Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tennyson Redeemed

Note: I was out of town and unable to access the Web Saturday, so I missed posting this then. It won't happen again.

Hi, Gang!

Two days ago, I kicked around Alfred, Lord Tennyson pretty bad for being a jingoistic tub-thumper and foister-off-on-the-public of rhymes as repetitive and annoying as a television advertising jingle. All deserved, of course.

But with the exception of the immortal McGonagal, artists should not be judged by their worst work, but by their best. So I ask you to contemplate the following poem. It’s called “a Fragment,” but so far as I’ve been able to learn, that’s all there is to the work. Tennyson just thought that a proper poem should be larger.

The Eagle
(a Fragment)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Now is that impressive or what? That’s as beautiful a picture as was ever drawn in thirty-nine words. Note how the stillness of the first five lines converts to action and speed in the last. Note how unexpected that is. You’ve been set up. The whole thing is structured like a joke: Buildup, misdirection, punchline. The poem is as elegantly constructed as a mousetrap, and like a mousetrap it closes with a snap.

All best,


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