James Dickey Vs. Tennyson Essay, Research Paper
James Dickey’s “On the Hill Below the Lighthouse” best reminds me of the Lord
Alfred Tennyson. Upon first reading Dickey’s poem, a deep yearning and sentimental
emotion is achieved. There is a great sense of not regret but of something that the
narrator longs for. This can be seen in the last stanza of the poem.
“Now that I can be sure of my sleep;
The moon is held strongly within it.
A woman comes true when I think her.
Shade swings, and she lies against me.
Let us lie in the returning light;
Let us lie where your angel is walking,
Coming back, coming back, going over.”
It is not until this last stanza that I completely feel the concept of nostalgia. Here it can
be seen that there was once a woman that the narrator had deep feelings for and he recalls
how she used to lie next to him in the light of the lighthouse’s beam. The last line,
“coming back, coming back, going over” is almost like a unifying device for the whole
poem. It almost seems that the narrator is recalling the woman that was from his past and
replaying the whole scene of when they were together in his head all over again.
And it is also this quality of recollection that has reminded so much of Tennyson.
In Tennyson’s “Tears, Idle Tears,” a strong sense of nostalgia is perceived. In the last
line of every stanza there are the words, “…the days that are no more.” This appears to be
the unifying device that connects this poem together. However, in this poem, there seems
to be a sense of regret. Unlike Dickey’s poem, this poem is much more sad and more
depressing. It appears that this poem was the reaction of the death of a loved one.
Tennyson explains in his first stanza that as he looks into the autumn fields, he recalls of
happy days with a loved one that will no longer happen anymore.
“Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy autumn fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.”
Both poems do not contain any hope in relationships because there longer are any
relationships. In both “On the Hill Below the Lighthouse” and “Tears, Idle tears” there
is only the memory of the loved one that is inside the heart. Both poems are passionate in
a different aspect. Dickey’s poem seems to be more of a contemproary approach. There
is not as much regret as there is in Tennyson’s poem. However, there is more desire or
remembering in Dickey’s poem. This can be achieved from the last line of the stanza,
“Coming back, coming back, going over.” And in “Tears, Idle Tears,” there is
remembrance only when something that reminds of the narrator appears or happens, “in
looking on the happy autumn fields, and thinking of the days that are no more.”
Nature is something that strong in both poems, although there is more imagination
in Dickey’s poem. “The lighthouse has opened its brain” and “a bright arm sweeps
through the moon” are very creative personifications. Yet it also these lines that help to
create the setting for the poem. In “Tears, Idle Tears,” it is the “autumn fields, summer
dawns, half-awakened birds” that help create the background. The language in both poem
are sad but not depressing. The language is simple and flowing. One would not have
trouble reading any of the two poems.
The two pieces of work that I chose from the Victorian packet are “My Last
Duchess” and “The Lady of Shalott.” I have connected these two poems based on the
story-like quality. “The Lady of Shalott” reads like a story that has some melody in it.
The rhyming scheme is that the first four lines of each stanza rhyme, then the fifth and
ninth line rhyme, leaving the sixth through eighth lines rhyming. Upon reading this poem,
it almost seems more like a fairy-tale than a poem. The Lady of Shallot appears to be the
dame in distress and Sir Lancelot is the hero that will rescue her. Lady of Shallot is cursed
in that she can only see the world through her mirror. If she were to look down to
Camelot, she would die.
“A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She know not what the curse may be” (40-42)
However, one day “she left the web, she left the loom, she made three paces
through the room, she saw the water lily bloom, she saw the helmet and the plume, She
looked down to Camelot.” (ln 109-113) Lady Shalott breaks the curse and sees things
through her own eyes rather than through the mirror. Nonetheless, Lady Shalott slowly
begins to die.
“Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darkened wholly,
Turned to towered Camelot.
For ere she reached upon the tide
The first house by the waterside,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott”
In “My Last Duchess,” it is read like a prose but it is put into poetic form.
However, “My Last Duchess,” in a dramatic monologue rather than a poem. A dramatic
monologue is a kind of narrative poem in which one character speaks to one or more
listeners who replies are not given in the poem. Here, the Duke Ferrara is speaking to an
envoy about his first, who is apparently dead. From what the Duke is telling the envoy,
one can conclude that the Duke is arrogant, domineering, and very insecure about his
relationship. It appears that the Duke would only tolerate the Duchess attending to him.
“… ‘twas not
Her husband presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek
The Duchess is portrayed as someone that is easily pleased.
“A heart–shall I say?–too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.”
The character of the Duke is established as one of a man who believes that his is the
center of the universe. This man does not accept anything less than being seen as exactly
that, the center of the universe.
There are many story-like qualities in “The Lady of Shalott.” First of all, as I had
noted before, this poem reads like a fairy tale. There is the so-called castle, “four gray
wall, and four gray towers.” (ln 15-16) There is the plot of the Lady of Shalott being the
dame in distress and Sir Lancelot being the hero. There is the trial of how Lady of Shalott
is bound by a curse that she cannot look down onto Camelot as Sleeping Beauty is cursed
by an evil witch that she will sleep forever. There are the horses, knights, shields, helmets,
magical powers (the images she sees through the mirror). However, unlike a fairy-tale,
this tale does not end happily ever after. Instead the dame dies.
“My Last Duchess” reads like a short story. The main characters of the story are
The Duke Ferrara, the Duchess, and the envoy that the Duke is talking to. Although there
was no apparent crime that tool place but the antagonist is the Duke Ferrara and the
protagonist is the Duchess. I believe that the Duke has either killed the Duchess himself
or has ordered someone to kill her, therefore making him the evil person. The Duchess is
the protagonist because she died innocently through no fault of her own. The story is
about how the Duke talks about the things that he dislikes about the Duchess. From this
we see the faults of the Duke. The setting takes place in the Duke’s house during the 16th
century in the city of Ferrara in northern Italy. The theme of this story is still uncertain to
me. It is known that this was a true story but why it was written is still a mystery. Maybe
it was written to warn other Duchesses to avoid behaving like this Duchess to prevent
death. Or maybe it was written so that people would know about the insecurity and the
jealousy of the Duke.
One similar happening in both stories is that the female dies in the end. Although it
does not specifically state that the Duchess dies in “My Last Duchess,” it can be guessed
that she does. “Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles
stopped together.” (ln 45-46) And it is stated in “The Lady Shalott” that she dies.