Term Paper: Idyllic, Idolizing, Late Victorian Tears

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[. . .] " It also quite simply reflects the image of the newness of a reflection and freshness of a ship on the harbor, as does the reference, "Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns, / The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds." However, these images of the newness and freshness of the idolized love that is lost are also counterpoised with images of a last, lost, and sadder love as the fresh sail is matched with the image of a night sea, "sad as the last which reddens over one / That sinks with all we love below the verge;/So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more," and the image of the song of the dawn birds are matched with the imagined sound that "To dying ears, when unto dying eyes/The casement slowly grows a glimmering square."

The poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson noted, regarding the composition of the work, that "this song came to me on the yellowing autumn-tide at Tintern Abbey, full for me of its bygone memories... It is what I have always felt even from a boy, and what as a boy I called the 'passion of the past.'" (Poetry Page, 2004) Note again that 'idle' refers not only to false and golden idles, but also to the idylls of youth, or another word for recollections of the far past of one's youth or myth. He continued, "and it is so always with me now; it is the distance that charms me in the landscape, the picture and the past, and not the immediate today in which I move." Although, of course, poets cannot always be taken literally about their authorship, this suggests Tennyson's linking of the poem with the earlier Romantic movement inspired by Wordsworth in its pastoral quality, again suggesting a lost early love and a lost and past history that cannot be recaptured, and is remembered through a golden haze of tears, rather than with tears of truth. (Poetry Page, 2004)

The passion of the past is thus not necessarily a valid nor a perfectly remembered one, as the scholar N. Hilton has noted quoting the Victorian scholar Christopher Ricks, who writes that Tennyson at this stage of his life was haunted by the feeling that the dead are all too intimidatingly alive, in other words that there was a morbid and dangerous fixation in becoming overly fascinated with death, particularly in one who lost a young beloved, when young. (Hilton, 2004)

Hilton also stresses how "the single word idle" of receives an "exponential increase in meaning" through repetition of idols, idylls, and idleness -- idle, idol, and idyll -- each represents a different emphasis or interpretation or hearing of the poem" and "each reflects a different drive motivating the text." In other words, through repetition, idleness or foolishness also shows how the beloved becomes an idol of the mind, and an idyll, or a place of recollected youth, simultaneously, and idleness, idolatry, and the recollection of an idyll are not either good or bad, but can be all three things, morally and tangibly, simultaneously. "The identical sound" thus facilitates the plurality of themes by making use of a "charged word." (Hartman 111, cited by Hilton, 2004)

Hilton entitles his work upon Tennyson "Tears, Ay, Dull, Tears," highlighting the importance of the correctly chosen word when writing Poetry. If Tennyson had entitled his poem dull or futile tears, the idea of the idleness of tears would never have become so sharp and clear with the force of repetition throughout the poem. The Victorian cult or idol of sentimentality, first love, and the idyllic nature of Romantic visions of childhood adoration is shown in the poem as beautiful, but also as possessing a danger of idleness and fixation in the past. Tennyson is able, through the choice of a single, 'right' word that is anything, in its context, a cliche, multiple levels of meaning of mourning of a lost, first beloved whose memory ultimately must be abandoned by the poetic speaker.

Works Cited

Flanders, Judith. Inside the Victorian Home. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004.

Hilton, N. "Tears, Ay, Dull, Tears" Lexis Complexes. Chapter 6. 2004. http://www.english.uga.edu/nhilton/lexis_complexes/chap6.html

Tennyson, Alfred. "Tears, Idle Tears." From The Bedford Reader. Sixth Edition, 2000.

Tears Idle Tears." Poetry Page. 2004.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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