Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Victorian Shorter Poems

Sorry for the delay in this going up -- I moved on to other things and was only updating the files a little a day. Now they're finished though!

I decided to group Browning's dramatic monologues, Tennyson's poetry (except for Idylls) and Arnold's poems in a single document to further highlight the connections and trouble the move towards modernism. (Which is one of the reasons I find this period from around 1840 to 1945 so fascinating -- a complete upheaval and struggle to find re-heaval -- and why I think making connections with the Old English works could be profitable since some of the values Anglo-Saxon verse champions are being held up as attractive phantoms.) Here's the STUDY GUIDE. As usual, I've included past exam questions -- these authors show up all the time; in fact, I've got about 3 pages of typed questions on them!

Questions, Further thoughts, Etc.
  • We had an interesting discussion on "Ulysses" today at the study group: is it a dramatic monologue? if so, what does that entail? is Ulysses an ambiguous character, or a more idealized portrait of a visionary? In my study guide, I added this & want to follow that up a little further here: "The question, though, is whether Tennyson intends Ulysses to be an ambiguous character at the poem’s opening or not; is there a lack of practicality that the poet, the visionary experiences that is not reprehensible?" This concludes a paragraph discussing the reading of Ulysses as a mirror for the poet, yet I prefer to consider both Ulysses & the poet as "visionaries". I find fascinating that this question points towards Tennyson's conception of the poet and leads further into the genesis of modernism.

    In the other Tennyson poems, we've seen the poet as a figure distinct from society, who offers haunting, but hidden melodies ("The Lady of Shalott") or who resolves the intellectual and religious crises of the day ("In Memoriam"). Yeats' poetry progresses from the poet as visionary to the poet as visionary and actor in the world's struggles. Understanding the character of Ulysses would help us place Tennyson's poet in society. I think in looking at the wider scope of things, Tennyson does direct his attention to the poet as a voice/commentator and not a director in society. How does this relate to modernism, then, as the Victorian Era (especially Arnold's "Dover Beach") begins to point towards what the later poets (Yeats, Eliot, etc) will expand upon? How does Modernism react and interact with society (we also talked a little about this in terms of "The Wasteland" and the incorporation of voices from all classes in a sympathetic but not idealized fashion)?

  • The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics notes that Browning described his dramatic monologues as "dramatic lyrics" -- merging the two genres together. What other genre-bending do we see in these Victorian poets? Tennyson's verse and form seem fairly standard, yet we are left with questions of how he uses the monodrama. How do these adaptations destablize the poetic forms of the day, re-inervate them and/or point towards Modernism's rejection of form? I'm thinking specifically of connecting the adaptation of form to the social and religious ideas that are being proffered, challenged and absorbed and wondering where we can point to markers of the later changes poets such as Pound and Eliot will inaugurate. (Pound points to Browning's dramatic monologues for inspiration for instance."Childe Roland" is likely a good way to consider this question.) This can help us compare Victorian and Modern poets not just in terms of their respective contents, but more deeply to analyze their uses and rejections of forms. In particular, while we didn't talk about "Prufrock" (how did we forget that?!) we have an anonymous monologuer (the Princeton more eloquently describes it as a "monologue spoken without a direct dramatic auditor"!) whose insecurities forefront the poem, but also prevent us from fully knowing him -- he reveals yet holds back in a way that separates from Browning's version of the dramatic monologue. Yet, this recalls the lyric voice (which the Princeton says points us to a concept of "mask-lyrics") thus where do we draw the line between these forms? Are they eventually becoming blurred intentionally as sorts of "fragments shored up"?
  • Since we're considering form, let's discuss Arnold's use of the pastoral. He adapts the form for three of the four poems we read (excepting "Dover Beach") yet the pastoral which in Shakespeare's As You Like It is an escape from the world of the court and intrigue is not a sufficient escape in Arnold. All his characters find true escape away from man -- either through death (Epedocles & Thyrsis) or absentation from accepted society (the scholar gypsy, who is false). Thus how is Arnold using the pastoral form to question this desire to escape; as he suggests death is the only escape, what hope can be offered for those who live? "Dover Beach" seems to offer the desire for such a resolution, but the lovers cannot be loved and the "ignorant armies clash" about them. In short, Arnold's poetry seems to reject all sources of comfort and inaugurate the modern angst. His use of the pastoral only highlights this as traditionally it has been a form that allows for the solace Arnold believes is a mirage.

This post is becoming quite lengthy, so I will foregoe a discussion on the sublime which also promised some interesting insights. Perhaps when we read some Romantics, we can review how the Victorians view sublimity differently and seek to undermine it.

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