Tension, Conflict and Anguish of the age in the Victorian Poetry

Victorian poetry, like other branches of Victorian literature is found to have been dominated by social thoughts of the age. The age of Victorian poetry is an age of ideological conflict. The tensions of the conflicting demands are seen both in the form and content of poetry. The Victorian are is an era of the ideological conflict. It is an era in which the conflict between science and faith, rationality and mysticism, and the technical progress and religious orthodoxy is found kun and clear. The poems of Tennyson, and  Browning specially reflect the conflicts in many of its phases and facets.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) is, in fact, the representative poet of Victorian Age. He entered fully into the moods of his age. He molded and then satisfied the tastes of his contemporaries. He is triumphant to show us the restless spirit of his nation. His poetry demonstrates national spirit more than personal spirit and also, like mirror, reflects the social, political moral, and religious trends of the time.

Tennyson’s poetry reflects the general feelings of his age on the great things of the world- religion, morals and social life. “Ulysses”, for instance, represents the spirit of inquiry, intellectual ferment, quest for knowledge, and urgency of going ahead, carrying on, and the life full of earnestness.

With the publication of In Memoriam Tennyson’s status as the poet of the Victorian age was assured. Tennyson’s In Memoriam is his magnum opus that represents the conflicts of doubt and faith. In some sections of In Memoriam Tennyson sought to reconcile traditional faith with the new ideas of evolutionary science but in others faith and reason are opposed. Like Wordsworth and Shelly, Tennyson, too may be called a poet of nature. But there is a difference. He did not spiritualize nature; neither did he conceive it as alive. Living in an age of conflict between science and religion, he believed in the operation of a spirit, in nature culminating in
“One God, one law, one element / And
one far-off divine event,/ To which the
whole creation moves”.

Thus, In Memoriam sympathized with the conclusions of contemporary science. Unlike the modern poets, the Victorian poets does not use free – verse in the poems, the Victorian poets, like the Romantic poets, were more adventurous in stanza forms. Tennyson likes to use fairly elaborate stanzas in which he could swing his lines with the mood, for example in the concluding stanza of In Memoriam.

He is not here; but far away
The noise of life beings again,
And ghastly thro’ the drizzling rain
On the bald streets breaks the blank day.

Thus Tennyson’s famous poem In Memoriam reflects the Victorian “Struggle” between the
conflicting aspects of science and religion, faith and doubt, hope and a sense of annihilation.

Another preeminent figure of Victorian poetry was Robert Browning, who was also Tennyson’s contemporary. Never have two products of the same age been so widely diverse as Browning and Tennyson. Browning remains uninfluenced by the element of doubt that had entered the Victorian era as a result of the scientific and industrial advantage of the age. The element of doubt and skepticism find no place in the poetry of Browning. He speaks of outright faith.

Browning’s Fra Lippo Lippi is a delightful poem. The conclusion of Fra Llippo Lippi is that the world is good because God made it. This shows Browning’s clear optimism, which goes against Victorian pessimism: ‘This world’s no blot for us.’

Fra Lippo Lippi expresses Browning’s strongest word of pure faith to an age of doubt. Like
Fra Lippo Lippi, the opening line of A Grammarian’s Funeral also presents a dramatic Situation in the poem:

Let us begin and carry up this corpse
Singing together.

The poem describes that the grammarian has the optimistic belief in a benevolent God and
immortality of the soul. Thus A Grammarian’s Funerals reflects Browning’s robust optimism, which was a strong opposing element of Victorians, for example: “Straight get by heart that book to its learned; we found him”(line, 51- 52). In the poem the mountain peak on which the Grammarian is to be buried achieves a symbolic value. The plains, which suffice for the common masses, symbolize low aims. The poem admits allegorical interpretation throughout. Thus poem finds a modern element, which was absent in Victorian poems. Like the modern poets Browning does not follow the established rules of poetry.

A Grammarian‘s Funeral is also written in blank verse like Fra Lippo Lippi and other poems of Browning. The poem is indeed, a “psalm of life, the mighty optimistic song of a life lived in the life of eternity, rather than within the limits of time.”

Thomas Hardy is another leading Victorian poet who also introduced the typical Victorian moral or ethical complications which are very uncharacteristic of Victorian attitudes. He intensified Tennyson's uncertainties about the religious doubts attendant on Victorian science and positivism. Hardy is often Victorian in his emphasis on the failures of human love and the hypocrisies in the social system of his time. He has important, if complicated, links with minor voices like Meredith, Swinburne, and the Decadent poets of the 1890s.

To conclude this, it can be said that the tensions of the conflicting demand rise because of the scene of the Victorian world is not the same in the Modern world. The age is one of the interrogations, and there is a total break down of old faith, idealism and conviction. In fact the modern age appears quite skeptical of the old certainties and values, governing Victorian life. The modern age is labeled, and rightly perhaps, as the age of interrogation. Old prejudices and old moralities are challenged sharply. There is a clear revolt against the conventionalism, Victorianism,- against its sense of stability, its strife for order and its spiritual complacency.

Thus, the tension, anguish and the conflicting demands of the Victorian age are  reflected clearly and aptly in the Victorian poetry, especially in the poetry of  Tennyson, Browning and Hardy.