Victorian poetic style is at once eclectic and regressive. Between the 1830s and the 1890s every established form of the regular double pattern was revived and sometimes reworked. The period is the terminus of the traditional poetic langue and as such it played a significant part in causing the free verse revolution: poetic form had nowhere else to go. For the Victorians the relationship between the conventional and the cognitive elements of the double pattern was comparable to the public relationship between men and women. The marriage was necessary. It ensured that poetry could maintain a stable aloofness from the rapidly changing and potentially chaotic relationship between non-poetic discourse and the pre-linguistic world. At the same time, convention ruled against the discernable, procreative coupling of the two elements: the poetic and the referential (respectively, the elements that made poetry mysterious and accessible) would cohabit but they would not interweave in the disturbing manner of the metaphysicals or the Romantics and they would not, in the manner of Swift or Pope, become the vehicle for the disclosure of the disturbing actualities of existence.
It is difficult to isolate a single stylistic or thematic thread which unites Victorian poetry as a genre. As I have already stated, the term is a historical and, from the literary historian's point of view, methodological convenience. The most fruitful approach is to compare texts from the 1830s-1890s with their immediate Romantic predecessors. The most obvious example of post-Romantic difference is discernable in the Victorian poem's maintenance of a far more stable relationship between the poetic and the functional elements than will be found in its Romantic counterpart. Find an anthology of Victorian verse—the Oxford Anthology volume edited by Trilling and Bloom, and Ricks's New Oxford Book of Victorian Verse are the best (see Bibliography). Choose poems at random and conduct the same experiment in naturalisation suggested in the Exercise section of the previous chapter. Begin with the following texts and interpretive questions.
(i) Textual density Jakobson's formula of similarity (metaphor) superinduced upon contiguity (metonymy) is certainly relevant to Victorian texts, but the relationship between these two linguistic poles is far more controlled than in Romantic or metaphysical verse. The double pattern is generally stabilised so that it is rare to find interweavings of the material and signifying functions of language that are so dense and refractory as those of the Romantic Ode.
Read Arnold's 'Dover Beach', and pay particular attention to the following structural issues: how does Arnold deal with the syntax-metre interplay? Line length and rhyme scheme are irregular and the balance seems to shift toward to cognitive (referential) element of the double pattern. This concession to the discursive nature of prose creates fewer localised, multi-dimensional effects than in the Romantic ode. The first two strophes are essentially metonymic. Concrete objects and their perceptual effects are itemised. Self-conscious metaphor is introduced in strophe 3, and only fully integrated with textual deictics (the sea, the wind, the coast) in strophe 4. Compare the effects created by this use of controlled, progressive interweaving of textual patterns with Coleridge's 'Limbo' (see above, pp. 130-1). The following are strophes 1 and 4. Consider how each respectively isolates the metonymic and metaphoric functions.
The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits;—on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world.
Now read Arnold's 'Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse'. Compare Arnold's use of the stanza with the Augustan poets' use of the couplet (see Exercise section of Chapter 3). Each stanza operates as a metasyntactic unit. In lines 1-66 each unit is governed by a specific deictic point of reference ('the Alpine meadows', 'the silent courts', 'the garden', etc.) and like 'Dover Beach', metonymic itemisation dominates the opening of the poem. Between lines 67 and 169 consider how the points of reference become far more internalised and metaphoric, and how names and references unrelated to the situation of the utterance are drawn into the text ('Gods', 'A Greek', 'Achilles', 'Byron', 'Shelley', etc.). The concluding section (lines 169-210) returns us to the locative deictics of the monastery, but interfuses these with the now established pattern of metaphor and extra-contextual reference. Again we find that the definitive elements of poetic structure, metre (the stanza), metonymy-cognitive, metaphor-associative are brought together in a controlled, almost cautious manner. The following stanzas indicate the changes that occur through the three sections of the poem. Compare them with blank verse sequences from Wordsworth's The Prelude (see the Exercise section of Chapter 4).
Approach, for what we seek is here! Alight, and sparely sup, and wait For rest in this outbuilding near; Then cross the sward and reach that gate Knock; pass the wicket! Thou art come To the Carthusians' world-famed home.
Our fathers watered with their tears This sea of time whereon we sail, Their voices were in all men's ears Who passed within their puissant hail. Still the same ocean round us raves, But we stand mute, and watch the waves.
We are like children reared in shade Beneath some old-world abbey wall, Forgotten in a forest-glade, And secret from the eyes of all. Deep, deep the greenwood round them waves, Their abbey, and its close of graves! (169-74)
(ii) Metrical Eclecticism Consult your anthology of Victorian verse and consider the following question: is there any predictable, causal relationship between the verse form of the poem, the issues addressed by it, its predicated situation, and its dominant thematic motif? Relate this to your experience of Augustan and Romantic verse. In the eighteenth century blank verse was thought more appropriate than the couplet to the flexible discursive pattern of the landscape poem, and the ability of the couplet to isolate a specific issue or physical element made it
the ideal vehicle for the public or satirical poem. For the Romantics the broader cultural status of the ballad corresponded with the generic subdivision of the rural or gothic tale, while blank verse and the ode seemed more suitable for introspective 'high Romantic' discourse. It is difficult to find similar generic-stylistic correspondences in Victorian verse, and this apparently unrestricted mixing of stylistic and functional frameworks returns us to the issues raised in the above section on textual density: if metre, metaphor, reference and deictics are allowed to cooperate but restricted in their ability to create disorientating, interwoven complexes of effects, then it should be possible to mix and match stylistic features at will. It would have been seen as a violation of the accepted poetic langue for Wordsworth to have written The Prelude in Popian couplets, or the 'Immortality Ode' in ballad form. Why is it that these implicit regulations had become far more flexible for the Victorians? For example, both Tennyson's 'Merlin and the Gleam' and Swinburne's 'Hertha' are ruminations upon the relation between the existential and the creative condition. The former is comprised of a type of disciplined free verse with irregular unrhymed lines rarely extending beyond five syllables, and the latter consists of the complex stanza of a six syllable quatrain followed by a thirteen syllable coda. Compare the processes of naturalising or paraphrasing these two poems and you will find that their very different verse forms are similarly unrestrictive in allowing us to separate the message from the medium. It is possible to do this because the Victorians (with the exception of Hopkins) rarely allowed the two elements of the double pattern to interfere with each other. The two dimensions of convention (metre) and cognition (reference) belong together but there is no particular rule governing exactly which type (narrative, introspective ode, the couplet, the stanza, blank verse) belongs with which.
The best way to test this thesis is to compare extracts from Browning's dramatic monologues. Refer to the two columns of genres and stylistic forms listed beneath metonymy and metaphor (see above pp. 134-5). Read each of the following extracts from the beginnings of Browning's monologues and draw up a hierarchy of categories which corresponds with your experience of reading and understanding. For example if your attention is drawn first to the deictic features of the speaker's discourse (the specifics of the situation of the utterance), then context features more prominently than text. As a consequence you will pay much more attention to the referential function of the verse (what it is actually about) than you will to its poetic counterpart (whether it is in blank verse, stanzas, etc.). In short, does the fact that all three extracts are written in very different verse forms play any significant part in our recognition of them as different texts, addressing different issues? Does Browning subdue the signifying function of the poetic to the extent that it becomes a decorative accessory to the more powerful referential function? Stanzas 1 and 2 from 'A Toccata of Gallupi's':
Oh Galuppi, Baldassaro, this is very sad to find!
I can hardly misconceive you; it would prove me deaf and blind;
But although I take your meaning, 'tis with such a heavy mind!
Here you come with your old music, and here's all the good it brings.
What, they lived once thus at Venice where the merchants were the kings,
Where Saint Mark's is, where the Doges used to wed the sea with rings?
Stanzas 1 and 2 of 'Master Hugues of Saxe Gotha':
Hist, but a word, fair and soft!
Forth and be judged, Master Hugues!
Answer the question I've put you so oft:—
What do you mean by your mountainous fugues?
I, the poor organist here,
Hugues, the composer of note,
Dead though, and done with, this many a year:
Let's have a colloquy, something to quote,
Make the world prick up its ear!
Lines 1-9 of 'Andrea del Sarto':
But do not let us quarrel any more, No, my Lucrezia; bear with me for once: Sit down and all shall happen as you wish. You turn your face, but does it bring your heart? I'll work then for your friend's friend, never fear, Treat his own subject after his own way, Fix his own time, accept too his own price, And shut the money into this small hand When next it takes mine. Will it? tenderly?
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