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The Development
Of Poetry
In The Victorian Age
The Victorian epoch was exceedingly
productive of literary work of a high quality, but,
except in the novel, the amount of actual innovation is
by no mean great. Writers were as a rule content to
work upon formal models, and the improvements they
did achieve were often dubious and unimportant.

The lyrical output:

The lyrical output is very large and varied,
as a glance through the works of the poets already
mentioned will show. In form there is little of fresh
interest. Tennyson was content to follow the methods
of Keats, though Brownings complicated forms and
Swinburnes long musical lines were more freely used
by them than by any previous writers.

Descriptive And Narrative Poetry:

In descriptive and narrative poetry there is a
greater advance to chronicle. In subject for example,
In the poems of Browning and Morris-there is great
variety, embracing many climes and periods; in
method there is much diversity, ranging from the
cultured elegance of Tennysons English landscapes
to the bold impressionism of the poems of Whitman.

The pre-Raphaelite school, also united several

features which had not been seen before in
combination. These were a fondness for medieval
themes treated in an unconventional manner, a richly
coloured pictorial effect, and a studied and melodious
simplicity. The works of Rosseetti, Morris, and
Swinburne provide many examples of this
development of poetry. On the whole we can say that
Victorians were strongest on the descriptive side of
poetry, which agreed with the more meditative habits
of the period, as contrasted with the warmer and more
lyrical emotions of the previous age.
There were many attempts at
purely narrative poetry, with interesting results.
Tennyson thought of reviving the epic, but in him the
epical impulse was not sufficiently strong, and his
great narrative poem was produced as smaller
fragments which he called idylls. Brownings Ring and
the Book is curious, for it can be called a
psychological epic-a narrative in which emotion
removes action from the chief place. In this class of
poetry The Earthly Paradise of William Morris is a
return to the old romantic tale as we find it in the
works of Chaucer.

In the case of poetry the more ornate
style was represented in Tennyson, who developed
artistic schemes of vowel music, alliteration, and other
devices in a manner quite unprecedented. The PreRaphaelites carried the method still further. In diction

they were simpler than Tennyson, but their vocabulary

was more archaic and their mass of detail more highly
coloured. The style of Browning was to certain extent
a protest against this aureate diction. He substituted
for it simplicity and a heady speed, especially in his
earlier lyrics; his more mature obscurity was merely
an effect of his eager imagination and reckless
impetuosity. Matthew Arnold, in addition, was too
classical in style to care for overdeveloped
picturesqueness, and wrote with a studied simplicity.
On the whole, however, we can say that the average
poetical style of this period, as a natural reaction
against the simpler mathods of the period immediately
preceding, was ornate rather than simple.

The major poets of the Victorian era
are Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) and Robert
Browning (1812-1889). Both are prolific and varied,
and their work defies easy classification.
Tennyson makes extensive use of
classical myth and Arthurian legend, and has been
praised for the beautiful and musical qualities of his
Browning's chief interest is in
people; he uses blank verse in writing dramatic
monologues in which the speaker achieves a kind of
self-portraiture: his subjects are both historical
individuals (Fra Lippo Lippi, Andrea del Sarto) and
representative types or caricatures (Mr. Sludge the

Other Victorian poets of note include

Browning's wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (18061861) and Christina Rossetti (1830-1894). Gerard
Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) is notable for his use of
what he calls sprung rhythm; as in Old English verse
syllables are not counted, but there is a pattern of
stresses. Hopkins' work was not well-known until very
long after his death.

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