Sunday, March 28, 2010

Victorian Poetry: A Confession

A confession:  I am fond of Victorian poetry.  That being said (and in order to perhaps temper your dismay, delight, or indifference), let me make clear that this fondness excludes: (1) wide swathes of Tennyson, Browning, and Arnold; (2) lengthy dramatic poems set in mythic, Arthurian, exotic, or antique lands (alas! no Proserpinas, Pomonas, or Pans!); and (3) Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll.

So, what does that leave us with?  Consider this:


Is Memory most of miseries miserable,
Or the one flower of ease in bitterest hell?

Or this:

Below the surface-stream, shallow and light,
Of what we say we feel - below the stream,
As light, of what we think we feel - there flows
With noiseless current strong, obscure and deep,
The central stream of what we feel indeed.

And, finally, consider this:

The Metropolitan Underground Railway

Here were a goodly place wherein to die; --
   Grown latterly to sudden change averse,
All violent contrasts fain avoid would I
   On passing from this world into a worse.

"Memory" is by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), who is better known as a Pre-Raphaelite painter than as a poet.  "Below the surface-stream" is by Matthew Arnold.  (Although I said that my fondness excludes "wide swathes" of Tennyson, Browning, and Arnold - it does not exclude everything.)  "The Metropolitan Underground Railway" is by William Watson (1858-1935).  Despite a bit of slightly archaic diction in places, these poems seem to me to be, well, timeless - and not stereotypically "Victorian" as that term is commonly understood.  I was surprised when I first came across them.  They made me realize that there is more to "Victorian" England than meets the eye.

So, from time to time, I will treat you (or afflict you, as the case may be) with poems by the likes of William Allingham, Richard Watson Dixon, Edward Dowden, Coventry Patmore, William Renton, A. Mary F. Robinson, William Bell Scott, C. S. Calverley, John Leicester Warren, Arthur Hugh Clough, and Philip Bourke Marston. 

Before I go, I will cave in and permit one "Proserpina" (by Dante Gabriel Rossetti):


Hannah Stoneham said...

Lovely post - thank you for sharing. Have you tried the poetry of THomas hardy? I think you might enjoy that. I have enjoyed discovering your blog, thanks for sharing


Stephen Pentz said...

Hannah: Thank you very much for visiting, and for your kind comments. You are correct: I do enjoy the poetry of Hardy. I am one of those reactionaries who believes that the true heart of English poetry in the 20th century travels from Hardy through Edward Thomas and Philip Larkin.

Dave Lull said...

Mark Richardson is one of my favorite "close readers." You might enjoy some of his essays on Thomas Hardy:

Stephen Pentz said...

Dave: Thank you for the link to Mark Richardson. I had previously come across his readings of Larkin's "High Windows" and Frost's "An Old Man's Winter Night" - which I greatly enjoyed. I was not aware that he had written about Hardy as well - I will take a look.

And, of course, thank you for taking the time to visit and to comment.