August 6: A compleat Victorian world-view

I know, steampunk's more Edwardian, like in this piece, but what the hell.

One of the glories of not being an English major is avoiding Tennyson. The Victorian superfruitiness of "Locksley Hall" would wipe a permanent smirk on the face of any collegian who has to read this:
And I said, “My cousin Amy, speak, and speak the truth to me,
Trust me, cousin, all the current of my being sets to thee.”

On her pallid cheek and forehead came a colour and a light,
As I have seen the rosy red flushing in the northern night.

And she turn’d—her bosom shaken with a sudden storm of sighs—
All the spirit deeply dawning in the dark of hazel eyes—

Saying, “I have hid my feelings, fearing they should do me wrong;”
Saying, “Dost thou love me, cousin?” weeping, “I have loved thee long.”
Cousins in love? Check. Heaving bosoms? Check? Pallid cheeks? Check. "Dost"? "Thou"? Check and double-check. It will be no surprise when I reveal that this love goes horribly astray, because of meddling parents, causing our choleric narrator to spew a pint of bitter.
Falser than all fancy fathoms, falser than all songs have sung,
Puppet to a father’s threat, and servile to a shrewish tongue!

Is it well to wish thee happy? having known me—to decline
On a range of lower feelings and a narrower heart than mine!

Yet it shall be: thou shalt lower to his level day by day,
What is fine within thee growing coarse to sympathize with clay.

As the husband is, the wife is: thou art mated with a clown,
And the grossness of his nature will have weight to drag thee down.

He will hold thee, when his passion shall have spent its novel force,
Something better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse.
Oh, Amy, thou hast been served! Note also that even Victorians thought that Victorian parents were out of control.

In fact this poem couldn't be more Victorian, even though it was apparently written during the reign of her predecessor (William IV, if you're scoring at home). We got your faith in, and suspicion of, the Future:
Men, my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new:
That which they have done but earnest of the things that they shall do:

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;

Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;

Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;
Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’d
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.

There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.
Except for women:
Weakness to be wroth with weakness! woman’s pleasure, woman’s pain—
Nature made them blinder motions bounded in a shallower brain:

Woman is the lesser man, and all thy passions, match’d with mine,
Are as moonlight unto sunlight, and as water unto wine—
And, of course, the savages, from whom we get our tea:
Fool, again the dream, the fancy! but I know my words are wild,
But I count the gray barbarian lower than the Christian child.

I, to herd with narrow foreheads, vacant of our glorious gains,
Like a beast with lower pleasures, like a beast with lower pains!
In fairness we probably shouldn't blame Tennyson for the views of his characters, unless there's other evidence, which I, as a non English major, wouldn't know. And here I've practically quoted the whole poem, because it's very catchy, which I think I wouldn't have appreciated in college. Tennyson is very good at all the poetical skills no one gives a shit about anymore (though I don't know where he's getting "gray" from as a description of barbarian).

Now, to our steam-powered Zeppelins!

1 comment:

Lisa Simeone said...

Hey, Tennyson's not so bad. At least he's catchy (as you point out). I once copied him for a 30-second promo that we ran before the second half of Weekend All Things Considered. This was before the (ugh) inauguration of Our Beloved Leader in 2001. Don't know how many people caught the reference, but I was rather proud of it:

(MUSIC: Yellow Rose of TX)
Half a league, half a league, half a league onward, all in the valley of the Potomac, will ride the six thousand. But what will they bring? The Texans are coming to Washington, and a Light Brigade they're not. Coming up, how the Lone Star State and the nation's capital can get along. Stay tuned.