Tennyson’s Use of Poetic Technique

June 25, 2022 by Essay Writer

While Tennyson has been labeled “The Poet of the People,” and has enjoyed much success as a writer of “public poetry,” his poems are ironically very private. Much of his success may be attributed to his gift for making his poetry appeal to a large audience. This accomplishment is made possible by his extensive use of technique to serve a larger poetic function.”The Charge of the Light Brigade” is an excellent example how Tennyson uses a structural technique to serve a larger poetic function. The structure of the entire poem is indeed essential to its theme. Like the story to which it refers, the poem has a definite beginning, middle and end. The beginning, consisting of stanzas 1 and 2, corresponds to the order (lines 5 and 6: “Forward the Light Brigade! / Charge for the guns!”), and the advancement of the brigade. The middle, consisting of stanzas 3 and 4, is characterized by the clashing of the brigade and the artillery, and the consequent slaying of the soldiers. The end, consisting of stanzas 5 and 6, is characterized by the retreat of the remaining soldiers, and the narrator’s reflection, respectively. However, while this division of the stanzas appears balanced at a glance, Tennyson actually structures the entire poem asymmetrically, like a lopsided sea-saw. Using this analogy, stanza 4 serves as the balance point, separating stanzas 3 and 5, which use parallelism to give a “before-and-after” effect. Stanza 5 begins the same way as does stanza 3: “Cannon to right of them / Cannon to left of them.” However, Tennyson changes “Cannon in front of them” (line 20) to “Cannon behind them” (line 41) because the brigade is retreating. Similarly, “Into the jaws of Death / Into the mouth of hell” (lines 24-25) becomes “Came through the jaws of Death / Back from the mouth of hell” (lines 46-47). Appropriately, only two stanzas follow stanza 4, or turning point, whereas three stanzas precede it. Therefore, the former part of the poem is “heavier” than the latter just as there are more men in the brigade before the charge than there are after it. Stanza 6 is the shortest in the poem, and the abruptness with which it ends represents the abruptness of the ending of the men’s lives.Tennyson uses repetition of the last line of each stanza to help narrate the progression of events. While stanzas 1-3 conclude with “Rode the six hundred,” the “turning point stanza” concludes with “Not the six hundred,” stanza 5 concludes with “Left of the six hundred,” and stanza 6 concludes with “Noble six hundred.” Tennyson’s use of repetition and variation is so effective that the outline of the story can be ascertained by reading only the last line of each stanza. He also uses alliteration to heighten the climax of action in stanzas 4 and 5. Lines such as “Reeled from the saber stroke / Shattered and sundered” (35-36) and “Stormed at with shot and shell / While horse and hero fell” (43-44)” intensify the action while the insistent-sounding meter gives the poem a military-sounding tone.Tennyson uses the false rhyme between “blundered,” “thundered,” “sundered,” “wondered” and “hundred” to represent what the Norton calls a “confusion of orders” (1280). In other words, the blunder in rhyme represents the historical blunder, or the call to charge. However, the poem does not criticize the one who is responsible for the blunder (“he” in line 6 and “someone” in line 12). On the contrary, it commemorates those soldiers who bravely followed their orders. There is no evidence to support the claim that Tennyson does not truly want the reader to “Honor the charge they made” (line 1281). “Noble six hundred” in the final line of the poem is genuine, and completely devoid of sarcasm.”In Memoriam A. H. H.,” unlike “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” is often inconsistent in tone because it is what T. S. Eliot called a “concentrated diary of a man confessing himself” (Norton 1230). However, while it is in many ways an episodic poem, it, too, has an element of structure that enhances its theme. The poem reflects the change in Tennyson’s own feelings about Hallam’s death from guilt and withdrawal to acceptance of grief. Stanzas 7 and 119 serve as markers for this notable change in emotion. In the same way that Tennyson uses parallelism and variation in stanzas 3 and 5 of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” to show that something has changed, he echoes some parts of #7 in # 119 of “In Memoriam” while varying others to show that he has come to terms with his grief.#7 begins with “Dark house,” creating a mood that is immediately melancholic, while #119 begins with “Doors,” which is not so bleak. The word “door” may even suggest openness, and may hold promise for a more positive tone. In #7, the proximity of the words “a hand” at the end of the first stanza and at the beginning of the second stanza conjures the image of Tennyson failing in an attempt to reach out to touch Hallam’s hand, serving the larger purpose of illustrating how Tennyson cannot yet come to terms with his grief. In #119, however, the word “hand” appears in the last line: “I take the pressure of thine hand,” which he could not do before, in #7. The second stanza of #7 begins, “A hand that can be clasped no more,” while the second stanza of #119 begins, “I hear the chirp of birds.” This latter sentence is a cue to the reader that Tennyson has made progress in handling his grief; in #7 the “noise of life begins again” (line 10), implying that it has stopped, while in #119 he can hear beautiful sounds again, like the “chirp of birds.” Tennyson also uses colors in #119 in addition to sounds to illustrate how he has regained his sense of reality. In lines 5-7 he writes, “I see / Betwixt the black fronts long-withdrawn / A light blue lane of early dawn,” using the contrast of black and a light color to represent hope shedding light over grief.Also characteristic of “In Memoriam” is Tennyson’s ability to say one thing and mean another. One of the ways in which he accomplishes this is by repeating a particular word or series of words, as in #11. While Tennyson repeats the word “calm” in every stanza, there is nothing truly calm about the poem. Tennyson imposes calmness on things that are not at all calm, such as “waves that sway themselves” (line 18). In line 16, the phrase “a calm despair” undermines the meaning of “calm,” since despair is not something that cannot really be “calm.” The effect is to give the impression that Tennyson is only trying to make himself calm, or drown his grief in a false sense of tranquility. This is further enhanced by the poem’s steady rhythm; it exhibits an almost Neo-Classical element of control juxtaposed with something that is incapable of being controlled.Tennyson uses a similar technique of saying one thing and meaning another in #28. In line 11, he uses the rhetorical device known as chiasmus to accomplish such an effect: “Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace.” Not only does Tennyson use the repetition and inversion of word order to sound like the ringing and echoing of the Christmas bells, but by repeating them he makes the words seem hollow and meaningless. The same is true of “The merry, merry bells of Yule” (line 20), which may be read in an ironic sense. The reader must consider Tennyson’s choice of the word “merry”: merriment implies transience whereas happiness implies permanence. There is a hollow sound in the assonance of “the merry merry bells,” just like hollow sound of “Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace.”While Tennyson makes extensive use of literary techniques to serve a larger poetic function, he is still conscious of the fact that words alone cannot fully express human emotion. In #5 of “In Memoriam” he says, “wordshalf reveal and half conceal the Soul within” (lines 3-4). Thus, while words are the only means he has to express himself, they can only provide an “outline and no more” (line 12). Underlying Tennyson’s use of rhyme, structure and other techniques is his own self-consciousness as a poet and a realization of the fallacy of language to express emotion.

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