Tennyson's Reinvention of the Hero as Poet
I AM! yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish, an oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death's oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tos't
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
And e'en the dearest--that I loved the best--
Are strange--nay, rather stranger than the rest.
- John Clare1
There is no more enduring theme in the truly Western body of literature, religion, and philosophy than that of the hero. Western thought apotheosizes the hero and the act of heroism. This practice is rooted in the heroic ages, where, as in the Iliad, the heroes of both sides have unique access to the gods and goddesses. The hero is the man who transcends with dirt under his fingernails and the dust of battle in his throat. He transcends through the savage wilds of Nature. In the West, too, the hero is known not only for physical skill or bravery, but also for inculcation of mental qualities, for cultivation of a superior sense of insight, a Higher vision and comprehension.
Thomas Carlyle revives and revisits the ancient concepts of the hero and the heroic. Heroes have evolved into two hypothetically universal forms: the Hero as Man of Letters2, and the Hero as Poet 3. The Man of Letters and the Poet are closely linked in form, but exist as separate heroes. The Man of Letters transcends his socially imposed and self-imposed limitations, and the binding force of personal needs and...
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...hows the distance between the hero and Victorian society in his poetry by commenting on this situation with mythological or legendary figures. He writes of people in a fantastic past that were once revered but are antiquated in Victorian society. Though he seems to be in concurrence with Carlyle in his expression that the hero is necessity, he is not wrong when he says that the Hero as Poet is unsuccessful in Victorian society. This is shown in the want of an audience or following for this timeless hero, and also in the distancing Tennyson creates with fictitious heroes in his poetry, such as King Arthur, Ulysses, the Lady of Shalott, Tithonus and Sir Galahad. This demonstrates the Victorian disconnection with the heroic, their uncoupling with the spiritual with the secular, and emphasizes the tragic nature of Carlyle's hero in Victorian society's period of crisis.