Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Locksley Hall” begins as the personal expression of one young man’s feelings of anger and betrayal after a failed romance. He proclaims to his former love: “Better thou and I were lying, hidden from the heart’s disgrace,/ Roll’d in one another’s arms, and silent in a last embrace.”

Tennyson soon turns the focus of the poem from personal frustration to wider—and more universally relevant—social criticism. Blaming her family’s ambitious expectations for his cousin’s rejection of him, he complains: “Cursed be the social wants that sin against the strength of youth!/ Cursed be the social lies that warp us from the living truth!” Tennyson thus condemns the demands of society that impose artificial limitations upon the otherwise limitless possibilities of youth.

Feeling the need of some worthy pursuit to distract him from his broken-hearted state, the speaker declares, “I myself must mix with action, lest I wither by despair.” However, the “warped” world in which he finds himself offers opportunity only to the wealthy: “What is that which I should turn to, lighting upon days like these?/ Every door is barr’d with gold, and opens but to golden keys.”

Faced with an apparently empty future himself, the speaker seeks solace in his dreams of the future of humankind. Here Tennyson’s poetry reads like a science-fiction novel in verse: “For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,/ Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that...

(The entire section is 619 words.)