Tennyson with the net down: his "freer" verse.
This kind of via negativa definition of free verse is not unprecedented. T. S. Eliot practices it most famously in his essay "Reflections on Vers Libre." "I can define it only in negatives," he snipes, "(1) absence of pattern, (2) absence of rhyme, (3) absence of metre." (2) Before we add "absence of Tennyson," I would like to reassess this Victorian's credentials as an avant la lettre practitioner of the Modernists' preferred verse form, using the very terms and conceits that Modernists and Modernist critics have used to portray it.
Eliot's "absence of pattern" is more or less synonymous with the Pindaric irregularity that operates fundamentally in Kirby-Smith's study. And Kirby-Smith does allow that Tennyson penned some "irregular stanzas" here and there: "The Sea Fairies," "Eleanore," parts of Maud, and the Wellington ode (pp. 119-120). In just the works named, Tennyson displays considerable irregular range: line lengths from two to seven beats; stanza lengths starting at two lines and up; rhymes that consummate unpredictably, or not at all. This irregularity is not in itself innovative (the poetic lineage runs from Cowley to Gray to Wordsworth), though Tennyson is being somewhat novel by importing irregularity from where it historically occurs--in the vast expanses of the greater odes--to the more confined spaces of the smaller lyrics. In any case, lack of innovation is not in Kirby-Smith's study an obstacle to a poet's status as free-versifier, for Kirby-Smith's greater premise is that irregular verse is a precursor to free verse. (3) We wonder if Tennyson might have curried more free-verse favor had Kirby-Smith acknowledged just how profoundly involved Tennyson was with irregular verse, for it is not a rogue feature merely of the four works he happens to name. In Tennyson, irregularity is everywhere. Not just in "The Sea Fairies," but in "The Hesperides" and "The Lotos-Eaters." Not just in "Eleanore," but in "Lilian," "Madeline," and "[Sainted Juliet!]." Not only in the Wellington ode, but in "Time: An Ode," "Ode to Memory," and "Ode: O Bosky Brook."
About forty years ago, when critics sought to understand Tennyson's diverse formal outputs by tabulating them, Alicia Ostriker calculated that a full third of Tennyson's poetry between 1830 and 1842 was in a mode she called "irregular." (4) Another forty years before that, J. F. A. Pyre noted this same tendency of Tennyson, which he too called "irregular," though from the peppering of other choice adjectives ("unsystematic," "wild," "capricious," "irresponsible," "very imperfect"), there seems to have been more of a value judgment in the label. (5) In his charge that Tennyson was being "unsystematic" with his irregular poetry, Pyre is imprecise if not wrong. There are several systems that can govern poems, and Tennyson was being systematic about his irregularity in several ways. Note how the poems just mentioned cluster into categories: island poems, lady poems, and odes. These categories are not hard and fast, but such topical consistencies do suggest a more than random attention, and served to authorize Tennyson's formal license, if not to emphasize it. Other checks and balances are at work, too: odes are irregular by precedent; the island poems are framed by more regular proemata. It would seem that Tennyson was more than keen about poetic license and its multiple origins, that he knew there were as many ways to make a poem free as there were systems to govern it.
Nearer the wellhead of Tennyson's critical heritage, in 1833 Samuel Taylor Coleridge found Tennyson's metrical irregularity unpalatable, characterizing it as "mischievous" and "preposterous" versifying, void of metrical comprehension. (6) Decades after this comment, Tennyson only somewhat conceded: "It is true that in the folly of youth I played some tricks with orthography and metre--but Coleridge ought ... to have seen that it was from wantonness not from ignorance." (7) The tone of mild rebuke Tennyson takes with Coleridge in this quote is noteworthy. It clearly irked the erstwhile Cambridge Apostle that Coleridge--who, well before reproving Tennyson's irregular verse, had espoused organic form as that which avoided "mere regularity" (8)--had not caught Tennyson's prosodic drift. Reconciling Tennyson with Coleridge on this matter might help us leverage the Victorian against a poetic future that characterizes his irregular verse as accidental or incidental, if it acknowledges it at all. For not only would Tennyson's self-styled gnostic "wantonness" aptly describe the prosodic projects of Modernist rock stars like Eliot and Ezra Pound, but Coleridge's ideas about organic form, as Donald Wesling observes in his essay, "The Prosodies of Free Verse," "prefigured the nature of avant-garde writing." (9) In terms of Coleridge's dichotomy between mechanic and organic form, Tennyson was always playing "shape as superinduced" (a Spenserian stanza, say) against "form as proceeding" (distending the same stanza about the languid lotos-eaters)--while not committing entirely to either generative concept ("Lecture XIII," p. 229).
Tennyson's poetic systems, however articulated, become crucial in differentiating him from his main rival for the title of the Victorian era's first free versifier, Matthew Arnold. Arnold gains the title from several critics and for different poems. For Kirby-Smith, the poem is "Philomela." "However it occurred," he says, "there is no question that 'Philomela' is free verse." The poem exhibits all the usual irregularity, but where it diverges--and where Eliot's second parameter becomes operative--is in the fact that virtually none of the lines rhyme. This feature is so impressive to Kirby-Smith that other works by Arnold get to ride the coat-tails of "Philomela" into the free-verse universe, whether it is irregular verse that rhymes (as in "Dover Beach"), or unrhymed verse that is of uniform lineation (as in "Rugby Chapel") (Kirby-Smith, pp. 120-121). As Tennyson has enough of both these kinds of poems, it would seem the only task left to put him on par with Arnold would be to locate a work that is both irregular and rhymeless.
The First Heave
One such poem is "Semele," written at least eighteen years before "Philomela." Sure enough, in consulting Christopher Ricks' notes on the poem, we find that he describes it as "free verse." Cornelia Pearsall repeats the label, yet for both scholars it is a passing description of the technical fact. (10) Thus, we must give strong consideration to the possibility that "Semele," by dint of its singularity, is simply a lyrical accident, a spillage in the metrical lab. Arnold, according to other scholars, loses his claim to the free verse title for this very reason--that it was an unpurposeful effect beyond his control. C. D. Blanton, discussing Arnold's free verse as it happens here and there in Empedocles on Ema, characterizes it as an "unraveling" blank verse. (11) Recall that Empedocles, in Act I, speaks either in blank verse that is scrupulously interwoven into dialogue with the other characters, or in shorter-line rhyme that occurs both intra-stanza and inter-stanza. In Act II, by the time he throws down his laurel bough, Empedocles speaks in nothing resembling these verse forms. Whereas we might recognize a fitting dissonance in the unraveling form that correlates to Empedocles' return to the elements, Arnold did not see the potential. In the 1853 Preface of Poems (the edition from which Empedocles was omitted), Arnold confesses, in a noteworthy turn of phrase, that he "failed in the delineation" which he had "intended to effect." This description about character might as well apply to lineation; the Preface concludes with a call to poets "to think clearly, to feel nobly, and to delineate firmly," as well as to combine "the indispensable mechanical part" of poems with "spirituality and feeling." (12)
According to Blanton, "What Arnold lacked ... was a way to name this accidental free verse, this awkward poetics that manages ... to catch the arrhythmic [quality of] modernity" (p. 763). Yet Arnold was certainly cognizant and in control of his technical effects in Empedocles. Far from considering them "accidental," Arnold invokes the idea of accuracy in discussing a poem's shape ("accurate construction") as well as the shape's relation to its subject ("accurate representation") (pp. 212, 204). In a way then, the free verse was right; the subject was wrong. Free verse could only ever delineate the unpoetic ("unpoetry" as Arnold almost called it). Thus was a flexible poetic form doomed for the time being to an inflexible idea about poetry, and Arnold remained unimpressed with a quasi-prosody for a quasi-man--"a feeble, wavering line" (l. 173) as he calls it in "Rugby Chapel." Feeble verse, for the characters within Arnold's poems, signified a falling-off from strong soul-hood that would be a reason to hurl one's self into the volcano; for the character outside the poems, feeble verse was a symptom that one was about to hurl one's self into a life of prose.
In "Semele," Tennyson walks along the Arnoldian precipice between poetry and unpoetry. Semele's fate is, like Empedocles', incineration, though it is a more fulfilling one. As the mortal lover of Zeus, she goes out in a "blast of Godhead":
I wished to see him: who may feel His light and live? He comes. The blast of Godhead bursts the doors. This mortal house is all too narrow To enclose the wonder. His mighty hands entwine The triple forks and when he speaks The crown of starlight shudders round Ambrosial temples. Over me, Fluttering in Elysian airs His green and azure mantles float in wavy Foldings, and melodious thunder Wheels in circles. (ll. 1-13) (13)
The iambic rhythm of this first half of the poem knowingly shudders and folds around enjambments and caesuras that are rare for Tennyson outside of a blank-verse context. The effect is disarming for the way it dissipates Semele's imminent, violent death. Semele climaxes into happy prophecies about Dionysus and, apparently of greater interest, his followers:
But thou, my son, who shalt be born When I am ashes, to delight the world-- Now with measured cymbal-clash Moving on to victory; Now on music-rolling golden orbs, A sliding throne, voluptuously Panther-drawn, To throbbings of the thundrous gong, And melody o' the merrily-blowing flute; Now with troops of clamorous revellers, Noisily, merrily, Rapidly, giddily, Rioting, triumphing, Bacchanalians Rushing in cadence, All in order Plunging down the viney valleys (ll. 14-30)
A trochaic shudder in the lines engenders Dionysus, but it is just here that the poem's prosody takes an anti-climactic turn. Though Tennyson begins the poem conveying a rare sexual direction with a rare rhythmical indirection, he shifts, as Semele puts on Zeus' knowledge with his power, from less familiar methods to more familiar. Though the poem's finale is a complex of falling rhythms and rocking epiplocean lines, it is a dithyrambic veneer that we have seen before--namely in the progress odes of Collins and Gray. (14) Strange territory, this, for a poem that begins with a lithe willingness to explore the problems of engendering and rendering chaos, that metaphysical foe of progress.
The first half of "Semele" exhibits, in its speaker's real-time obliviation, Coleridgean "form as proceeding." Semele, like any good poet, is preoccupied with how sound turns into shape. "[T]hunder / Wheels in circles" in its synaesthetic disconnect intimates a strange process that need not always make sense. Bearing this non-sense is the verse--or a non-verse, really. The disarming metrical ease reminds us that Semele will forgo labor; as a metrical nothingness, it simultaneously suggests her imminent oblivion. To render this encounter between a woman and an immortal, Tennyson entered a prosodic no-man's land, as the first thirteen lines of "Semele" would have been practically unrecognizable to a reading audience of 1833. On these grounds, perhaps, Tennyson shies away from such techniques in the poem's second half, where he shifts from present tense to future present, from rendering a poem of consciousness to one of consequence. Semele's offspring takes over the poem, treading trodden trochees. Tennyson, with a wink, has the Bacchanalians move in a "Rioting ... order" and to a "measured ... noise." These unstraying revelers and the trochaic rhetoric that accompanies them do little justice to what might begin as Tennyson's own profound sense of vertigo. Writing this poem circa 1833, he was reeling from Hallam's death, and England was in an interregnum of sorts. If Tennyson sensed that his lines or his life were getting out of control, a nice dose of eighteenth-century elixir laced with deferential classicism might stave off the lapse.
Poetic shape, whether conforming to trochaic rhetoric or to the poetico-historical narrative that subtends it, does not get any more "superinduced" than this. Tennyson's parallel philosophical concern is how divine power transforms into human affairs. About this transmutation, Tennyson--although we know from the roughly contemporaneous drafting of "Tiresias" and "Morte d'Arthur" that it was on his mind--for the time being stays mute. The last two lines of "Semele" half reveal and half conceal the idea of "order / Plunging," and as the poem then breaks off altogether mid-sentence, we are confronted with the fact that it is a fragment (an unpublished one at that) and with the possibility that Tennyson disengaged from it because it was not worth developing. Yet, because we are familiar with the various ways Tennyson dramatized the limits of his forms--the ways he commented on the ends of poetry by complicating the ends of poems--we might think of this as an intended effect, perhaps the hardest enjambment he ever makes. Perhaps he sensed there was something too eighteenth-century about rendering wildness easily thus in irregular lines, and accordingly grounded the by-now formulaic Pindaric eagle. Not only might this be an aesthetically informed abandonment of how to render ideas of abandon, but a culturally and metaphysically informed one as well. For the Victorian version of pre-Romantic and Romantic liberty (with all its rosy invocations of political renewal) was a reprise of its older, more menacing manifestation, chaos; channeling it, therefore, became a vastly different poetic venture. Thomas Carlyle once remarked that Tennyson had a knack for "manufacturing ... Chaos into Cosmos." (15) But Tennyson himself, figuring the modern dilemma with precisely the same terms, never commits to such unidirectionality. Even as late as Locksley Hall Sixty Years After, he is proclaiming, "Chaos, Cosmos! Cosmos, Chaos! who can tell how all will end?" (l. 103).
Little wonder, then, that Semele's ending is unfinished. Tennyson broke off from the poem not because it was getting out of his control, but because it was getting too far under it. For Tennyson, who at this time needed to be a Bacchanalian drunk with loss, this textbook finish would not do. Daniel Albright observes that Tennyson, in writing "Semele" and the other "mythological poems just after Hallam's death," seems to be "ransacking a library in the search for a proper equivalent to his turbulent emotional state but finding that none of the analogies is exactly right." (16) That "proper equivalent" assumes an ideal of organic form, and I agree with Albright that Tennyson is finding "none of the analogies is right." I would go further and say that Tennyson is sensing that the entire idea of formal analogy to content is not right.
At the same time, Tennyson delivers the perfect formal analogy to the gaping-void version of chaos: nothing. From within the ten years' silence of 1832-1842 (an era of Tennyson's own sort of "unpoetry"), Tennyson was living out one particularly painful problem with perfectly correspondent organic form, that nothing will come of nothing, death's superinduced non-shape. Coleridge himself was alert to this problem, as he makes clear in his distinction between "living organic" and "dead organic." Imitating "mere nature" produces the same results as working "only from a given form": "emptiness" and "unreality." Beauty, he advises, could and must come of a "rupture of association" ("Lecture XIII," pp. 221-222). Tennyson would, of course, find ways of speaking out against the option of poetic nothingness: In Memoriam is a gigantic example of form as proceeding; a poem for which, for many years, there was no end in sight. As section XI of the poem makes clear, there is something dreadfully inorganic about that "[w]hich heaves but with the heaving deep"--about the Empedo-clean elemental, wherein humans resign to the elements rather than inscribe themselves upon them, and wherein the cerebral ruptures of dearest associates turn the living organic of the mind to the dead organic of brain and blood.
Through his early and pervasive irregularity, Tennyson was breaking the pentameter all along. In "Semele," though, there are signs of a true first heave--acknowledgement of a new verse force, driven by and abandoned because of concerns about word-to-world correlations. "Semele" is a pregnant fragment, and its ellipsis invites us to consider what rises from her ashes and where Tennyson resumes this formal thread of measured noise, manufactured chaos, and the pained elision of poetic labor.
Making It New
"Semele" was published for the first time by Hallam Tennyson in 1913. Coincidentally, within just months, in the January 1914 issue of Poetry, Ezra Pound would be writing to assuage the skeptics, doubters, and haters of vers fibre--not only to confirm that there was indeed a classical element to this new verse form, but also to boast that there was even something originary about it. He counsels that to comprehend the prosodic project of free verse, one need only "turn at random to the works of Euripides ... or to almost any notable Greek chorus," (17) in order to get a sense of the expressive range, even propriety, of suppler, more flexible verse. Pound here claims that even the avant-garde verse form could show a little derriere; and perhaps he was showing a little of his own, reflecting the assumed indolence of this new poetry back onto its dourest critics. To Tennyson I am not suggesting here any direct connection--i.e., that Pound had been scouring the Preface of Hallam's 1913 edition. I am proposing that Pound is merely making explicit what Tennyson intuited about the radical nature of poetic innovation, and that Tennyson was before his time, in the double sense of that phrase. Writing at the edge of his own modernity, Tennyson entertained no illusions about unearthing some truly new form. Defending himself against a critic's charge of unoriginality, he once said, "I will answer for it that no modern poet can write a single line but among the innumerable authors of the world you will somewhere find a striking parallelism. It is the unimaginative man who thinks everything borrowed." (18) But even Tennyson's classicist friend Richard Jebb, writing in 1899, could pronounce in earnest that "[m]any of [Tennyson's] lyric measures are wholly his own; while others have been so treated by him as to make them virtually new." (19)
Those last words, from Pound's lips, would become the motto of poetic revolution before long. Eliot would soon (1917) be praising Pound's "adaptability of metre to mood, an adaptability due to an intensive study of metre," lauding Pound's individual talent for the way it could transform the most traditional of forms, noting "the great variety of rhythm which Pound manages to introduce into the ordinary iambic pentameter." (20) Remarkably, Jebb observes Tennyson's virtues in nearly identical terms: "As a metrist, he is the creator of a new blank verse.... He has known how to modulate it to every theme, and to elicit a music appropriate to each.... No English poet has used blank verse with such flexible variety" (Jebb, pp. 765-766).
It should not have come as news to Pound or Eliot that poetic freedoms must be forged through critical arbitrations of overdetermined forms. Tennyson had already figured this out. Consider, for example, Tennyson's own (somewhat eccentric) take on the most staid of English meters. Hallam records him as saying:
The English public think that blank verse is the easiest thing in the world to write, mere prose cut up into five-foot lines; whereas it is one of the most difficult. In a blank verse you can have from three up to eight beats; but, if you vary the beats unusually, your ordinary newspaper critic sets up a howl. The varying of the beats, of the construction of the feet, of the emphasis, of the extra-metrical syllables and of the pauses, helps to make the greatness of blank verse.... [F]ew educated men really understand the structure of blank verse. (21)
Tennyson would be neither the first nor the last poet to hear so many beats in the blank verse line. Still, the quote provides a glimpse into Tennyson's sound-scape, into his exquisite sonic individualism in the face of the most towering of English traditions. Unrhymed iambic pentameter, however, was not to Tennyson a carte blanche so much as a tabula rasa; he knew that no verse was blank for the man who wanted to do a good job. That comment about "cut-up prose" would become the archetypal complaint during the free-verse era--a complaint that was both a blindness to as well as proof of just how good a poetic job had been done. Tennyson's terms, as he laments that his tremendous prosodic "difficulty" was being received with "ease," thus anticipate the paradox that becomes the avantgardist text--a text that, according to Wesling, "hopes to efface all the marks of the labor of its production." (22) In the next sections, I explore how Tennyson's strategy for combating the transparency of verse is to err on the side of an over-conspicuousness of form.
Something Modernist About It
Of great interest in Pound's quote from above are those "notable Greek choruses," as these abound in Tennyson. Choric voices, so often bearing a burdensome modern perspective, are in turn borne out by some formal rupture. Arnold similarly negotiates concerns about being modern through Greek choruses, but whereas Arnold hides in fragments (cf. "Fragment of an Antigone" or "Fragment of Chorus of a 'Dejaneira'"), giving us poems in parenthesis, Tennyson (as ever) is dramatizing boundaries, converting fragments into frames, exposing by enclosing, making lyric voice answerable and accountable. The "Choric Song" of "The Lotos-Eaters" makes the point, as might either of the "Songs" of the two other island poems, while Maud is the apotheosis of this poetic. (23) In a well-known comment about the composition of "Demeter and Persephone," Tennyson reveals his mindfulness of this poetic: "when I write an antique like this I must put it into a frame--something modern about it. It is no use giving a mere rechauffe of old legends" (Memoir, p. 724).
In these poems, linear irregularity is the norm, perhaps even a decorum. Imitating Greek tragedy, especially the prosodic freedoms of its choral odes, is a tradition in English poetry extending at least as far back as Milton's Samson Agonistes. (24) Critics have noted that this looser verse is a predecessor of free verse--nay, that it is free verse, especially when extracted from its larger dramatic contexts. (25) In such pronouncements, prosodic "unpredictability" is the operative criterion. Indeed, twentieth-century poets, in order to outstrip the predictability imposed by meter and by stanza, would come to focus on the line-level of a poem as the final frontier (or last resort) of prosodic innovation. Tennyson, in the poetically belated nineteenth century, sensed that linear irregularity had already become a formality, had already hardened into what Wesling might call a "type of unpredictability" ("Prosodies of Free Verse," p. 160).
Even with a stated mission of avoiding antique rechauffage, Tennyson never became much of an enjamber of lines. (26) Almost entirely out of his purview was the grammetrical syncopation that typifies so much later free verse and, according to free-verse theorists like Wesling and Charles Hartman, even comprises its prosody. Tennyson was, however, an enjamber of poems. This phenomenon manifests not only in his frame device, but in his penchant for pendant poems and for "composite" poetry (A. Dwight Culler's term). Wesling theorizes that in the best free verse, "rhythm, sense, and structure" find ways to cohere "despite ... massive deformation" ("Prosodies of Free Verse," p. 159). I find that this is what Tennyson, with his poem-level syncopations, was usually up to: a poem-breaking ultimately concerned with poem-building. As such, his innovations advance Coleridge's ideas about organic unity by problematizing them: poiesis in Tennyson is not an inherent formation as much as it is a coherent deformation. Tennyson's attentions to his poems' higher-level structures anticipate those of the Modernists. "[T]he ideal unit of poetic study is not the notional foot, but the whole poem," says Wesling, relating the observation to William Carlos Williams and Charles Olson, among others (p. 161). This comment essentially reiterates Pound on the matter in 1917:
It is perfectly obvious that art hangs between chaos on one side and mechanics on the other. A pedantic insistence on detail tends to drive out "major form." A firm hold on major form makes for a freedom of detail. In painting men intent on minutiae gradually lost the sense of form and form-combination. An attempt to restore this sense is branded as "revolution." (27)
Critics such as Carol T. Christ have already addressed Tennyson's composite poetry--his "major form," his "form-combination"--as it approaches and informs Modernist poetics. (28) Yet to be reconciled is the Modernist aversion to prosodic "minutiae," of which Pound's remark about "a pedantic insistence on detail"--which might as well read "Tennyson's meter"--is instance and emblem. Eliot more neutrally intimates that Tennyson's insistence on detail might drive his major forms, rather than drive them out. About In Memoriam he says, "Tennyson's technical competence is everywhere masterly and satisfying.... And the poem has to be comprehended as a whole." He describes Maud as "a few very beautiful lyrics ... around which the semblance of a dramatic situation has been constructed with the greatest metrical virtuosity," finding particularly admirable Tennyson's "exquisite adaptation of metre to the mood"--precisely the same phrasing he was using two decades earlier to praise Pound. (29) That Tennyson's appeal to a Modernist could be articulated in terms of his metrical virtuosity--rather than despite it--bodes well for the final sections of this study, in which I will consider in what ways Tennyson achieves "a freedom of detail," if not exactly a freedom from it.
No Escape From Meter
While it is well known that Tennyson taps into classical sources, not only for his stanzas or lineations, but for his meter too, what is less established is Tennyson's progressive rather than regressive strategy in doing so. Metrical fabric for modern clothes seems counterintuitive to us. Moreover, it puts us directly in the crosshairs of Eliot's third and final free-verse parameter, "absence of metre." Even if Tennyson qualifies for the first parameter (absence of pattern) and draws a bye for the second (absence of rhyme), having to exhibit absence of meter would spell sudden death for our metrical perfectionist. Here would be an opportune time to confess that I have been taking Eliot's quote out of its context, and that he meant his parameters quite facetiously. Any of these parameters, even singly (if zealously) applied, might eliminate any number of free verse's most canonical Olympians. The triadically inclined William Carlos Williams would fall to absence of pattern; absence of meter would disqualify the syllabics of Marianne Moore; and absence of rhyme would eliminate Eliot himself.
Eliot was not making the case for an essential rareness of the free verse poem, but for the scarcity of the poem that is truly free from all formal poetic systems. Thus, his oracular pronouncement in that same essay that free verse "does not exist." He goes on to explain, "There is no escape from metre; there is only mastery." Williams, who also tended to get ornery about the "free" of free verse, one-ups Eliot on this matter in saying, "The only reality that we can know is MEASURE." (30) That Tennyson is the godfather of these statements, there is no dispute. And if we no longer have to apologize for a lack of absence of meter in Tennyson, I would like to make the case for Tennyson's presence of meter. I intend this term not in the sense of meter's pervasive (and invasive) existence in Tennyson's poems, but rather as a descriptor of his ability to effect rhythmically a word-into-world immediacy--to "recover intensity at the rank of word and syllable" (31)--and thus to anticipate one of the most fundamental components of free-verse rhetoric.
Not always, but certainly often enough, Tennyson's poems that are in classical meters also happen to be unrhymed. In terms of lineation, the poems are not irregular--which double negative I might collapse into simply "regular," if I did not believe this betrays the spirit in which they were written, that is, as "Experiments." Calling the poems thus was just one way Tennyson would self-efface; quarantining them anthologically, and just outright declaring them "Barbarous" or "burlesque," were others. Yet, a gleaming confidence buttresses the poet as in classical meters, as does at times a righteousness (see "Hendecasyllabics")--all stemming from Tennyson's sense of rightness about them. (32) He once boasted, "I have no doubt that an old Greek if he knew our language would admit my Alcaics as legitimate." I call attention here to this egg-headed rectitude of Tennyson the quantity wonk, only to explore how he exceeds it in the same remark. Tennyson admits that his English Alcaics will never be Latin Alcaics, just as Latin Alcaics will never be Greek Alcaics. After making this point about poetic self-sufficiency--that poetry must stand on its own linguistic feet (however many there are)--Tennyson goes on nonetheless to deliver value judgments upon the millennia-spanning metrical canon: Horatian Alcaics and Virgilian hexameters are "the stateliest metre[s] in the world," "but," he continues, into the less familiar clause of this quote, "the Greek Alcaic ... had a much freer and lighter movement" (Works, 1:765n).
Cascading down the canon from Greek to Latin to English, Tennyson arrives, unexpectedly, at a new sense of prosody: all of that classical order plunging into an idea of "freer" verse. Quantity, the bugaboo of Victorian poets and culture critics, has until this point always been about what English cannot do. Tennyson, in an assertion about the sonic singularity of a language and its meter, the untranslatability of the sound-sense nexus, honorably discharges himself from a classical slavishness, and frees himself from imitation that is anyhow doomed to fail.
For an example of how he exercises this new-won freedom, I turn now to "Boadicea," Tennyson's syllabically inflated name of the Icenian queen of his 1859 poem. h is certainly not a Greek alcaic, but it inveighs against stately-ism and state-ism alike, while it loosens our own notions of what "freer" verse might look like. Control, revolt, and freedom are all on the thematic agenda here: Boadicea led an uprising against Roman imperial occupation of East Anglia in the first century CE. Various glosses on the poem's meaning discuss the clash between civilization and savagery, or the frenzy and madness of its speaker---or the obverse interpretation of this, her "passionate patriotism" (Ricks, 2:613n). Harder to discern is whether civilization or savagery prevails in the poem, or whether Boadicea's frenzy ever amounts to heroics. While postfactual prophecy, especially issuing from Druidic groves under Roman assault, is a recurring motif in Tennyson, in no other poem of this kind is his allegiance--his "passionate patriotism"--so difficult to divine.
Especially through the form, this difficulty compounds. The poem is written in the galliambics of Catullus, Roman poet of the first-century BCE, but our British poet of the nineteenth is careful to specify that his lines, which are unrhymed trochaic octameter more or less, are only a "far-off echo" of Catullus. Rather, it is the meter's immediacy that is a selling point for Tennyson. With 86 consecutive doozeys like "Bloodily, bloodily fall the battle-axe, unexhausted, inexorable" (l.56), a reader cannot help running out of breath repeatedly. These exhausting lines seem to be pushing for cardiopuhnonary as well as perspectival collapse. The climax of the poem comes as the personified Roman colony feels "the heart within her fall and flutter tremulously" as "her pulses at the clamouring of her enemy faint away" (ll. 81-82). But that "her" is, frankly, confusing in all but a meticulous reading, which is something the rhythm discourages. Surely, one would think, the phrase "her enemy," in a poet a entitled "Boadicea" and begun from Boadicea's point of view, refers to Rome; but in fact, "her enemy" refers to Boadicea herself.
The collapsed point of view is the point, and Tennyson enacts it variously throughout the poem, which is itself a report of a prophecy (11. 7-43, 47-69), in which is nested a report of a rival prophecy (11.38-44). The prophecies are undifferentiated in tone, imagery, and meter, and one must be careful to parse through the layered quotation marks, in order to assess whether it is Boadicea's pep talk to her own troops, or her report to her troops of the Roman prophetess's speech. "Shall we teach ... a Roman lesson?" Boadicea asks. Yes, alas; the poem codas out with an en passant reference to "Roman slaughter" (that's slaughter of Romans, not to be confused with slaughter by Romans earlier in the poem). By this point, the Romans and the proto-Brits are implicated mutually and thoroughly in the bloodlust. "Out of evil evil flourishes, out of tyranny tyranny buds" (l.83).
How far into the future this evil flourishes, as well as where it does so, is at question. We know from fragments that Tennyson once "intended a poem in this [particular Catullan] metre on contemporary politics" and that he twice changed the poem's locale (Ricks, 2:613-614n). The poem's refrain (as far-fetching as it is far-fetched) is, "Hear Icenian, Catieuchlanian, hear Coritanian, Trinobant!" If, from the pressure of so many place-names, we hear the homophone "here" emerge from "hear ... hear," we have to wonder why Tennyson so riddles us the "where?" and the "when?". Toward an answer, Ricks quotes the unpublished fragment:
Half a home of clashing systems, half of refluent barbarism, While the peoples foamed together, multitudinous anarchy.
He then notes that Tennyson "would have seen Boadicea in its final form as apt to the 'refluent barbarism' around him" (2:614n). By that phrase "apt to," Ricks probably intends that the poem's meter, meted out as it is by a civilized source, helps to mark it conspicuously as a statement against "barbarism" and "anarchy." Yet "apt to" is indefinite; it almost seems to mean apt for barbarism. Such an interpretation might not be so far from Tennyson's purpose, given the meter's outlandishness.
Tennyson, who would soon go on record about "barbarous hexameters," surely intended something barbarous by these octameters, (33) which in their ebullient sprawl are not unlike the lines of that transatlantic yawper, Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass, after all, had been making the rounds in England via pirated imprints ever since its 1855 publication in America, and it is reported that Tennyson was reading from Leave two poets in revealing terms: "Ali Tennyson's exquisite care over his lines produces no other impression than that which Whitman's carelessness arrives at; viz., nonchalance with regard to forms." (35) Though the reviewer is comparing Leaves of Grass to Maud, the terms could apply equally well to "Boadicea," in that Tennyson himself, as we shall shortly see, sensed about the later poem that "all the marks of the labor of its production" (to quote Wesling again) were being effaced.
Any reading of "Boadicea" is tied intimately to how the poem is read aloud--that is, to its readerly "impression"--and this is a matter about which Tennyson made himself tortuously explicit. Although the lines can quite effectively be scanned as trochaic octameter with some dactylic substitutions, Tennyson insisted on a scansion that, I think, would out-spring Hopkins:
Yell'd and shriek'd between her daughters o'er a wild confederacy is accented as I mark the accents (Works, 1:764n).
"Tricks with orthography," indeed! One wishes Tennyson would have demonstrated how he heard these six (36) beats in the octameter lines that do not so easily accommodate a demotion of two beats:
Hear it, Gods! the Gods have heard it, O Icenian, O Coritanian! (l.21) Chop the breasts from off the mother, dash the brains of the little one out. (l. 68)
Demoting the interjections of line 21 (especially in a poem with so much "yelling" and "shrieking") or the prepositions of line 68 cannot lightly be done. Nonetheless, with Tennyson's directive in mind, the tension of a six- vs. eight-beat metric provides for some vigorous reading. And if that were not enough, the ghost of a simpler meter lurks behind some of the lines:
Bark an answer, Britain's raven! bark and blacken innumerable. (l. 13)
Swallow that "innumerable," and Britain's raven, it turns out, is barking a standard, four-beat, Anglo-Saxon alliterative strong-stress line--no doubt one of the "Phantom sound[s]" (l. 25) Tennyson intends us to hear.
Tennyson's strange poem contains metrical multitudes, which again begs the question of how his "exquisite care" could ever be conflated with Whitman's "nonchalance with regard to forms." And yet, the more he critically mediated "Boadicea," the more he contradicted himself. After composing what is clearly an accentual-syllabic poem; after hinting that it quantitatively approximates a classical meter; and after marking it accentually, Tennyson said: "Let it be read straight like prose and it will come all right" (Works, 1:764n). Then, finally, "'Boadicea'--no, I cannot publish her yet--perhaps never, for who can read her except myself?" (37) Very well. No system is adequate for realizing "Boadicea" in sound--other than the poet's own respiratory system. Tennyson's wavering about this line establishes how profoundly im-mediate he considered its meter. Especially between the second and third comments, he runs the gamut, going from an idiomatic reading (whereby his poem exhibits a perfectly shareable, colloquial, prosy rhythm), to an idiolectical reading utterly singular in its rhythms (a song of himself, of sorts).
Along this tumultuous line of thought about his tumultuous line, Tennyson demotes all three of the supervening metrical systems, at one point even flirting with a musical notation. (38) May we call this "a prosody of avoidance of meter"? If so, then we have arrived at one definition of free verse, as given in The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. (39) Moreover, there might be additional parallels to be made here with the critical shenanigans of the established free versifiers, namely their "tendency ... to dissolve genre and technique into human faculties, bodily processes, and events in the natural world" (Wesling, The New Poetries, p. 72) or their claims to wholesale novelty made atop fairly predictable and in-no-way-new assertions about organicism, breath, music, language, prophecy, authenticity, and so forth. (40) Though it is evident that Tennyson stared into prosodic black holes such as these, he would never have been naive enough to commit such prosodic essentialism. Tennyson's freedom did not come of avoiding form, but of seeing opportunity in its inevitability, and through staging collisions of overdetermined formal moments--or "clashing systems" as he calls them in that unpublished galliambic fragment.
It is just this kind of collateral prosody that allows "Boadicea" to be read to its fullest, as it is a poem about the re-invasion and re-occupation of territory. Armies, ideas, and ideologies compete for and in the same space--geopolitically as well as prosodically. The dueling banshees go at it through an over-conspicuous meter, but the ironic result is that they are morally indistinguishable; Tennyson's masterful metrical gag, as so much stressing leads to so much unstressing, is that this is a Pyrrhic victory. As modern Britain becomes the avatar of ancient Rome, Rome's civilization as well as its barbarism are equally refluent. Nor is it long, Tennyson is saying, until the marks of civilization--imperialism, meter--actually become the marks of barbarism--a kind of elaboration into decadence. (41)
"[A]ny verse is called 'free'," said Eliot, "by people whose ears are not accustomed to it" (Eliot, "Ezra Pound," p. 150). Tennyson knew that "Boadicea" would be falling on unaccustomed ears. Robert Browning, upon reading the poem, congratulated Tennyson on this aspect: "'Boadicea,' the new metre, is admirable ... so have you made our language undergo you" (Memoir, p. 429). While this did not detract from his poetic achievement ("He gloried in his new English metre" ), it presupposed--or produced--a readerly perceptual innocence, which Tennyson knew would be disastrous for a poem whose interpretation depends on its prosodic overburdens.
Though he gloried in its new meter, there is a moment of poetic crisis in "Boadicea" where Tennyson, like Arnold, faces off with the demon-spirit of prose. As chaos spreads into the future, Tennyson outpaces it by expanding the line for as long as it takes. But one wonders how long this poetic gambit would work. As that line approaches the right-hand margin of the page, does it not resemble prose? (42) Does that breathlessness ever give way to exhaustion? Given eight more years of a writing life, would a turn of century have forced Tennyson to turn his verse?
Charles Hartman begins his prosodical study of Free Verse with the image of Tennyson, fueled by Victorian progress, swelling the poetic line to the sky. (43) But progress, Tennyson sensed, was not necessarily linear. In the 1892 poem "Kapiolani," the Hawaiian queen stands at the edge of a volcano. If she casts the berries into the lava, then she casts off the oppressive pagan religion of her people:
III A people believing that Peele the Goddess would wallow in fiery riot and revel On Kilauea, Dance in a fountain of flame with her devils, or shake with her thunders and shatter her island, Rolling her anger Through blasted valley and flaring forest in blood-red cataracts down to the sea! IV Long as the lava-light Glares from the lava-lake Dazing the starlight, Long as the silvery vapour in daylight Over the mountain Floats, will the glory of Kapiolani be mingled with either on Hawai-ee. (ll. 8-18)
Of course, Kapiolani is exchanging one religious system for another: Christianity will supplant the Peelean priesthood. "Kapiolani" is a Semele Sixty Years After of sorts, in that Tennyson is still concerned with how divine power transforms itself into human affairs. By now, however, he seems to have figured out that the divine event shall remain eternally far off, and that divine power does not transform into, but rather transforms within, human affairs. Unlike Semele, Kapiolani does not directly experience "the blast of Godhead" (despite the island's omnipresent, menacing vulcanism), but rather must deal with the mediating forms of each religion: pagan idols, priests, berries; Christian light. Mediating forms, whether clashing systems or "mingling" lights, are not all bad in the poem. Mortals have some say in (and through) the matter, for better or for worse:
When from the terrors of Nature a people have fashioned and worship a Spirit of Evil, Blest be the Voice of the Teacher who calls to them 'Set yourselves free!' (ll. 1-3)
Kapiolani thus demonstrates her mortal determination despite immortal over-determination. That "Set yourselves free!" is meant both genuinely and ironically.
Which brings us to some final words about the poem's form. The longer lines, often in perfect dactylic octameter, go for eight beats. They are consciously prodigious demonstrations by a conscientious Tennyson of what the great accentual-syllabic tradition in English is capable of--of how it can indeed evolve to contain "riot and revel" (as in line 8). This was not predetermined, however; Tennyson, before building the poem up, seemed to enjoy some freedom of detail. "Kapiolani" emerges from the loose papers of the Harvard manuscripts in the following lines:
Christ from the sunrise Dawn'd on His island. Far from the light of Him Vanish'd shadowlike Gods & Goddesses, Leaving the terrible Pele alone, till Kapiolani Braving her priesthood Clomb the mountain, Dipt to the crater, Called on the Maker of Earth & of Heaven, and Into the flame-lake Flung the berries And crush'd the Demon Of Hawa-ee-ee. (44)
This is the proto-conclusion, and most of the lines from the finished poem can find their origin in two--and three-beat lines such as these. While the lines seem to organize themselves around dactyl-trochee combinations that will eventually amass into the behemoth octameter of the finished poem, this is not the foremost impulse in these lines. Several lines actually resist the falling rhythm with a spondaic resolution. Spondees (like "flame-lake") are immediately enjambed, of course, but the syllable demotion is harder to intuit when the lines are individuated like this. That the line beginnings are capitalized reinforces their integrity.
We might feel disappointed that Tennyson did not linger awhile longer over the indirection he decides to take in these lines. Yet, we can also find it remarkable that in the finished poem Tennyson preserves some of that rhythmical indirection, mingling its lightness with that magmatic octameter. Kapiolani, it turns out, does not jump, but remains standing at the edge of the crater. Her stillness belies a dynamic convergence of formal systems here: lady poem, island poem, ode to a queen; irregularly lineated, unrhymed, and in a meter richly varied. "Kapiolani" is one of the last poems Tennyson ever wrote, and it is as close to the poetic future, and as close to finished free verse, as he gets.
Tennyson with the Net Down
As I conclude these jeux de Tennys, I would like to return ever so briefly to the two literary quips that inform the title of this essay. Acting as the daunting sentinel of Modernism, James Joyce (via Stephen Dedalus) dismissively snubbed "Lawn Tennyson," letting no bourgeois pastimes from gentleman poets pass into the literary future. After that future elapsed, Robert Frost disdained the non-metered verse that was rampant in America by the mid-twentieth century, saying he would "just as soon play tennis with the net down" as write free verse. (45) If there is an implied disagreement between Joyce and Frost, all it tells us is that ideas about 'the literary' work most memorably--if not best--by exclusion. My undertaking in this essay to argue for Alfred Tennyson's inclusion in the very future that often defined itself against him is admittedly star-crossed. But it is far from unprecedented. More than a century ago, in 1902, Sir Alfred Lyall made this remark about the irregularity in Maud: "We have here, in fact, something resembling what is called in France the Vers Libre." Perhaps to preempt the critical spleen that such a comment would bring down upon him, Lyall quickly downshifts from the more charged, programmatic designation to a more neutral, technical one, locating the origins of Tennyson's "experiment" in "the undulating flexibility of the old English free verse." (46) if Lyall, a Victorian through-and-through, could see beyond Maud's rhyming surfaces and through to her structuring principles, in order to recognize there something very old and very new, then there should be little to prevent us from seeing beyond Tennyson's lyrical textures and into his lyrical structures.
Playing tennis with the net down, when interpreted in a backhanded way Frost probably did not intend, suggests that playing the free verse game requires more skill, rather than less. That invisibility was obscuring the nets of classical and traditional meters is Frost's premise as well as Tennyson's, but Tennyson was perhaps the better sport about it. Despite a poetic deep time that could so densely superinduce upon the individual poem, Tennyson had a way of torquing overdetermined, over-conspicuous forms into unrecognizable--that is to say new--poems. This complex process has yet to be fully illuminated, but its congruence (or perhaps refluence) with theories of avantgardist poetic process is undeniable. Donald Wesling, who has written variously and extensively about poetic form's long march along the edge of the new, has issued the critical charge to demonstrate that free verse is "a natural child of prosodic pluralism." (47) The discoveries of free verse theorists in the last few decades converge on the notion that seeming transparencies of form (itself a critical improvement upon mere transparencies of form) spur the reader of poetry on to a more urgent investigation of form and form's relation to meaning.
I have tried to demonstrate how Tennyson might have been serving up these very ideas. Understandably and unfortunately, there is a fine line between the seeming transparencies of form, on the one hand, and poetic invisibility and extinction, on the other. "Semele," "Boadicea," and "Kapiolani" are all invisible poems in their own right--the marginalia of a poetic career that boldly strode in so many other directions. Prototypes, the poems fossilized before they could attain to types, and it has been the nature of literary history, until recently at least, to be so careless of the single life.
(1) H.T. Kirby-Smith, The Origins of Free Verse (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1996), p. 119.
(2) T.S. Eliot, "Reflections on 'Vers Libre,'" in To Criticize the Critic; and Other Writings, 3rd ed. (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1970), p. 184.
(3) The nature of this relation is not made clear. It seems to be genetic, but in the long view of English poetry, irregular verse serves as a groundbreaking yet merely emblematic forerunner to free verse, more simia quam similis ... than anything. Once zoomed in on the Victorian period, however, we do begin to find the missing links: individual poets producing both kinds of poetry.
(4) Alicia Ostriker, "The Three Modes in Tennyson's Prosody," PMLA 82, no. 2 (May 1967): 273.
(5) J. E A. Pyre, The Formation of Tennyson's Style: A Study, Primarily, of the Versification of the Early Poems, Univ. of Wisconsin Studies 12 (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1921): 23-34. In his preface, Pyre admits "the solemn irony of bringing forward, at this late day, an academic discussion of Tennyson's restrained and thorough-paced verse" in light of the recent "disturbance which the votaries of free verse have raised in the temple of poetic art" (p. 5).
(6) Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "11 April, 1833," in The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Kathleen Cobum, vol. 14, Table Talk I, ed. Carl Woodring (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1990), pp. 367-368.
(7) Alfred Tennyson to George Grove, December 2, 1872, in The Letters of Alfred Lord Tennyson, ed. Cecil Y. Lang and Edgar E Shannon, Jr., 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 3:44.
(8) Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Lecture XIII: On Poesy or Art," in The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Henry Nelson Coleridge, vol. 1 (1836; New York: AMS Press, 1967), p. 221.
(9) Donald Wesling, "The Prosodies of Free Verse," in Twentieth-Century Literature in Retrospect, ed. Reuben A. Brower (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1971), p. 156.
(10) Christopher Ricks, ed., The Poems of Tennyson, 3 vols., 2nd ed. (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1987), 1:630n; Cornelia Pearsall, Tennyson's Rapture: Transformation in the Victorian Dramatic Monologue (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2008), pp. 333,337.
(11) C.D. Blanton, "Arnold's Arrhythmia," SEL 48, no. 4 (2008): 763.
(12) Matthew Amold, Poetry and Criticism of Matthew Arnold, ed. A. Dwight Culler (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961), pp. 203, 214.
(13) The Poems of Tennyson, ed. Christopher Ricks, 3 vols., 2nd ed. (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1987). All quotations of Tennyson's poetry are from this edition, unless otherwise specified.
(14) Compare Tennyson's "Now with measured cymbal'clash / ... Now on music-rolling golden orbs, / ... Now with troops of clamorous revelers" ("Semele," ll. 16-23) to Collins' "Now sublimest triumph swelling, / Now on love and mercy dwelling" ("Ode on the Poetical Character," 11. 35-36), and to Gray's "Now pursuing, now retreating,/Now in circling troops they meet" ("The Progress of Poesy," ll. 32-33) (both quoted in Eighteenth-Century Poetry: An Annotated Anthology, ed. David Fairer and Christine Gerrard [Oxford: Blackwell, 1999], pp. 346, 335).
(15) Thomas Carlyle to Ralph Waldo Emerson, August 5, 1844, in The Correspondence of Emerson and Carlyle, ed. Joseph Slater (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1964), p. 363.
(16) Daniel Albright, Tennyson: The Muses' Tug-of-War (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1986), pp. 110-111.
(17) Ezra Pound, "The Tradition," Poetry 3, no. 4 (January 1914): 140.
(18) The Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson, ed. Hallam Tennyson, 6 vols., Eversley ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1908), 689-690n. As is customary in many of Tennyson's critical apologetics, there is a joke in this quote about the paradox of "a single line" that nonetheless has a "parallel." I will return to the idea of 'collateral prosody' later in the essay.
(19) R. C. Jebb, "Alfred, Lord Tennyson," in The English Poets; Selections with Critical Introductions by Various Writers, ed. Thomas Humphry Ward, 4 vols. (New York, 1899), 4:766.
(20) T.S. Eliot, "Ezra Pound: His Metric and Poetry," in To Criticize the Critic; and Other Writings, 3rd ed. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970), pp. 165, 168.
(21) Hallam Tennyson, Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir by His Son, re-issue of New Edition in one vol (London: Macmillan, 1905), pp. 427-428 (hereafter cited as Memoir).
(22) Donald Wesling, The New Poetries: Poetic Form Since Coleridge and Wordsworth (Lewisburg: Bucknell Univ. Press, 1985), p. 72.
(23) Maud is not informed by Greek chorus, but as a "monodrama"--a drama where "different phases of passion in one person take the place of different characters" (Memoir, p. 334)--its individuated lyrics eventually accrete into a kind of choric detachment from those passions.
(24) Sharing his impressions of Samson Agonistes with an aunt in his earliest "literary epistle," Tennyson, at the age of 12, says, "To an English reader the metre of the Chorus may seem unusual, but the difficulty will vanish, when I inform him that it is taken from the Greek" (Memoir, pp. 6-7). As with the remark about iambic pentameter, Tennyson is not interested only in metrical "difficulty" but also in its capacity to "vanish"--though this basis for prosodic optimism in the young Tennyson becomes, in the older, cause for aggravation.
(25) Chris Beyers contends that "[d]econtextualizing these lines often makes them prosodically identical to twentieth-century free verse" (A History of Free Verse [Fayetteville: Univ. of Arkansas Press, 2001], p. 160.) Kirby-Smith instigates a similar argument (pp. 73-80).
(26) I refer here to so-called "hard" enjambment, which breaks up rather than reinforces the grammatical phrase. For example, from "Semele": "starlight shudders round / Ambrosial temples" breaks up the prepositional phrase, while "wavy / Foldings" disrupts the adjective-noun coupling. I should further qualify this statement by saying that Tennyson's enjambments become rarer outside of blank-verse and fixed-line-length contexts, which in a way obviate the need to locate a rationale for the line break.
(27) Ezra Pound, "Arnold Dolmetsch," in Pavannes and Divisions (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1918), p. 258.
(28) See Chapter 4 of Victorian and Modern Poetics, especially pp. 116-117.
(29) T.S. Eliot, "In Memoriam," in Selected Prose ofT. S. Eliot, ed. Frank Kermode (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1975), pp. 242-243.
(30) Eliot, "Reflections on 'Vers Libre,'" pp. 183, 188; William Carlos Williams, "The Poem as a Field of Action," in Selected Essays of William Carlos Williams (New York: Random House, 1954), p. 283.
(31) Wesling, "The Prosodies of Free Verse," p. 173.
(32) Ben Glaser writes about how A. Mary E Robinson exploits "the power of irregularity" as it originates in classical meters and as it is filtered through Tennyson ("Polymetrical Dissonance: Tennyson, A. Mary E Robinson, and Classical Meter," VP 49, no. 2 ). In his reading of "Hendecasyllabics," Glaser argues that "the poem creates its desired effect through a disruption of strict iambics," and that Tennyson's "powerful distortion" might have led on to "new generic modes," were it not for his "cerebral" rather than "felt" involvement with the meter, which dooms his experiment to a "non-repeatability" (pp. 204-205). Robinson, Glaser contends, is more successful in developing new metrical modes by imposing the more accessible feeling of "native" English meters onto the "alien" Greek ones: a "surprising infusion of the native, scannable English pattern [as in the common ballad] where there was only an abstract Greek pattern" (p. 208). On precisely this aspect of "polymetrical dissonance," I propose that Tennyson's project is more akin to Robinson's than is conceded by Glaser, and in the next section I explore how "collateral prosody" (as I call it) extends to Tennyson's other experimental poems.
(33) In this respect, the "barbarous lineaments" of line 74 seem especially self-reflexive.
(34) Charles Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson (New York: Macmillan, 1949), p. 307.
(35) "Studies Among the Leaves," The Crayon 3, no. 1 (January 1, 1856): 31, doi: 10.2307/25527371
(36) Ricks' headnote to the poem omits the stress over "wild." It appears in Tennyson's annotations of the Eversley edition.
(37) The Letters of Alfred Lord Tennyson, ed. Cecil Y. Lang and Edgar E Shannon, Jr., 3 vols. (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 1987), 2:283.
(38) According to Hallam Tennyson, "[he] wanted some one to annotate it musically so that people could understand the rhythm" (Memoir, p. 386).
(39) Donald Wesling and Eniko Bollobas, "Free Verse," in The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. Alex Preminger and T.V.E Brogan, 3rd ed. (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1993), p. 425.
(40) Beyers, in A History of Free Verse, explores these "enabling myths" in depth, particularly along their historical dimension (see Introduction).
(41) Similarly, Tennyson's 1830 poem "Ilion, Ilion" is about a nation both topless and toppling. Its metrical elaborations, unrhymed, longish lines that anticipate "Boadicea," are swelling cadences that are counterpointed by a thematic ebbing (de-cadencing?), which together demonstrate the impossibility of the "melody born" city.
(42) "Verse should be beau comme la prose," said Tennyson, ostensibly in a discussion about "the 'grand style' of poetic diction" (Memoir, p. 657).
(43) Charles O. Hartman, Free Verse: An Essay on Prosody (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1980), p. 3.
(44) The Tennyson Archive, ed. Christopher Ricks and Aidan Day (New York: Garland, 1987), 9:27 [bMS Eng 952.1 (121) 3].
(45) "Match Point," Newsweek (January 30, 1956): 56.
(46) Sir Alfred Lyall, Tennyson (London: Macmillan & Co., 1902), pp. 93-94.
(47) Donald Wesling and Eniko Bollobas, "Verse Form: Recent Studies," Modern Philology 81, no. 1 (August 1, 1983): 54.
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|Title Annotation:||Alfred Tennyson|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2013|
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