T.S. Eliot. “In Memoriam” An Appreciation of Tennyson.
The shallow age to which Eliot is referring is his own, the generation that witnessed the fall of modernism’s eschatological hopes and refused to finish the journey through the despair.
If I can draw a line through history here, it would be that: Tennyson’s Victorians, were the penultimate age of Modernism (reacting against Romanticism) believing that humanity had a shot at curing its own ills, which in poetry manifested in the technical achievements of poets like Tennyson. Then the fall of Modernism’s Babel. Now, in my generation, out of the rubble, new sprigs of hope are springing up. This happens every generation, but my generation seems to be mounting a real offensive.
I’m just wondering in print here, but is there a possibility that my generation will see a tendency in poetry towards prosody, form, and rhyme like those of the Victorians? If so, I suppose that will be the tell-tale sign, the “mouth speaking from the abundance of the heart.”
(As a side-note, I had an editor tell me this year, after I ranted a little bit, that I reminded him of William Blake. If that is the case, then perhaps this is good further reading: Yeats on Blake on the Imagination.)
Tennyson seems to have reached the end of his spiritual development with “In Memoriam”; there followed no reconciliation, no resolution.
“And now no sacred staff shall break in blossom,/
No choral salutation lure to light/
A spirit sick with perfume and sweet night,”/
or rather with twilight, for Tennyson faced neither the darkness nor the light in his later years. The genius, the technical power, persisted to the end, but the spirit surrendered. A gloomier end than that of Baudelaire: Tennyson had no singulier avertissement (singular warning). And having turned aside from the journey through the dark night, to become the surface flatterer of his own time, he has been rewarded with the despite of an age that succeeds his own in shallowness.