a life superior to any found elsewhere. With this triumphal conclusion, the narrator turns definitively away from Locksley Hall. He no longer cares what happens to the estate, as he prepares to seek happiness elsewhere.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 322

Alden, Raymond Macdonald. Alfred Tennyson: How to Know Him. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1917. This early study compares the story to a novel, highlighting the hero’s evolving emotions.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 1985. An essay by A. Dwight Culler in this collection of Tennyson criticism compares the reaction of “Locksley Hall” to catastrophe to that of Tennyson’s “Maud” (1855) and traces the origins of the monologue form in Arabian poetry.

Goslee, David. Tennyson’s Characters: “Strange Faces, Other Minds.” Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1989. Draws on readings by several other critics to reveal the weaknesses of the poem’s narrator.

Hughes, Linda K. The Manyfacèd Glass: Tennyson’s Dramatic Monologues. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1987. Dwelling on the role of time, this study sees the remembered past and visions of the future in “Locksley Hall” as defining both the poem’s narrator and his society.

Kissane, James D. Alfred Tennyson. New York: Twayne, 1970. The chapter “The Dramatic Poet” outlines the independent persona of the narrator and the role of Locksley Hall itself as an emblem of his past.

Shaw, David W. Alfred, Lord Tennyson: The Poet in an Age of Theory. Twayne’s English Authors Series 525. New York: Twayne, 1996. This general study presents the hero as Byronic and alternating between opposing emotions. Here, his violent feelings mask a failure to assume responsibility.

_______. Tennyson’s Style. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1976. This study sees various stages of the poem progressively modifying the story.

Smith, Elton Edward. Tennyson’s “Epic Drama.” Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1997. This reading shows the hero progressing from negative jealousy to a positive and hopeful resolution.

Wright, F. W. Nielsen. Tennyson, Locksley Hall Then and After, and “The Alexandrians, an Epic Poem”: An Essay in Literary Derivation. Wellington, New Zealand: Cultural and Political Booklets, 2007. Detailed study of the relationship between “Locksley Hall” and an epic poem of New Zealand.

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