"O God-like isolation which art mine,
I can but count thee perfect gain,
What time I watch the darkening droves of swine
That range on yonder plain.
"In filthy sloughs they roll a prurient skin,
They graze and wallow, breed and sleep;
And oft some brainless devil enters in,
And drives them to the deep."
Then of the moral instinct would she prate
And of the rising from the dead,
As hers by right of full-accomplish'd Fate;
And at the last she said:
"I take possession of man's mind and deed.
I care not what the sects may brawl.
I sit as God holding no form of creed,
But contemplating all."
In The Palace of Art Tennyson describes an aesthetic realm which, because of its isolation from the human community and its pretensions of divinty, causes the soul residing within to become spiritually bankrupt. Like many other Victorian writers, such as Arnold and Carlyle, Tennyson was concerned about the ideal of "art for art's sake," and wanted art to serve a social function. Although he gives a grand depiction of the Palace, Tennyson eventually punishes the soul inside for its excessive and selfish pride.
1. Tennyson criticizes the soul for two reasons; its condescending attitude towards the masses, "the darkening droves of swine," and also the sacriligious pride in its claim that "I sit as God..." Do these two criticisms amount to the same thing, or are there significant distinctions between them?
2. In his later poem "Ulysses" (text), Tennyson creates an opposition between Telemachus, "centered in the sphere of common duties", and Ulysses, who seeks a higher knowledge not attainable in mundance intercourse. Does this poem show a change in Tennyson's views? If not, what is the difference between Ulysses and the artistic soul?
3. What effect does Tennyson try to achieve by alternating between the soul as the speaker and an anonymous third-person narrator? How does the language of one speaker differ from that of the other?
4. Tennyson describes the Palace as bringing together in one structure all of the various feelings and aesthetic experiences humans can have, as well as fragments of culture from all places and times. How does this unifiying of human experience relate to the project, in Pre-Raphaelite paintings such as The Shadow of Death and The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, of suggesting the whole story of Christ in each episode?
5. How does the pacing of the poem reflect its thematic stasis and timelessness?
Last modified 1 October 2006