Tennyson was at a loss for suitable poetic subjects after completing his first group of Arthurian idylls, and friends were invited to offer recommendations. Two outlines of true stories from the sculptor Thomas Woolner resulted in ‘Enoch Arden’ and ‘Aylmer’s Field’. These poems and ‘Sea Dreams’ were included in a volume of poetry published in 1864 which Tennyson first thought of entitling ‘Idylls of the Hearth’. The tendency in Tennyson criticism to use the term ‘idyll’ in senses beyond its usual modern connotation, largely in consequence of its wide, miscellaneous classical applications, is as unnecessary as it is confusing. The Poet Laureate had already resorted to story-telling in ‘Dora’, and he turned increasingly to this practice, partly from the difficulty of finding a significant major subject for poetry, partly because the vogue of fiction convinced him that verse narrative would be popular; nor was the old boyhood wish to be a popular poet inoperative. ‘Sea Dreams’, ‘Enoch Arden’, and ‘Aylmer’s Field’ (all in blank verse) are considered here as ‘tales’ because each forms a more ample or complicated whole than any of the short stories Tennyson presented in monologue form; ‘Aylmer’s Field’ comprises almost a subject for a novel.
KeywordsLightning Flash Tropical Island True Story Verse Narrative Poet Laureate
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