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TENNYSON AND HOPKINS WINSTON COLLINS The Victorian concept of the role of art and the artist is clearly expressed in the following passage: What are works of art for? to educate, to be standards. Education is meant for the many, standards are for public use. To produce then is of little use unless what we produce is known, if known widely known, the wider known the better, for it is by being known it works, it inBuences, it does its duty, it does good.... Besides, we are Englishmen. A great work by an Englishman is like a great battle won by England. It is an unfading bay tree. It will even be admired by and praised by and do good to those who hate England (as England is most perilously hated), who do not wish even to be benefited by her.l The words could be Tennyson\ they belong in fact to Hopkins. Even though the poetry of Hopkins was not widely known, there is a correspondence between what he thought poetry's purpose was and the poetry he produced. Both Hopkins and Tennyson are social poets: their objective as poets is to educate, to provide standards for public use. Their primary concerns are what we might consider today Victorian concerns: the insistence on duty, work, sacrifice, heroism; the hope that an ideal society would be achieved, and the painful awareness of the evils within their own society; the search for a coherent, purposeful universe ordained and controlled by God; and, most basic and important, the concept of the personality as free, distinctive, divine. In his essay "The Age of Tennyson," G. M. Young isolated the central problem of Victorian thought: "What was the standing of personality , the finite human personality, in a world which every year was revealing itself more clearly as a process of perpetual IIUX?"2 In the mid-1880s, Tennyson and Hopkins wrote poems that answered the question: Vastness and That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection consider the pOSition of the human personality threatened from within and without by moral and natural waste and destruction. Vastness opens with a suggestion of a cosmic wasteland: Many a hearth upon our dark globe sighs after many a vanish'd face, Many a planet by many a sun may roll with the dust of a vanish'd race.' Volume XXXVIU, Number 1, October, 1968 TENNYSON AND HOPKINS 85 Tennyson moves on to the moral order of man and describes what he sees specifically and objectively, always examining both sides of the coin. What at first glance might seem praiseworthy is qUickly negated upon closer examination: although the network of commercial trade is impressive, it exists alongside "Desolate offing, sailorless harbors, famishing populace, wharves forlorn"; though Fame proclaims her greatness and permanence, she is accompanied by "Slander, her shadow, sowing the nettle on all the laurell'd graves of the great." Tennyson's view encompasses the political, social, philosophical, religious, natural; in all of them, lies, poverty, selfishness, death dominate. When he asks himself "what is all of it worth?" the tone of the poem changes abruptly - the detached observer becomes the passionately involved human being: What is it all, if we all of us end but in being our own corpse-coffins at last? Swallow'd in Vastness, lost in Silence, drown'd in the deeps of a meaningless Past? These questions are not being asked by the "still small voice" that urged him to despair in the early Two Voices - here the voice of mature reason wants proof of significance, proof that evil will turn to good or that good has any meaning at all. If it is true that all things are lost in vastness and silence then there is no value in either goodness or evil : man and his activities are nothing more than "a murmur of gnats in the gloom, or a moment's anger of bees in their hive." But Tennyson checks these thoughts by turning from his reason to his spirit, from the outer material world to his inner spiritual world : Peace, let it be! for I loved him, and love him for ever: the dead...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 84-95
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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