Philosophical Elements in The Poem The Two Voices

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      The Two Voices by Alfred Lord Tennyson expresses a conflict. In this poem, the poet argues within himself whether life is worth living or not. In a mood of deep depression, the poet hears a voice which says in effect that, as he is unhappy and as there is no particular purpose or good working itself out through all the suffering in the universe, he should put an end to his life. The other voice finds answers. At first the negative voice seems stronger, but eventually it is defeated. The Two voices is one of Tennyson's most impressive and philosophical poem. One might almost regard The Two Voices as continuing in a philosophic key the melancholy musing of Locksley Hall. W.H. Auden said that Tennyson knew everything about melancholia. Tennyson's poetry is, indeed, the poetry of sadness. The note of lament, or the elegiac note, is very pronounced in Tennyson's verse. Like The Two Voices, The Vision of Sin, Tithonus and Maud are only a few examples of the poetry of sadness. Tennyson's melancholy was temperamental, and it was later fostered and reinforced by his experiences as a child and by the premature death of his close friend, A.H. Hallam. The Two Voices, written in 1833 and published in 1842. It was originally entitled Thoughts of a Suicide and was written in the crisis offer Hallam's death. "It was begun under the cloud of this overwhelming sorrow which.....for a while blotted out all joy from his life, and made him long for death". There is a similar disconsolate protest against the vanity and emptiness of life; there is the feeling of doubt, disillusion, a sombre self-examination, and some vague longing or the battlefield as a remedy for the morbid sensibility which reappears later in Maud. The Two Voices may be regarded as Tennyson's "To be or not to be", a fight between self and soul, and between 'Everlasting No' and the 'Everlasting yea'.

The sentiments of The Two Voices are echoed at every turn in the elegy. The debate between the voice of Faith and the voice of Doubt — the Everlasting Yea and the Everlasting Nay of Carlyle is carried forward and diffused through In Memoriam. The debate between Faith and Doubt in the poem will be clear from the analysis given in the critical summary. The poet is torn in conflict. A voice, signifying negation speaks to him. It says, it is better not to live than to live a life of misery. But, there is another voice which points out that it is worth living. All these are the reaction of the poet's state of mind. His inner two voices are thinking about the real circumstances of the society. His philosophy of life is totally concerned about the Victorian life; which may be signified to the whole world.
The Two Voice

      Tennyson tried to understand fully and sympathise with the movements and agitations of his time and expressed in his poetry what he felt about them. He's poetry become an expression of his approval of what was noble and disapproval of what was unhealthy and corrupt in the thought of the age. Tennyson was a devout Christian, but not a religious fanatic, and an advocate of ordered progress, but not Ultra Modern. Therefore he equally welcomed the influences of historic Christianity and modern scientific thought. He bore an attitude of compromise between the two. He maintained an attitude which was neither purely scientific or rational, nor purely religious. He preached a halfway course between science and dogmatic Christianity and denounced neither science nor religion. He had compromising attitude towards science, his faith in religion was not half-hearted, and the religious spirit dominated his poetry. He rendered signal service to his Age by his poetry, by creating and trying to revive religious reverence among thousands of readers, and by toning down some of the over-definite dogmatic creeds of his time. The had a strong tendency to idealise facts. He discerned a kind of poetical beauty in the daily routine of life, and saw heroism in the average man. He never under-rated ordinary people and with advancing years he learnt to read God everywhere. His Idylls embodied his ideas of progress and preach of unconquerable strength of Hope. Due to his strong faith in God and human goodness, he believed that science will ultimately quench all desires and end war and the earth will then show 'something kindlier', 'holier'. According to him the highest good lies in helping our fellow-men and not in empty pious sentiments. Thus, his philosophy was truly practical.

      The sentiments of The Two Voices are echoed at every turn in the elegy. The debate between the voice of Faith and the voice of Doubt — the Everlasting Yea and the Everlasting Nay of Carlyle is carried forward and diffused through In Memoriam. The debate between Faith and Doubt in the poem will be clear from the analysis given in the critical summary. The poet is torn in conflict. A voice, signifying negation speaks to him. It says, it is better not to live than to live a life of misery. But, there is another voice which points out that it is worth living. All these are the reaction of the poet's state of mind. His inner two voices are thinking about the real circumstances of the society. His philosophy of life is totally concerned about the Victorian life; which may be signified to the whole world.

      With two biological concepts which everyone today connects with the doctrines of evolution, Tennyson was familiar and anxiously concerned; the theories, that is, of the prodigality of Nature and of the struggle for existence. One can hardly doubt that Tennyson had come into contact with both concepts by the middle of 1830's, if not before. The first appearance of the former concept in Tennyson's work is in The Two Voices, and of the latter in the famous section LVI of In Memoriam. Like In Memoriam, this poem counterpoises in striking contrast of man's belief, or desire to believe, that God is love indeed, and love, creation's final law, with the dark fact of Universal struggle in nature warfare and death which "shrieked against his creed". There is another passage in The Two Voices that immediately suggests to the later generation the mutation of species. The Poet is speculating three possible modes of pre-existence, either our state may have been the same before birth as now, or we may have lapsed from noble place or finally;

If through lower lives I came-
Though all experience part become
Consolidate in mind and frame.

      But Tennyson is writing about the transmigration of souls, and the lines refer not so much to material as to spiritual progress-a sort of semi-evolutionary idea. The idea of past experience becoming consolidate in the Frame as well as the mind is distinctly important and injects the idea of physical change into these speculations concerning the soul. But from the lines themselves we cannot be at all sure whether Tennyson was thinking of changes in species, or of the idea that the human body in its embryonic stages has resemblance to lower organisms. It is wrong to suppose that everybody the nineteenth century connected the doctrine of mutability in species with the same phenomena and generalisations that students of science do at the present time. Tennyson's attitude toward ideas like these and his marital processes when dealing with them, were very much like those which any highly educated person living in those yeas would have had, if he had studied the subjects that Tennyson studied. Tennyson was not seeing by a mystic intuition the proofs of organic evolution that Drawin was to produce later: nor was he jumping past the factual evidence by the light of a transcendental metaphysic. He was following, in a sane and clear headed fashion, the most enlightened scientific thinkers of those decades; taking the results of his study into his own mind, and there struggling to mould them into some satisfactory working philosophy of life. If we keep all these facts in mind, we can turn to Tennyson's verse with some comprehension of the ideas which he was acquainted with in natural science, rather than those which we know best today. And then one fact becoming more clear; that not every statement of Tennyson's which suggests 'evolution' to us meant the same thing to him when he made it.

      The Voice of negation points out that, as a dream, his desire to promote some good cause is good but nevertheless is a dream. To follow knowledge, the voice insists, is to chase shadows; and if one goes on the quest, one cannot be sure of what one finds. Death is the only good worthy of attainment. The poet replies that the voice is taking a one sided view. He refers to persons who, striving hard against the confusion of systems and creeds, have seen the distant glory of heaven and who, like Stephen, have enjoyed certain secret of heavenly transports. The poet, by committing suicide, would only be moving from a bad into a worse position and may, in trying to undo one riddle, find himself faced with a hundreds of other riddles. Death may release him from the pain of his life only to imprison him in some unknown condition of permanent agony. The voice thereupon depicts the picture of a dead man. In the dead man there is no passion pain or pride; he cannot obey commands nor even understand them; he has lost the power to speak. But, the poet replies that there may only be the outward signs of death. Man has in him an inner capacity to sense a mystery to which he gives the name of Eternity. A Heavenly Friend (the dead Arthur Hallams, perhaps) may speak to a living being (i.e., the poet himself) from behind the veil and tell him that there is an ultimate goal in life. Surely within and without a man, there must be an answer to his doubts if only his wisdom could find out that answer.

      In The Two Voices, inspite of its happy illustrations from nature and its well-turned, sine way phrases, dialectic overmasters poetry, we read it far more for lines such as:-

The furry prickle fine the dell,
The fox glone cluster dappled bells...

      The good Christian in him has urged him perpetually to believe that life and its creator are good, and that he himself must play his humble but God-given part in making life better. The other side of his nature saw in life "lamentation and an ancient tale of wrong" ones which a good God could not preside; it urged him personally away from all commitment, towards the enjoyment of peace and beauty in which alone he could find certain good. The same division is to some extent reflected in The Two Voices. In this the poet argues within himself on the question whether life is worth living. The Two Voices is one of Tennyson's most impressive poems. The arguments are vigorously and memorably expressed on both sides. The three-line verses are beautifully sustained each group of lines bunched like a knot of thought to be attacked by the idea which is its negation.

These three made unity so sweet,
My frozen heart began to beat,
Remembering its ancient heath.

      There is a valid criticism of The Two Voices. On argumentation upon this poem, Buckley says', "it moves be delayed towards its preconceived solution". In other words, although the counter arguments of the 'bad' voice are fully expressed in the various stages of the poem, Tennyson really knew from the start that he was going to make the 'good' voice triumph, and you can see him manipulating the arguments to that end; the poem, then, is a consciously thought out piece of dialectic; one does not feel that the determination to come to can optimistic conclusion took charge of the writer. The Two Voices, in fact, has somewhat the same relationship to The Lotos Eaters as The Palace of Art to The Lady of Shalott. The Two Voices and The Palace of Art both argue a case using imaginative poetic means to do it. In The Palace of Art and The Two Voices, Tennyson is standing in his own person before the nineteenth century public. In both poems he exposes his own spiritual dilemma with wonderful frankness, but in both his solution is the one which the public wanted of him. He was not being hypocritical in arriving at these conclusions; they were the answers he thought to be right. But deeper in him were feelings beyond the grip of the consciously arguing mind, and we are closest to this in the poems where the creative imagination is most in control.

      The Two Voices is a comedy in the sense in which Dante's poem is a comedy; it marks a progression from despair to bliss; and as such it is an excellent document for the study of Tennyson's development. From the same feeling that he shared with Carlyle's Tecfelsdroeckh that the world is ruled only by matters and is devoid of spirit—he passed through the period of denial of life to the period of the center of Indifference, in which he refused to accept the voice of negation. He begins to perceive the Everlasting Yea; apprehends not only that the world is alive but also that the pervading spirit of the universe, love, is good. In The Two Voices, the poetic imagination of Tennyson reflects a true sketches of real life. Sorrow and pleasure, are the two sides of the same coin. One has to face the each side in his/her life. It is the truth of Eternity. The poet analyses all these things with a broad mind and heart. His descriptions and critical suggestion to the world is purely philosophical. His philosophy reflects the reality of life.

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