“Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal” is a short lyric of fourteen lines. It begins with two stanzas of four lines each. Next comes a couplet, and the poem concludes with another four-line stanza. The reader of the poem will at once note that it has no title but is known by its first line. The reason for this is that the lyric forms part of a large epic, The Princess. The epic includes several famous lyrics, including “Tears, Idle tears” and “Come Down, O Maid.”
“Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal” is read by Princess Ida to the prince, who is recovering from wounds incurred in battle. The prince loves Ida; she, although well-disposed to him, has yet to reveal her own feelings. In the lyric, she at last does so; its content makes it clear that she reciprocates his love.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson faced a difficult problem in writing about love. The Victorians held extremely strong views about what might properly be discussed in public. Sexual love was definitely not on the acceptable list: Much that might appear in a modern motion picture rated acceptable for family audiences would by the Victorians have been classed as beyond the pale.
Tennyson fully shared the values of his time. The task that thus faced him in “Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal” was to suggest the circumstances of a romantic encounter while shunning any direct description that violated propriety. Tennyson accomplished this feat through the use of appeals...
(The entire section is 525 words.)