Tennyson was not a poet for whom T.S. Eliot professed much love, though he was judicious as well as cool in his appraisals: 'He has three qualities which are seldom found together except in the greatest poets: abundance, variety and complete competence.' (He means 'they must be like Dante.') And 'he had the finest ear of any English poet since Milton' - an opinion that loses warmth when one recalls what Eliot said elsewhere about Milton. (Having a fine ear is not enough.) When Eliot attends to Tennysonian detail, for instance in Maud, he finds much to dislike, and pronounces 'the ravings of the lover on the edge of insanity' and the 'bellicose bellowings' to be 'false': they fail 'to make one's flesh creep with sincerity'. But In Memoriam is a different matter; there alone does Eliot find that Tennyson achieves 'full expression'. He issues, quite insistently, his customary warning: the poem must be 'comprehended as a whole'. Nevertheless it seems permissible to remember this part on its own:
Dark house, by which once more I stand
Here in the long unlovely street,
Doors, where my heart was used to beat
So quickly, waiting for a hand,
A hand that can be clasp'd no more -
Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
And like a guilty thing I creep
At earliest morning to the door.
He is not here; but far away
The noise of life begins again,
And ghastly thro' the drizzling rain
On the bald street breaks the blank day.
LRB 13 May 2010 | PDF Download