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Stateliest Measures

Stateliest Measures: Tennyson and the Literature of Greece and Rome

A.A. Markley
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 270
  • Book Info
    Stateliest Measures
    Book Description:

    The great nineteenth-century English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson received an unusually thorough education in the classical languages, and he remained an active classical scholar throughout his lifetime. His intimate knowledge of both Greek and Latin literature left an indelible stamp on his poetry, both in terms of the sound and rhythm of his verses and in the themes that inspired him.Stateliest Measures, the first full-length study of Tennyson's thematic and metrical uses of classical material, examines the profoundly important role that his classical background played as he fashioned himself into a poet in the 1820s and 30s, and as he defined himself as poet laureate as of 1850.

    A.A. Markley examines Tennyson's objectives in developing the classical dramatic monologue, which, together withIn Memoriamand his experiments with classical meters, indicate the degree to which he patterned himself after the Roman poet Virgil in attempting to provide modern Britain with a literature worthy of a new and rapidly expanding world empire.Stateliest Measuresdemonstrates that Tennyson's engagement with the long-running and complex nineteenth-century debates concerning Hellenism, Imperialism, and modern British culture was much more profound than his critics have recognized.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8018-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction: The English Virgil
    (pp. 3-12)

    In 1842 Alfred Tennyson published the poem ‘Morte D’Arthur,’ the first step in a project that would grow to become hisIdylls of the King. He nestled this poem within the frame of ‘The Epic,’ a work that raises an important question about the value of retelling ancient stories: if nature ‘brings not back the Mastodon,’ then ‘why should any man / Remodel models?’ (lines 36–8). By framing his recast Arthurian tale within a contemporary debate on the value of writing such a work, Tennyson subtly suggests to his reader how a remodelled model can indeed take on new...

  5. Chapter 1 Tennyson’s Classicism in Context: The Victorians and the Ancient World
    (pp. 13-40)

    In order to understand fully Tennyson’s relationship to classical literature, it is important to consider the complex ways in which the Victorians viewed the ancient world. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in England witnessed a dramatically renewed fascination with the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world. Debates concerning the relevance of classical scholarship and the efficacy of applying interpretations of ancient Greek and Roman culture to their own era became a national pastime. As Prince Albert said in a speech given in Manchester in 1857, ‘We must compare the works of other ages with those of our own age and...

  6. Chapter 2 The Building Blocks of Song: Constructing the Classical Dramatic Monologue
    (pp. 41-69)

    Tennyson’s unusually strong familiarity with Greek and Latin poetry naturally led to attempts to approximate the sound and the rhythm of ancient verse in his own compositions. From the beginning, this task was clearly bound up with his sense of duty as a poet. Dwight Culler has discussed the political implications of such early poems as ‘The Poet’ (1830) and ‘The Palace of Art’ (1832), in which Tennyson defined for himself very early a role of ‘a man speaking to men.’¹ Culler points out the relationship of Tennyson’s early conception of ‘civic poetry’ to the work of Alcaeus and Horace,...

  7. Chapter 3 Et in Arcadia: Transcending the Classical Elegy in In Memoriam
    (pp. 70-86)

    During the 1830s and 1840s Tennyson steadily worked on his short ‘Elegies’ that were later to be joined and published asIn Memoriamin 1850. As was the case with many of the works that he composed during these years, classical literature remained an integral source of inspiration behind this great elegiac achievement.¹ Perhaps more than any other single work in Tennyson’s oeuvre,In Memoriamdemonstrates the poet’s manner of drawing heavily on earlier literary traditions while at the same time doing something entirely new; that is, establishing the conventions and limits of elegy as it was used by both...

  8. Chapter 4 Classical Prosody and the ‘Ocean Roll of Rhythm’
    (pp. 87-120)

    Considering the nature and extent of Tennyson’s classical background, it is no surprise that his absorption of Greek and Latin verse left an indelible impression on the sound of his own poetry. As he began to experiment with composing his own verses as a child, he also began translating favourite classical passages and works into English, as many of his contemporaries and predecessors had done. In these early translations Tennyson undertook his first attempts to approximate the sound and the rhythm of the original verse in English verses, and to compose poems that were worthy of comparison to the metrical...

  9. Chapter 5 The Trilogy on Death: ‘Ulysses,’ ‘Tithonus,’ and ‘Tiresias’
    (pp. 121-139)

    Among the first products of the period immediately following the news of Arthur Henry Hallam’s death in 1833 were Tennyson’s first drafts of a trilogy of classical monologues dealing with different attitudes towards death: ‘Ulysses,’ ‘Tithon,’ and ‘Tiresias.’¹ These three monologues have a curious publication history: ‘Ulysses’ was published in the 1842Poems, but ‘Tithon’ was not published until it appeared in its revised form as ‘Tithonus’ in theCornhillin 1860, and then inEnoch Arden and Other Poemsin 1864. Tennyson did not return to ‘Tiresias’ until even later; the poem was not completed and published until 1885,...

  10. Chapter 6 Old Tales for a New Day: Lucretius, Demeter, and Œnone’s Return
    (pp. 140-164)

    Even in the final decades of his life Tennyson continued to find rich inspiration for his work in the classical tradition. In ‘Lucretius,’ ‘Demeter and Persephone,’ and ‘The Death of Œnone,’ he continued to practise the technique he had mastered in refashioning classical stories by choosing original moments in which to develop the voice of a particular speaker, and in shaping that speaker’s voice with a complex fabric of allusions to appropriate classical sources. Yet in these three poems we can see fascinating ways in which Tennyson managed to move beyond this technique and his reliance on the values of...

  11. Appendix: Tables of Contents of the First Editions of Tennyson’s Works Discussed in This Study
    (pp. 165-168)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 169-196)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 197-222)
  14. Index
    (pp. 223-238)