Tennyson pp 160-182 | Cite as

Tennyson and Victorian Balladry

  • W. W. Robson


Could Tennyson write good ballads? To answer this question we must first decide what is meant by ‘ballad’. The word has been applied to various kinds of verse, but they all have a family resemblance. For English-speaking readers the Border Ballads represent the prototype. In this kind of poetry the intention is to tell a story, and at the same time to arouse the emotions appropriate to it. Poetic ‘beauties’ are sometimes present but always seem incidental, even unintentional: the attention of the reader or hearer is directed to the story and the characters. The verse-form is short rhymed stanzas. The metre is simple and does not call attention to itself, though repetitions and refrains may create an effect of incantation. There are no complications of rhythm, corresponding to subtleties of feeling, that cannot be taken in at the first hearing. Some ballad verse is old and it can be regarded as a primitive form, but it has not been superseded: the ballad has persisted, it has developed in its own way, it has its own history. T. S. Eliot, however, thought that it is difficult to write in the conditions of present-day society, pointing out that the greatest of modern balladists, Rudyard Kipling, had an advantage over more recent poets of this kind because he still had the living music-hall behind him.1


Romantic Movement Roman Narrator Modern Poet Dramatic Monologue Rhyme Couplet 
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  1. 3.
    This and a subsequent reference are to Chapter 10 of Albert B. Friedman, The Ballad Revival: Studies in the Influence of Popular on Sophisticated Poetry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Amis, The Faber Popular Reciter (London: Faber & Faber, 1978), Introduction, pp. 15–18. The reference to ‘Horatius’ is on his pp. 17–18.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Graves, The Crowning Privilege (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1959), p. 131.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Amis, I Like It Here (London: Gollancz, 1958), p. 175.Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    Eliot, ‘In Memoriam’, Essays, Ancient and Modern (London: Faber & Faber, 1936), p. 189.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1992

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  • W. W. Robson

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