The pictorial quality of Tennyson
Question: Discuss Tennyson’s pictorial quality.
Or, discuss Tennyson as a pictorial artist.
Pictorial quality of nature refers to images of nature. To put it differently, the pictorial quality of nature means having or suggesting the visual appeal. Tennyson (1809 – 1792) is a pictorial artist par excellence. His pictorial quality may be regarded as a link between two epochs of literature that is between the Romantic and Victorian periods.
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The pictorial quality of Tennyson’s poetry
Tennyson is a true disciple of John Keats (1795-1521) in depicting the concrete details of nature-based on sensuousness. He observes nature very minutely and catches the minute details of its forms and colors to focus on human moods and emotions. Such treatment of nature is called ‘pathetic fallacy’ that is a term was coined out by John Ruskin in 1856 in his work namely “Modern Painters”. Here the pictorial quality of Tennyson’s poetry is limned with reference to his major poems.
The mood of fatigue and lethargy
The mood of fatigue and lethargy is well expressed by the pictorial quality of Tennyson. In the poem “The Lotos Eaters”, Ulysses and his comrades arrive at the ever spring-like Lotos Island. The streams of the island are calm. The sun appears to be under some magical influence. The ever-unchangeable nature of the island and the lazy and inactive inhabitants of the island are ideal to the tired soldiers who are the heroic symbol of the historic Trojan war.
There are drowsiness and depression in the eyes of the lotos eaters and whenever Ulysses’ comrades taste lotos fruit, they feel drowsiness and hypnotism. They declare in their choric song that they will forever stay in this island.
“Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined”
Thus, the languid pictorial quality of nature of the lotos land produces drowsiness and an inclination to lie down and rest ever since.
In the poem “Tithonus”, the change in nature creates a mood of futility and despair which focuses on the melancholic isolation of modern people.
Changing the law of the universe
One of the fantastic features of Tennyson’s pictorial quality is the changing law of the universe. In the poem “Tithonus”, Tennyson uses sets of natural imagery that reflect on flexible, transitory, and ephemeral human life. The opening lines of the poem “Tithonus” suggest the meaning of universal decay through a natural picture by indicating the Autumn season. In literature, autumn symbolizes upcoming death that comes through a cycle as the cycle of nature such as summer which symbolizes youth and winter stands for death. The idea is illustrated in the following lines:
“The woods decay, the woods decay, and fall,
And after a man summer dies in swan.
Me only cruel immortality
From the above lines, the readers can pick up morality that one should not go beyond the natural cycle as Tithonus laments for his youth less immortality given by his goddess beloved Aurora.
From any kind of concept of nature such as Platonism, pantheism, sensuousness or Tennyson’s pictorial quality of nature, nature is the exposition of human spirit and mood overall. Tennyson proves in his poem “Locksley Hall” that the passion of human beings gets thickness by the influence of the images of nature. It is in the poet’s tongue:
“In the spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robins breast;
In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”
Therefore, we notice that there is a sense in the above lines that nature stimulates a person to be active and prompt for love and passion.
In most of his poems, Tennyson as a pictorial artist also focuses on the following moods of human beings:
- Nostalgia of human beings
- Indomitable thirst for knowledge
- Indicator of ideal beauty
From the light of the above discussion, we may allow it that Tennyson’s pictures are his own. He has been able to express a real picture of nature in front of the readers through words. From a deeper critical point of view, we recognize Tennyson as a priest of Romanticism.