This is a relatively short Tennyson poem and, like many, is written in first person. Tennyson uses imagery of the valley, the water and the rocks to transport the reader into the speaker’s head. The speaker is obsessed with the voices in his head. I do not mean this in a crazy or about to be committed way. Nevertheless, by making the sounds of nature real for the reader, Tennyson is able to relay the speaker’s reality (“The voice of the dead was a living voice to me”).
This poem has an interesting use of first person. The speaker addresses himself in first person while in the same time talking to Maud (or rather giving her directions) and then talking about her indirectly. For example, in the first stanza the speaker writes “Come into the garden, Maud.” This line makes it seem like Maud is in the room with him but then in the second stanza it is not as clear. In the second stanza, Tennyson writes “To faint in the light of the sun she loves.” Later in the poem, the speaker also engages in addressing flowers and personifying them to some degree (“I said to the lily”).
I chosen to comment on this poem because I again see similarities between others we’ve read in the Romantic period. This poem also personifies Love, Grief, and Hours using capital letters and speaks of life and death without the melodrama. In the first stanza, Tennyson uses an interesting choice of word (“stepping stones”) to say “That men may rise on stepping-stones/ Of their dead selves to higher things.” These lines make for a curious image since stepping stones are normally such small thing for someone to step on, let alone “dead selves” who theoretically have a long way to rise “to higher things.” This play of opposites continues in the second stanza where Tennyson asks, “But who shall so forecast the years/And find in loss a gain to match?” It seems like here Tennyson is being ironical in that he asks a rhetorical question about someone fortunetelling and finding “a loss” with “a gain to match.”
This is a structurally interesting poem. Every stanza and even one line within the poem begins with the word “Now.” Many other lines, especially in the first stanza also begins with the letter N. Tennyson uses the N words, especially the later stanza “Now” words to create opposition within the meaning of the lines. For example, “Now droops the milkwhite peacock like a ghost,/And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.” The first line creates a simile and the second uses the comparison (in this case the ghost) in a different way, changing its meaning. This approach is not continuous as that in some later stanzas, Tennyson continue the thought from the previous line by introducing a metaphor. For example, “Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,/And slips into the bosom of the lake.” The lily is the metaphor for the speaker (this becomes clear in the third line) and Tennyson uses the lily to explain the condition of the speaker.
This poem has a very different feel from the dramatic representations of sorrow found in the poetry of the Romantic period. The words are chosen poignantly but without the ever present sense of melodrama. When Tennyson speaks of the speaker’s dead friends, “That brings our friends up from the underworld,” I do not immediately feel despair but rather a sense of hope. Even though Tennyson does the repeat the line “So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more,” I do not know it is about the poem that gives it the texture of positivity and peace. Perhaps it has something to do with the occasional glimmer of hope such as “Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,” and “In looking on the happy Autumn-fields.”