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  • Tennyson
  • Linda K. Hughes (bio)

The public Tennyson and his cultural politics most frequently preoccupied significant scholarship in 2004. In Stateliest Measures: Tennyson and the Literature of Greece and Rome (Univ. of Toronto Press), the year's most sustained contribution to Tennyson studies, A. A. Markley draws upon his training in the classics, formal analysis, intertexuality, Tennyson's annotated classical texts in the Tennyson Research Center, and publishing history to treat Tennyson's classical poems as a unified body of work that, like Virgil's own, deliberately invited comparison with classical precursors and sought to serve the nation by inspiring patriotism and fostering thoughtful morality among its citizens. Tennyson, according to Markley, could neither conceive nor share his classically [End Page 389] inspired poetry without engaging Victorian debates over whether the ancient Greeks represented immorality or democracy, the Roman empire signified republicanism or greedy exploitation and tyranny, and classical meters could or could not be transposed into English. Tennyson's exchanges with classical literature, then, necessarily intersected with cultural politics as well. Since Virgil himself suggested that the high moral purpose of poetry compelled the poet to question potentially ruinous costs of empire as well as its patriotic call to duty, Tennyson emerges in Markley's study as an inquiring imperialist whose classical poems affirmed moral, patriotic, and spiritual ideals but also assayed the empire's toll and the nation's imperfect moral health.

Important local insights (some published in earlier articles reviewed in "This Year's Work") as well as this larger synthesis emerge from Markley's highly effective merging of publishing history and classical scholarship with cultural analysis. He points out in chapter two ("The Building Blocks of Song: Constructing the Classical Dramatic Monologue") that allusion to multiple classical sources in individual poems and chiastic word play—both defining techniques of Greek and Latin texts—summon philosophical issues as frames of reference (e.g., how to balance self-development and self control in an era of increasing change) while recreating in English what it feels like to read classical literature. His chapter on In Memoriam reads the "Fair ship" sequence in terms of the classical subgenre of propemptikon, or poem addressed to one setting out on a voyage, and the "Dark house" sections (7 and 119) in relation to paraclausithyron, or address by the pleading lover to the mistress behind bolted doors, and so recuperates for current students the frames of reference within which the poem could have resonated for the classically educated among Tennyson's readers. Even more useful is Markley's suggestion that the Prologue's second stanza ("lo, thy foot / Is on the skull which thou hast made") recalls the love elegy of Propertius in which the figure of Eros or Love steps on the lover's head "with his foot," a means by which Tennyson could introduce the persona of Love into the poem even when his discourse seems most Christian. Contributing to the recent interest in Victorian meters led by Yopie Prins and Herbert Tucker, Markley's chapter on classical prosody extends his own taxonomy of Tennyson's experimentation (from replication of classical meters to approximations to adaptations in English verse) by integrating materialist analysis of layout and publishing history. Tennyson's reliance on periodicals for the first publication of many of these experiments, Markley argues, enabled him to test the waters for what might otherwise have been thought mere ephemera unsuited to inclusion in a volume. And Tennyson (anticipating an important development in twentieth-century poetry) made innovative use of layout: he wished to print "To Virgil" in long-lined couplets to approximate the hexameters of his forebear; indented the third lines of his quatrains in "The Daisy" to recall Horace's Alcaics, the third line of whose [End Page 390] quatrains was always shortened; and inserted "The Daisy," "Will," and "To the Rev. F. D. Maurice" (all adaptations of Horatian Alcaics) between the Wellington Ode and "Charge of the Light Brigade" in Maud, and Other Poems (1855) because, Markley suggests, they would have sustained associations of a great empire and its heroic patriotism through the echo of Horace, whom informed Victorians considered a lofty exemplar of imperial Rome. But amid specifying...


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pp. 389-397
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