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Tennyson's 'The of Shalott" Lady
IN HIS FAMOUS REVIEW of Poems, Chiefly Lyrical (1830), Arthur Henry Hallam claims that Tennyson "belongs decidedly to the class we have . . . described as Poets of Sensation,"1 he places his friend squarelywithin certain main currents of English Romantic aesthetics. Opposing Tennyson's work to Wordsworth'sdiscursive, "reflective" poetry, he argues that Tennyson's poetics are patterned on the examples of the most perfect previous "Poets of Sensation": Shelley and Keats. And he fleshes out his argument by defining the poet of sensation's characteristic notions of beauty, imagination, and audience. Such a poet's "predominant motive," he writes, is not "the pleasure [one] has in knowing a thing to be true," but rather "the desire of beauty" (pp. 184-185, 184). Discussing Shelley and Keats, he describes the kind of imagination needed to sustain the predominance of that desire, claiming that "they lived in a world of images; for the most important and extensive portion of their life consisted in those emotions which are immediately conversant with sensation" (p. 186). Finally, he notes that the poet of sensation is likely to be unpopular, because "to understand his expressions and sympathize with his state . . . requires exertion," and "this requisite exertion is not willingly made by the large majorityof readers" (p. 188). This aesthetic position, which Hallam sees as fundamental to Tennyson's early work, is rooted in what later critics have defined as the Romantic ideal of the autonomy of the work of art. Hallam's rejection of Wordsworthian "poetry of reflection" and his preference for pleasure in beauty
^'On Some of the Characteristics of Modern Poetry, and on the Lyrical Poems of Alfred Tennyson," in The Writingsof ArthurHallam, ed. T. H. Vail Motter (New York, 1943), p. 191.
POETRY 14 / VICTORIAN
over pleasure in the truth of referential discourse, for example, are closely allied to the notion, defined by M. H. Abrams, "that a poem is an object-initself, a self-contained universe of discourse, of which we cannot demand that it be true to nature, but only, that it be true to itself."2 His claim for an immediate union of emotion and sensation in the image, with its implication that the poet's emotions are immediately evoked by objects of sensation, leads directly to Paul de Man's claim that the language of Romantic poetry seeks to recapturesuch immediacyby reconstitutingthe object:"[Romantic] poetic language seems to originate in the desire to draw closer and closer to the ontological status of the object, and its growth and development are determined by this inclination."3 And his observation that the "exertion" required to understand the poet of sensation's "expressions" is "not willingly made by the large majorityof readers"assumes the same alienation of art from common life that Frank Kermode defines when he describes the Romantic...