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Do I like Tennyson? I wasnt sure. Like many, perhaps, I had an image in my mind of a brooding, bearded patriarch:and a hazy memory of poems read at school such as Locksley Hall, but no lines actually sprang to mind. So in a way I went into reading him blind. I was surprised. Poem after poem seemed to be about women - beautiful, passive women - and full of the poets melancholy, and feelings of aching desolation. Perhaps these were his early poems, I wondered. My selection was taken from Tennysons entire oeuvre; there were 96, including a long 150-page poem at the end, so it covered most of his moods. I did notice a change, a move towards a more narrative style as I continued reading, but much of the time the messages remained morbid.What the dark, sensuous imagery reminded me of, was the saturated colours used, and feelings evoked, by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood:- Mariana by John Everett MillaisSure enough, I found that those painters much admired Tennyson, and often used his poems as inpirations for their paintings. Tennyson lived from 1809 to 1892, and most of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were painting a little after those dates. Their early hard-edged, symbolic, naturalistic style began in 1849 and quickly developed into a moody, erotic medievalism. Here are three paintings by John William Waterhouse of The Lady of Shalott:and another by William Holman Hunt of her:And Sidney Harold Meteyard ...It would be interesting to go through many of their images, and those of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris too, and see the connections between painting and poem. The feelings they evoke are so very similar.I enjoyed The Lady of Shalott, and also Mariana which felt like an early working out of the idea; of the grief, melancholy and loss. But the continuous line of perfect, motionless, characterless, ideal women did lose me after a while ... Claribel, Lilian, Isabel, Madeline, Adeline, Eleanor, Fatima, Oneone, Rosalind, Margaret, Kate... Yes, the language was beautiful in all these poems. They were lush and lyrical, sensuous bordering on sensual; the imagery and mood inventive, and perfectly conveyed. You could sink into the poets language; swoon at his words. It was a bit like eating a towering confection of perfectly sculpted icing sugar, or an entire box of turkish delight, perhaps. A little went a long way.The later poems I liked better. Lady Clara Vere de Vere, Dora, Godiva, Lady Clare:- Lady Clare by John William Waterhouse and The Beggar Maid: - King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid by Edward Burne-Jonesall are still focused on a particular female, but held more interest for me.Perhaps it was the cleverly constructed metre, or the rhythm I enjoyed; perhaps the actual story of Dora, or of The Lady of Shalott. I sank happily into The Day-Dream, a narrative poem with several long stanzas, based on the story of Sleeping Beauty. The trio of poems, The May Queen, New Years Eve and Conclusion read together as a piece, moved me greatly; I felt so sorry for the optimistic, bright young girl of the May. And some of the Nature poems I enjoyed, although they were all rather pessimistic in feel. Nothing Will Die was followed by All Things Will Die, (although I preferred to read them the other way around). The Dying Swan, The Death of the Old Year and The Blackbird, I enjoyed all these; they touched and moved me, although they made me very sad. I liked The Ballad of Oriana and Edward Gray. Overall it is the narrative poetry which attracted me the most.So I will not attempt to analyse this poetry. Many more have done this better than I could, and I now know that Tennysons work is not poetry which speaks meaningfully to me. I feel sated with its imagery, but it is too yearning; too inward-looking and too full of despondent isolation. But I can recognise its greatness:With blackest moss the flower-plotsWere thickly crusted, one and all:The rusted nails fell from the knotsThat held the pear to the gable-wall.The broken sheds looked sad and strange:Unlifted was the clinking latch;Weeded and worn the ancient thatchUpon 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!- Mariana-Mariana in the South by John William Waterhouse

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