There are, of course, other forms and other developments in Tennyson. It is a given that he wrote some extraordinarily interesting poems and some quite uninteresting ones, not that many would agree on which are which. It is not important to draw exact lines, though it is important to attempt an explanation of why poems like “The Spinster’s Sweet-Arts” or “English Warsong” affect its as they do: with irritation or not at all. Most of these minor poems are striking for their simplicity, their grim single-mindedness and relentless narrowing of emotion and focus. They stand in marked contrast to the complexity, suggestiveness, and expansiveness of the other poems. One way to think of them is as a relaxation from the great tensions of irony and the difficult sort of comedy Tennyson wrote. It may seem odd to speak of “tensions” being produced in this way, but we have seen for some time that Tennyson was caught between the worlds of Pride and Prejudice and Hyperion, between the practical, novelistic world and the visionary, mythical world. The tension I am discussing, though not coincident with the other, ties over it and surely makes it understandable that simple poetic reductions might occasionally be inevitable. In any event, those poem which seem to me reductive fall into three [12/13] groups: the political and public poems, the domestic idyls, and the humorous and dialect poems. Some of these poems are excellent in their way, but they do not, I think, constitute the major part of Tennyson’s achievement, nor do they contribute a great deal to his present reputation.
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