Studies in Literature and Culture
Alfred Tennyson’s Visions of the Otherworlds and the Vocation of the Poet
← 20 | 21 →Ewa Młynarczyk
The choice between a life of artistic detachment and one of social involvement seems to have posed an important dilemma for the young Alfred Tennyson. While later on he was strongly critical of the concept of art for art’s sake of the 1860s,1 his own early poetry betrays a partiality for the idea of the poet as a lonely visionary dwelling in his world apart from society. It seems that Tennyson’s stance on this question underwent a considerable revision between the years 1832 and 1842. The aim of this paper is to trace the way in which this change has been reflected in the presentations of the otherworldly spaces in “The Hesperides” (1832) and “The Lotos-Eaters” (1832, 1842), in which the mythical garden of the Hesperides and the island of the lotos-eaters may be interpreted as standing for the inner world of imagination as opposed to the outer world of action.
Both “The Hesperides” and “The Lotos-Eaters” may be counted among the earliest examples of Tennyson’s original reworkings of mythological themes. Other similarities between the two poems may be found in their structure and imagery. Both poems open with a brief narrative frame, which is followed by the lyrical Choric Song. Both elaborate on the familiar Tennysonian motif of a fertile valley sheltered by the mountains with its exotic settings, luxuriant vegetation, and the pervading sense of idleness suggestive of oppressive heat. Moreover, in both cases, the questers from the outside world are lured with the sacred...
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