How does Tennyson bring mental pessimism and Victorian optimism in his use of myths and legends?

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How does Tennyson bring mental pessimism and Victorian optimism in his use of myths and legends?


“And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.”

[Dover Beach: Mathew Arnold]

“The year is at the spring

And day is at the morn, …

God’s in heaven,

All is right with world.”

[Pippa Passes: Robert Browning]

These above quoted two quotations are from two renowned poets of Victorian arena show the contrast attitudes to their time. Browning is very optimistic of everything because he does not have any mental torment of his age. On the contrary Mathew Arnold is very critical of his age, which he has found barren and sterile dominated by materialistic views and so spiritually degenerated. But Tennyson is almost a mixture of Browning’s and Arnold’s feelings. In some of his poems he is very happy about everything in which he is passing his life and in some of his poems he is very melancholic about his surroundings. These joys and sorrows are pre-dominated in him due to some of mental crises and the condition of the Victorian age in which he was.

Some of the greatest poems created by Tennyson are based on myths and legends. He possessed the talent of giving the myths and legends a very new look just to show how these poems adjust with the people and the crises of his time. These poems are – Ulysses, The Lotos Eaters, Tithonus, Oenone, Morte D’Arther etc.

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Now we are to discuss these poems and observe closely the use of myths and legends

Homer’s Odysseus or Tennyson’s Ulysses is about to leave his island Kingdom of Ithaca and set out of a great adventure, because he is a man dissatisfied with his lot as a king. He regards his own role as ‘idle king’; his wife as ‘aged wife’, his people as ‘savage race that hoard, and sleep and feed,’ and his life is as barren as the cages he sees around him as he stands on the shore. He longs for his past ...

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Generally the quality of written communication is adequate, though occasionally fraught, such as “These above quoted two quotations are from two renowned poets of Victorian arena show the contrast attitudes to their time”, in which there are evident grammatical issues. The writer uses “we” throughout instead of the generally accepted 3rd person, which is not advised as it makes the essay seem more informal and less like an academic essay. In terms of spelling and grammar the essay does not meet expectations for written work at A-Level. Technical terms could also have been used, such as considering the meter of the poem (unrhymed iambic pentameter), which would give the essay a tone of knowledge and research.

The writer uses several quotations to support the points throughout, which shows that they have not just been plucked out of thin air but come from the texts themselves; this is usually followed by some attempt at analysis, such as “enervating and languid movement of the verse as night falls”. This could have been extended by analysing how, technically the stanza is “enervating”, such as the enjambment of “the deep/Moans” and monosyllabic lines. Technical vocabulary such as this is good as it adds a more calculating analysis to the emotive interpretation of “enervating and languid”. Analysis of tone and atmosphere (such as “there lurks a sense of foreboding”) is done well, with the writer using key phrases like “creates a sense of”. Evaluation is limited, though critical interpretations have been included (the Henry James quote, for instance). Interpretations from critics and other viewpoints are essential to include as they show the examiner that you have considered other viewpoints other than your own and that you can weigh up which seems more likely in light of the evidence.

The question has two clear elements: mental pessimism and Victorian optimism. To make this a higher level answer each paragraph in the essay could have directly related back to these two points, with a topic sentence to guide the reader. The writer does in places explicitly use the topic phrases, which structures the essay somewhat: to make the essay more accessible to the reader this should be applied to the entire essay.