"The Palace of Art" discusses the romantic idea of leaving behind society in order to seek intellectual growth in a place constructed solely for that purpose. The sort of intellectual growth the narrator describes connects both with nature and with classic scholars e.g. Plato. But after several years of enjoyment, the narrator's personified soul falls from its high perch - it discovers the dark and unsettling areas of the palace and tires of the constant silence. The narrator's soul leaves the place to 'humble place' to 'mourn and pray' — suggesting a turn from naturalist, intellectual truths to religious truth; elaborate gothic spires to a simple cottage.

The poem for while seems a clear denunciation of the pursuit of knowledge in such a secluded way. But the very last stanza asks:

"Yet pull not down my palace towers, that are
     So lightly, beautifully built.
Perchance I may return with others there
      When I have purged my guilt."

These lines suggests that the 'palace' has its place, one must approach it only after enough time in the outer world to satisfy ones 'guilt.' Is it morally wrong for one to lead a life of isolation? The narrator certainly seems to possess considerable means, and could certainly effect change in the outside world.

Questions

1. Is it possible that the poem is a sort of allegory for academia, college in particular (a trying four year experience)? The idea of college as an ivory tower could fit the idea of the palace of art on a hill. If so, what are the narrator's and perhaps Tennyson's views on such a place?

2. A.W.N. Pugin believed that architecture possesses a moral obligation to be true to its function. Pugin looked at architecture through a Christian morality, denouncing 'pagan' classical architecture in favor of the Christian gothic. The narrator only directly alludes to religion at the end of the poem, when he speaks of his soul 'praying.' Throughout the poem, the speaker compares the architectural features of the palace, particularly the gothic spires, to flames, frost, and woods. This naturalism is summed up with:

Nor these alone, but every landscape fair,
      As fit for every mood of mind,
Or gay, or grave, or sweet, or stern, was there,
      Not less than truth design'd.

3. Tennyson seems to borrow Pugin's desire for an honest architecture but stripped of its Christian connotations. Indeed, the narrator places the gothic palace in contrast with the humble cottage to which his soul escapes.

4. How might Tennyson view the relationship between nature and religion? Are they opposed in his mind?

5. How does Rossetti use architecture in his engraving for the poem?


Victorian Website Overview Alfred Lord Tennyson

Last modified 30 January 2008