The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The lyric is written in an unusual form. It is a ghazal, a Persian love poem, in which a single word or phrase is repeated at short intervals. Each stanza ends with “me”: “with me,” “to me,” “unto me,” “in me,” and again “in me.” The repeated phrase acts as a substitute for rhyme. A number of images in the lyric are standard in the Persian love poem: roses, lilies, peacocks, cypresses, and stars.

By using this exotic form, Tennyson suggests a situation and a mood out of the ordinary. The normal conventions are suspended for the duration of the romantic encounter.

To speak of a romantic encounter is often to suggest a difficulty: How can the man overcome the woman’s resistance? The speaker solves the problem by avoiding it altogether. The result of the encounter between him and the lady is, in his mind, inevitable. Tennyson’s choice of words, along with the extraordinary circumstances suggested by the poem’s strange form, aids in creating the illusion of inevitability. Each stanza begins with “Now,” suggesting a continuous movement. The effect is enhanced in the first stanza, in which the second and third lines begin with “Nor.” This word is so similar to “now” that the reader must pay close attention to avoid a misreading. Given the progression of “Nows,” resistance on the woman’s part becomes next to impossible.

Tennyson also uses words that suggest peace and drowsiness rather than...

(The entire section is 490 words.)