Week 22–Victorian Poets Tennyson and Hopkins

Monday–Alfred Lord Tennyson

Below you will see the beginning of his great collection of poems called In Memoriam. He wrote this collection of poems over a 17 year period that began when he was confronted with the sudden death of his close friend Arthur Hallam at the age of 22 from a cerebral hemorrhage. This poem shows us the internal crisis of faith that Tennyson dealt with over the years as he doubted God, the meaning of life, the apparent contradiction of science and geology with religious teaching (he was friends with Darwin), and the role of humanity in the universe. In the end, he leaves despair and finds hope. The original title was “The Way of the Soul.” This poem gives all the thoughts and feelings that you go through when you grieve the sudden death of a loved one.

Tennyson read all of his poems in a booming voice. They are not wispy sissy poems. They are manly and deep poems.

This poem below is the beginning of the collection of poems called In Memoriam. Notice that it is also a prayer.

Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove;

Thine are these orbs of light and shade;
Thou madest Life in man and brute;
Thou madest Death; and lo, thy foot
Is on the skull which thou hast made.

Thou wilt not leave us in the dust:
Thou madest man, he knows not why,
He thinks he was not made to die;
And thou hast made him: thou art just.

Thou seemest human and divine,
The highest, holiest manhood, thou.
Our wills are ours, we know not how;
Our wills are ours, to make them thine.

Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be:
They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Lord, art more than they.

We have but faith: we cannot know;
For knowledge is of things we see
And yet we trust it comes from thee,
A beam in darkness: let it grow.

Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell;
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before,

But vaster. We are fools and slight;
We mock thee when we do not fear:
But help thy foolish ones to bear;
Help thy vain worlds to bear thy light.

Forgive what seem’d my sin in me;
What seem’d my worth since I began;
For merit lives from man to man,
And not from man, O Lord, to thee.

Forgive my grief for one removed,
Thy creature, whom I found so fair.
I trust he lives in thee, and there
I find him worthier to be loved.

Forgive these wild and wandering cries,

“The Lady of Shalott” by Waterhouse

Confusions of a wasted youth;
Forgive them where they fail in truth,
And in thy wisdom make me wise.


Thinking and Writing (assignment 1 of 3)

  • Write a one page description of the poem that I quoted above, the beginning portion of “In Memoriam” (not Canto 27). I want you to explain these things–theme, tone, rhyme scheme, and figurative language (metaphors and similes used).
  • Listen to “Break, Break, Break” in the video below. This poem has so much pain. I want you to see if you can feel it. Tennyson masterfully uses the repetition of the stressed one syllable word “Break” to literally beat into us the pounding of his own grief. This poem is so good.

“More than any other Victorian writer, Tennyson has seemed the embodiment of his age, both to his contemporaries and to modern readers. In his own day he was said to be—with Queen Victoria and Gladstone—one of the three most famous living persons, a reputation no other poet writing in English has ever had. As official poetic spokesman for the reign of Victoria, he felt called upon to celebrate a quickly changing industrial and mercantile world with which he felt little in common, for his deepest sympathies were called forth by an unaltered rural England; the conflict between what he thought of as his duty to society and his allegiance to the eternal beauty of nature seems peculiarly Victorian. Even his most severe critics have always recognized his lyric gift for sound and cadence, a gift probably unequaled in the history of English poetry, but one so absolute that it has sometimes been mistaken for mere facility.” (poetryfoundation.org)

Wednesday–Gerard Manley Hopkins ❤

“Almond Blossoms”,  Van Gogh

Okay, now I LOVE this guy. He has such a unique poetic style. He developed his own meter called “sprung rhythm.” He was a Jesuit  who felt it was a sin at times to write poetry. But when he did write poetry, you can tell that he was a deeply spiritual man.

Now as much as I love John Keats as a person and poet. I actually enjoy Hopkin’s poetry so much that I commit it to memory. I love the sound of it and I love the point of it. What is kind of cool is that he moved his family to Hampstead Heath, where John Keats had lived 30 years earlier. The same place probably inspired both poets. I like that. I want to live there too.

I LOVE this stuff.

“The Mulberry Tree” – Van Gogh

He was influenced profoundly by Christina Rossetti, the pre-raphaelite poet. He even met her. She was very influential in helping provide social relief to prostitutes during this time period. You would think that the Victorian age would be so stuffy and uptight that prostitution wouldn’t be an issue. That no Victorian man would be a dirt bag, but many were dirt bags! They just pretended to be good. So prostitution was a serious social issue, and the rigid social morality would not allow for any redemption for these poor, desperate, and hopeless women – who had been used mercilessly by men. The men would suffer no shame, but the women would never escape it. Rossetti was one of the first heroes of human trafficking. She was an extremely devout Christian.

She writes this poem:

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.


Her most famous poem is called “Goblin Market” and it is about prostitution and redemption, but it is too PG-13 for me to have you read it.

Anyways, Hopkins was inspired by her work and life.
“La Chambre a Arles” – Van Gogh

Please put the definition of Sprung Rhythm in your notes:

Sprung rhythm

A metrical system devised by Gerard Manley Hopkins composed of one- to four-syllable feet that start with a stressed syllable. The spondee replaces the iamb as a dominant measure, and the number of unstressed syllables varies considerably from line to line (see also accentual verse). According to Hopkins, its intended effect was to reflect the dynamic quality and variations of common speech, in contrast to the monotony of iambic pentameter. His own poetry illustrates its use; though there have been few imitators, the spirit and principles of sprung rhythm influenced the rise of free verse in the early 20th century. (poetryfoundation)

Inscape and Instress

Hopkins was influenced by the Welsh language that he acquired while studying theology at St Beuno’s near St Asaph. The poetic forms of Welsh literature and particularly cynghanedd with its emphasis on repeating sounds accorded with his own style and became a prominent feature of his work. This reliance on similar sounding words with close or differing senses mean that his poems are best understood if read aloud. An important element in his work is Hopkins’s own concept of “inscape” which was derived, in part, from the medieval theologian Duns Scotus. The exact detail of “inscape” is uncertain and probably known to Hopkins alone but it has to do with the individual essence and uniqueness of every physical thing. This is communicated from an object by its “instress” and ensures the transmission of the item’s importance in the wider creation. His poems would then try to present this “inscape” so that a poem like The Windhover aims to depict not the bird in general but instead one instance and its relation to the breeze. This is just one interpretation of Hopkins’s most famous poem, one which he felt was his best.

Hopkins and Van Gogh- Interesting Similarities

This week we are studying Gerard Manley Hopkins, who was a man with a deep religious commitment AND an artistic side. Like I said yesterday, Hopkins was sometimes conflicted with the idea of being a poet. He thought it was too prideful to be a successful poet, like it wasn’t “Christian” enough. Van Gogh was kind of similar, that is why I have put a lot of his paintings on this blog. He was DEEPLY religious. He was even was in ministry for a time. These articles below are really really good. You will be soooooo smart if you read them. 🙂

“The Sower” – Van Gogh

Thursday–Read Hopkins Poetry 

Read the following poems OUT LOUD:

Just like with Van Gogh, people love to say that Hopkins lost his faith near the end of his life. The reason they say this, is because of his poem “Carrion Comfort.” It shows him struggling with God. The thing is, there is a HUGE clue for us (Christians), that this poem is NOT about losing faith–the last 4 words!!!!  “(my God!) my God.” He repeats the fact that it is HIS God. He also says that he “kissed the rod, hand rather.” We see him appreciating the correction of his Father/Shepherd. He is kissing the hand that is chastening him.

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?  But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.  Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?  For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.  Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:7-10)

Put this definition in your notes:

“Wheat Field With Crows” – Van Gogh
“The Potato Eaters” – Van Gogh





6 thoughts on “Week 22–Victorian Poets Tennyson and Hopkins

  1. I liked In Memoriam because he says in one of his stanzas, “Thou wilt not leave us in the dust” then he goes on to say, “Thou art just.” To me that’s so beautiful because it’s very true, God is just and He won’t leave us in the dust. 🙂

  2. My favorite poem was Spring and Fall, because I (too often) cry over things that I will not care about in the coming years. I remember I cried over something about two years ago, and as I think it over, it has no importance anymore.

Leave Mrs. Brandi a comment : )

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s