Classics Club #97: ‘Collected Poems’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson *****

Words cannot describe how much I absolutely adore the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson.  Ever since first coming across him in my teens, I have been struck by the beautiful images which he sculpts, the history and mythology which he weaves in, and the sheer power of the language choices which he makes.  Reading his Collected Poems for my Classics Club challenge this summer was the third time in which I have settled down to do so.  Whilst I sadly did not make it through the entire volume this time around due to time constraints, I loved the process, and re-reading his poems felt as though I was in the company of the oldest and most comfortable of friends.

Rather than wax lyrical about his poems too much, I thought I would just share a few of my favourite fragments with you.

From In Memoriam A.H.H.:
“Dark house, by which once more I stand
Here in the long unlovely street,
Doors, where my heart was used to beat
So quickly, waiting for a hand,
A hand that can be clasp’d no more–
Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
And like a guilty thing I creep
At earliest morning to the door.
He is not here; but far away
The noise of life begins again,
And ghastly thro’ the drizzling rain
On the bald street breaks the blank day. ”

From Mariana:
“With blackest moss the flower-plots
Were thickly crusted, one and all:
The rusted nails fell from the knots
That held the pear to the gable-wall.
The broken sheds look’d sad and strange:
Unlifted was the clinking latch;
Weeded and worn the ancient thatch
Upon the lonely moated grange.
She only said, “My life is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!””

And finally, from my absolute favourite, The Lady of Shalott:

“On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
       To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
       The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,

Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
       Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
       The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow veil’d,
Slide the heavy barges trail’d
By slow horses; and unhail’d
The shallop flitteth silken-sail’d
       Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
       The Lady of Shalott?”

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‘Collected Poems’ by May Sarton ****

The beginning of the hefty tome of May Sarton’s complete poetic output includes an interesting publisher’s note, which converses upon what poetry means to us in the modern world.  The reading of poetry underwent such change during the period in which Sarton was writing, and it is fascinating to be able to see how her work changed from her beginnings in 1930, to the final poems here, which were written in 1993.

Each collection has been arranged chronologically, and Sarton’s writing from the first is beautiful.  Consider the following lines from wondrous poem ‘She Shall Be Called Woman’: “She lay quite still / and leaned / against the great curve / of the earth, / and her breast / was like a fruit / bursten of its own sweetness.”

Sarton’s use of surrounding landscapes, imagery and vocabulary is masterful throughout, as can be seen in the poem ‘Meditation in Sunlight’: “Far all is blue and strange / The sky looks down on snow / And meets the mountain range / Where time is light not shadow’.

Throughout, many different themes have been considered – architecture, love, what it means to be a woman, death and loss, the coming of the seasons, the passing of time, the grandeur of America, dancing, religion, teaching and learning, and the notion of experience. So many different poetic techniques have been used throughout too that whilst this is a wonderful volume to dip in and out of, it can also be read all at once.

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