"A mosaic choicely plann'd/With cycles of the human tale" — a note to Tennyson's "The Palace of Art"

George P. Landow, Professor of English and the History of Art, Brown University

Here begins a series of quatrains that offer a view of human life from the speaker's aesthetic point of view. This section is one point at which "The Palace of Art" to an extent parallels what I take to be its companion poem, "The Lady of Shalott." However, unlike the cloistered artist of that poem who presents a neutral picture of the lower orders, the proud Soul sees the people as "a beast of burden slow" and "over these she trod" by putting them on the floor!

However much this medievalizing allegorical poem might seem to be in some sense escapist, we have to remember that Tennyson wrote it in 1832, the year of the first great Reform Act, which extended the right to vote down the social scale. Many works written at this time of marked political agitation, which many thought would bring on a conflict like the French Revolution, directly or indirectly concern national politics, and "The Palace of Art" is no exception, the young poet ties together the artistic, moral, psychological, and political implications of the aesthete's selfish withdrawal from society. At this point in the poem Tennyson appears particularly Victorian, since, following Carlyle, early and middle Victorian authors frequently struggled to unite the personal and the public or political.

[Back to the passage in "The Palace of Art"]

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Last modified 12 October 2005