To Virgil: by Alfred Lord Tennyson - Summary & Analysis

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      Introduction: Tennyson wrote the lyric To Virgil in the year 1882 at request of the lovers of Virgil, Mantuans to commemorate the nineteenth century of Virgil's death. Eulogical in nature, Tennyson through this poetry paid tribute to the great Roman poet who lived and wrote nineteen hundred years ago.

      Summary: The poem starts with an allusion to Virgil's epic Aenied that narrates the adventure of Greek hero Aenies who fought against Trojans. Troy was set on fire and all the splendid buildings and architectures were reduced to ashes. There is also a reference to 'Aenies' love towards his father, who also fought against Trojans, risking his own Iife. Dido, the queen of Carthage, is also one of the characters in Aenied who consigned herself to the pyre as she was left heartbroken by Aenies whom she loved madly. The second stanza tells of Virgil's artistry in sketching the beauty of Nature, his mastery in diction that placed him higher in rank than the Greek poet Hesiod. His fanciful imaginations helped him to coin the phrases which glitter in their excellence. They are as valuable as gold.

      Apart from depiction of Nature's beauty Virgil also sang about the down trodden people like peasants and the surroundings which they inhabit. Tennyson praises Virgil's excellence in embodying all the beautiful facets of poetry in a single poem, even in a single word. The entire stanza implicitly indicates about Virgil's pastoral poem Eclogues which imparts all the poetic beauty that can be found in fragments in other poet's works. Even the fourth stanza alludes to Eclogues. The happy shepherd Tityrus characterized in the poem; his playfulness with mythological figure 'satyr' leads us to have a glimpse in the world of mythology.

      The fifth stanza portrays Virgil as a poet whose mind is filled with joy at the thought of the happy bygone days. It is not the cynicism but the utmost positivity that makes him think life will be without hardship and danger.

      Virgil perceives the universality of Nature - the unique nature that is pervading the entire world. With his true poetic insight he felt the presence of Universal Mind or God. Like a great poet he showed sublimity and majesticity in treating the theme of sadness - the subject that deals with man's helplessness at the hand of his own fate.

      The seventh, eighth and ninth stanzas tell of immorality of Virgil's work. His works are like light of a glowing star. It is the light that illuminates the surrounding darkness of ignorance in the universe.

      People cease to live, the kingdoms and majestic buildings erected by Caesars and kings become dilapidated and crumble to the ground but Virgil poetry continues to inspire the poets of modern ages since it is still relevant. Through Virgil's poem of 'ocean-roll' rhythms we witness a glimpse of the ancient glory of Rome. Ancient Rome's customs and practices like slavery had perished but Virgil's poetry continues to appeal to our mind.

      The last stanza highlights the poet's adoration for Virgil since his childhood who used hexametre - a majestic cadence to write his poetry and which has since been used by various poets, down the ages, in various modified forms.

      Critical Analysis: The poem is of ten stanzas. Each stanza consists of four lines. Cast in a regular cadence the poem is lucid and clear imparting melody of words which is truly lyrical in nature. The content of the poem has been enriched with adroit usage of similes and metaphors. In the poem Tennyson uses various classical and mythological imagery like 'Ilion's lofty temples robed in fire', Dido's pyre, Tityrus piping underneath his beechen bowers' etc. which have elated the scale of the poem which is befitting for Tennyson's purpose to pay homage to a Roman classical poet. We observe how diligently the poet uses, the epic simile in Homeric style, in the seventh stanza, where Aenies the hero in Virgil's Aenied, carriers a branch of golden light that illuminates his way as he passes through the underworld - the abode of spirits, where nothing is alive, everything is dead. Similarly Virgil's poem is a guiding light that enlightens people throughout the ages enriches their knowledge and continues to inspire the poets of successive ages.

      Conclusion: The poem is poignant with Tennyson's heart-felt emotions. He has eulogised Virgil. The poem does not appeal to our rationale faculty but through sheer use of magnificent poetic imagery the poet successfully touches upon the emotional chord of the readers.

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