The Present Value of Tennyson

  • W. W. Robson


I think many of those who care about literature share my misgivings about the present-day vogue for enormously detailed biographies of writers. It is not only because they minister to a taste for gossip, which for many readers is more attractive than all those tiresome lines of verse. Too often they diminish the author’s work by restoring it to its context of origin, the outgrowing of which is what makes it poetry. They force on the reader particularities which the author, with good reason, may have wanted to leave out. They sometimes make it impossible for us to experience the text. They turn poems into documents. I agree with Alfred Tennyson in yearning for the days ‘Before the Love of Letters, overdone/Had swampt the sacred poets with themselves’ (R 1321, 11 13–14). The ideal condition for a reader is that of a child listening to a story, who cares everything about what is in the story, and nothing about who wrote it.


Plover Pipe Romantic Poet Great Poet Personal Voice Literary Objectivist 
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  1. 1.
    Christopher Ricks, Tennyson (Macmillan, 1972).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    R. W. Rader, Tennyson’s ‘Maud’: the Biographical Genesis (University of California Press. 1966). pp. 1–2.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    C. S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966), p. 67.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    T. S. Eliot, On Poetry and Poets (Faber & Faber, 1957), p. 244.Google Scholar

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© W. W. Robson 1981

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  • W. W. Robson

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