Tennyson here introduces the subject of the aesthete's isolation that makes this poem a companion-piece to "The Lady of Shalott." That poem explores how giving in to normal social needs and desires destroys the poetic soul; here in this poem he presents the opposite pole of the Victorian poet's dilemma — isolation, keeping oneself apart from society, destroys the soul morally and psychologically. Tennyson's personal project, in other words, involves finding the proper balance between self and society, the personal and political. Put another way, this poem, which uses the distancing stragey of allegory, starts the exploration of ways Tennyson (and other Victorian poets and painters) can employ personal experience for public good without either plunging into egotistic self-display or entirely losing all privacy and sense of self. He does not solve this problem until In Memoriam.
[Back to the passage in "The Palace of Art"]
Tennyson, Alfred. The Poems. Ed. Christopher Ricks. (Longmans Annotated Poets Series) London: Longmans, 1969.
Last modified 11 October 2005