In Tennyson's "The Palace of Art," the narrator's descriptions of the mansion's interior go on at length to create the detailed settings that dominate the poem. While the majority of the poem's length is devoted to the depiction of the palace's interior rooms and moods, none of the descriptions goes on at length. Instead, each stanza represents one encapsulated scene. Alliteration and assonance play a prominent role throughout much of the poem. Repeated sounds are especially notable in the description of the palace's rooms, "each a perfect whole":
One seem'd all dark and red — a tract of sand,
And some one pacing there alone,
Who paced for ever in a glimmering land,
Lit with a low large moon.
One show'd an iron coast and angry waves
You seem'd to hear them climb and fall
And roar rock-thwarted under bellowing caves,
Beneath the windy wall.
And one, a full-fed river winding slow
By herds upon an endless plain,
The ragged rims of thunder brooding low,
With shadow-streaks of rain.
The catalog of the rooms "fit for every mood" reflects the "mosaic choicely plann'd/ With cycles of the human tale" on the palace's floor that is described later in the poem. The tight relation between each stanza's closed abab rhyme scheme and the encapsulated scene it describes suggests an intentional interplay between form and content. Since the separation of stanzas reflects the walls between rooms in the mansion, the reader expects to find deeper connections between the poetic effects in the descriptions and the scenes they depict. The strategic use of form to enrich the poem's content seems to be a departure from art-for-art's-sake in favor of art-for-function's-sake. The reader is left to consider how the poem "The Palace of Art" compares to the metaphor of the palace of art that it describes.
1. How does the form of the self-contained, rhyming quatrains in "The Palace of Art" contribute to the mood and meaning of the poem?
2. Are the assonance and alliteration meant to create a certain impression for the reader's ear, or are the effects meant more as aesthetic background and art for art's sake?
3. The speaker includes an isolated instance of the second-person pronoun in the lines "You seem'd to hear them climb and fall/ And roar rock-thwarted under bellowing caves." Who is "you" meant to refer to? Is it an exchange between the narrator and the soul, or should it simply be read as "One seem'd to hear..."?
4. The description of the "iron coast and angry waves" suggests a harsh and unwelcoming landscape. Another room's landscape features "a foreground black with stones and slags." Are these passing references commenting on the increasing industrialization of the natural landscape? How does the rise of the urban landscape and associated industries affect the artist's work and audience?
Last modified 26 January 2009