Why I Want to Hit Alfred, Lord Tennyson, by Marie Brennan, Age 29

Because the man keeps having bits of poetry that are allllllllllllmost what I want for the Victorian book, but not quite — either because they don’t contain any phrase I could use for a title, or because they go astray in some fashion that doesn’t make them work. Take these two lines:

To change our dark Queen-city, all her realm
Of sound and smoke

It’s got grit! And a city! And a Queen! Surely this will work, right?

Except that here’s the full passage:

Take, read! and be the faults your Poet makes
Or many or few,
He rests content, if his young music wakes
A wish in you
To change our dark Queen-city, all her realm
Of sound and smoke,
For his clear heaven, and these few lanes of elm
And whispering oak.

In other words, yay nature. Which, no. There’s what this book is about, and there’s that passage, and the two are pretty much at opposite poles to one another.

The problem, I’ve decided, is that the Victorians are insufficiently angry. My impression is that they wrote about nature’s beauty as a means of hiding from industrialization; what I want is poetry that is mad as hell about industrialization and not going to take it anymore. The few things I’ve found that come close to fitting that bill have failed to provide me with a good title quote.

So I keep searching. And I glare at Tennyson, because I just speed-read HIS COMPLETE POETIC WORKS and still don’t have a title. <fume>

0 Responses to “Why I Want to Hit Alfred, Lord Tennyson, by Marie Brennan, Age 29”

  1. bookblather

    William Blake’s a bit early, but I seem to recall he had some “FUCK YOU INDUSTRIALIZATION” poems going on.

    • Marie Brennan

      He’s a bit early, as you say. I’d like to get a title from someone who published later than the 1820s (which knocks out most of the Romantics). I have taken a look at him, though; while none of the poems I sampled fit the bill, if I don’t hit pay dirt soon I may start digging through his complete works.

      • akashiver

        Yeah, I was going to pick out Blake as the king of the “Industrialism SUKZ” poets. He’s also one of the few Romantics who didn’t believe in the turn to Nature, because he wanted social change here & now. He thought Wordsworth was a twat.

        I think it’s pretty hard to find critiques of industry that don’t simultaneously line up with celebrations of Nature. Romantic views was pretty powerful throughout the 19C (& remember, Tennyson himself is also a Romantic & a contemporary of Wordsworth etc.) If anything, Victorian poetry has a rep for being a bit more melancholy and a bit less practical than that of the revolutionary Romantics.

        What about Wordsworth? The Prelude didn’t come out ’til 1850, and its city passages are classic. They also involve using the memory of nature to steady oneself in the city, as opposed to running screaming into the trees.

        Then again, there’s also social protest poems.

  2. la_marquise_de_

    You might want to ask Adam Robert, the British writer and academic. That’s his speciality period and he’s likely to know about any dissenting or alternative poets.

  3. fjm

    You can use a line of poetry out of context, and then reviewers explain how you are being cleverly ironic, which is nice.

  4. fjm

    The problem I think is that the Victorians weren’t angry about industrialisation. The utopian socialists (ie Morris) would have preferred a artisan revolution, but otherwise what you mostly get is nimbyism, rather helped by the fact that the factories are mostly in the North and that the railways meant middle class man could live out in the suburbs and mostly ignore all the industrialisation that made this possible. Among the working class radicals, although they bemoaned its effects, industrialisation was seen as the means to secure a greater liberty. The aristocracy of labour were the engineers, not exactly the men to write poetry angry at the engine.

    • mindstalk


      It’s from the 13th-14th century steamless ‘industrialization’, but in attitude might be more what you’re looking for?
      If not, still, this coming out of the 14th century was a big random surprise.

      • fjm



    • sacredchao23

      And those who tended to criticize the excesses of industry tended to think that it simply needed to be bridled. Carlyle believes that as long as factories owners are the responsible “Captains of Industry,” all will be well. Similar views are found in Gaskell, and to some extent Dickens. The one writer who comes to mind as strongly opposed to industrialization is Ruskin, but who isn’t generally known for his poetry, (he did write some, I’m just not familiar with it.)

      There is a paradoxical sense of nostalgia in the Victorian age. Plenty of writers (particularly novelists) try to imagine a world previous to the steam-engine, while at the same time being quite excited by progress.

    • Marie Brennan

      I guess I really meant urbanization more than industrialization. My dream is to find a perfect line of poetry about London, one that captures its gritty dirty engine-ness, while still celebrating the city despite its flaws.

      Yeah, I’m not asking much.

      • mindstalk

        Marx might have some prose that qualifies. :p

        • Marie Brennan


          No, , this book is STILL not going to be titled Karl Marx and the Faerie Proletariat. Even if I’m thinking about reading Marx to find a title.

          • mindstalk

            Though to be honest I have no idea if he talked about cities or urbanism; I was extrapolating from his paean to capitalism and its big progress over feudalism. And 19th century European (and American?) cities really were dirty disease pits, AFAIK. (Tokyo-Edo Museum mentioned some guy surnamed Morse from Boston being really impressed with the cleanliness of early Meiji Tokyo. I think Tenochtitlan was clean too.)

      • fjm

        Not poetry, but Dickens is your best bet. Try the opening of Hard Times.

        • sacredchao23

          Dickens is what came to mind there for me too. I’d also suggest the opening of Bleak House, or perhaps segments from Tom-All-Alones.

        • Marie Brennan

          If only Dickens spoke in units smaller than a paragraph — and if only there weren’t so bloody much of him to look through . . . .

  5. celestineangel

    Though, Of Sound and Smoke would be a pretty cool title, in my opinion. Which is quite humble.

  6. sartorias

    Hopkins should fit the bill.

    • sacredchao23

      She might have to bend her criteria a little to include Hopkins. While he wrote in the tail end of the nineteenth century, his work wasn’t published until 1918. If I remember right Madame Brennan wanted work that was current in the period.

      • sartorias

        Yeah . . . I was stretching ‘Victorian’ a tad, but wow, he has some poetry that ought to elicit good mining.

        How about Kipling?

        • sacredchao23

          I definitely read Hopkins as Victorian (I don’t think you are stretching there,) he’s responding to some definite late-era issues and I think he’d be a good choice but for the posthumous publication of his corpus.

        • Marie Brennan

          Dammit — I actually found a possibility in Kipling, but it wasn’t published until 1906. Which is late enough that I might have to disqualify it.

          The title quote wasn’t entirely inspiring, but it came closer to fulfilling my criteria than most (i.e. it had a verb in it).

    • Marie Brennan

      I have one possible excerpt from the stuff of his I read, but while I might use it as an epigraph, it didn’t really have a title quote in it.

  7. sacredchao23

    You might want to take a look at “The Factory” by Letitia Elizabeth Landon (I apologize for the ugly version on that site). Its not a great poem, not even really a good one, but there are a few good lines taken in isolation. Its early, 1835, so its not technically Victorian (depending on who you ask). Still it might have something you’d be happy with.

    • Marie Brennan

      Thanks for the link. The first few lines were promising — but you weren’t kidding when you said it wasn’t a great poem. 🙂

  8. matociquala

    That’s funny, I wanted to hit him Tuesday, for the scene in “Guinevere” where Arthur shows up at the convent, harangues Guen for 75 lines about How She Has Destroyed The Kingdom, and then says “But I’m not here to condemn you, I’m here to forgive you before i go out to kill that Mordred kid or die” without EVER ONCE MENTIONING HIS OWN INFIDELITY.

    Oh, Arthur. Fail.

    Matthew Arnold, on the other hand, gives even Iseult of Brittany agency and a subject position. She’s kind of glad Tristen is dead and it’s quiet, so she can catch up on her knitting and play with the kids.


  9. lady_puck9999

    We just started talking about Victorian poetry in my Victorian lit class, and yes, they used poetry as an escape from the Industrial Revolution. My professor also pointed out that they were probably the first generation of writers and poets to see what they were doing as redundant and kind of useless, serving no purpose. Up until then, people had viewed their art as a necessary means of self expression, and a vital part of society.

    So Victorian poets kind of muddled around, making pretty things, not really sure why they were doing it.

    • mindstalk

      the first generation of writers and poets to see what they were doing as redundant and kind of useless, serving no purpose.

      Why would they think that?

      • lady_puck9999

        I don’t know. In all honesty, it was my fifth out of six classes that day, and I was no longer paying a lot of attention. That bit just caught my attention as being really sad. Apparently, the Romantics were convinced that they were performing a vital task, and then the Victorians thought that “culture” was separate from the advancement of society, which they saw as being entirely scientifically based, and therefore a luxury as opposed to a necessity.

        Now, this is all stuff my lecturer was saying, and I was only half paying attention to. So it could be both biased and heard incorrectly. But it made sense at the time.

        • fjm

          What utter and total nonsense and feel free to tell your lecturer that a UK historian said so.

          The Gradgrinds are unusual. The Victorians were obsessed with culture, and it was the norm for school children to learn to recite verse until well into the late 1960s, early 1970s. The Labour movement and the Utopian socialists were passionate about the right of the worker to culture (encompassed in the cry, we want bread, but we want roses too!) The Victorians invented the public –paid from the rates–lending library (most of which were really beautiful), the public concert hall, the public museum and art gallery–two science museums and three major art museums and galleries.

          All you have to do to see the utter rubbish of your Professor’s comments is to take a look at some of the great triumphs of technology:

          The Albert Memorial–bloody ugly if you ask me, but an attempt to use new technology to create something beautiful.

          The wondrous wrought iron bridges, all roses and thorns; the spans of Paddington Station.

          Now, poetry *was* in decline, but that may have more to do with print culture generally. As long as story was passed mostly orally, then poetry is the best way to do it Once you have widespread printing then the oral culture–and poetry–comes under pressure.

          If you are interested, you could start with William Morris and the pre-Raphaelites to see how passionate they were about culture.

          • lady_puck9999

            I think she was applying this reasoning solely to poetry, and not taking any other arts into consideration. So the architecture, drama, and visual arts weren’t under fire.

            And believe me, I am a huge fan of the pre-Raphaelites. If somebody tried to tell me that what they had done wasn’t necessary to the continued happiness of the human race, I would…explode.

          • fjm

            But given the importance of poetry in WWI I don’t think it is even valid for that.

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