Tennyson and Browning: ‘A Tiger-Lilly and a Rose’

Nige recalls a formative book of verse…

There were rather few volumes of poetry on the bookshelves of my childhood home – I remember an early Golden Treasury, a big Victorian edition of Longfellow with grandiose line engravings, an anthology of stirring verse for boys called Lyra Heroica (edited by W.E. Henley, author of Invictus, friend of RLS and peg-legged model for Long John Silver), and a small volume bound in blue cloth that probably had more effect on my embryonic taste in verse than any.

It was a joint anthology of Tennyson and Browning, ‘contrasted by Guy Boas’, who also supplies a slightly precious Introduction, beginning ‘To put a tiger-lily and a rose into the same vase does not make harmony, but it arrests attention…’

The collection, with fine frontispiece portraits of the two poets – Tennyson young and beardless, Browning with a chin pelmet of silky beard – was first published in 1925, but was clearly a big success, on its 17th printing by 1949, the date of my copy. I wonder if anyone reading this also has it? I have a friend who grew up with it in the house…

With the poems crammed tight into its 250-odd pages, Tennyson and Browning really is a very serviceable anthology of both poets’ work. As a child what I took from it was chiefly the bounce and excitement of the lighter Browning poems (the volume opens with How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix) and the mighty music of Tennyson’s sonorous lines.

In fact, though many of the poems as a whole were then impenetrable to me – how could a child understand My Last Duchess or Andrea del Sarto, Oenone or Maud? – it was the music of both poets that came through and no doubt wove itself into the rhythms and cadences in my head.

That small volume also inspired in me a strange precocious obsession with In Memoriam, which I even attempted to learn by heart. When In Memoriam was first published, anonymously, one review was a particularly fine example of critical acumen: ‘These touching lines,’ the reviewer declared confidently, ‘evidently come from the full heart of the widow of a military man.’ Evidently.

Share This Post

About Author Profile: Nige

Cravat-Wearer of the Year Nige, who, like Mr Kenneth Horne, prefers to remain anonymous, is a founder blogger of The Dabbler and has been a co-blogger on the Bryan Appleyard Thought Experiments blog. He is the sole blogger on Nigeness, and (for now) a wholly owned subsidiary of NigeCorp. His principal aim is to share various of life's pleasures.

8 thoughts on “Tennyson and Browning: ‘A Tiger-Lilly and a Rose’

  1. andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
    November 14, 2011 at 19:22

    I absolutely love the misplaced confidence of that reviewer. I’ll bet he was like that all the time.

  2. Gaw
    November 15, 2011 at 07:30

    At my school in the ’80s these Victorian poets were totally ignored; it was as if they’d never existed. This was despite our reading a lot of poetry (we had an enthusiastic, bearded and rather Lawrentian English teacher). It must have been the last gasp of the twentieth-century reaction against eminent Victorians, though an exception was made for the less easily categorised Hardy. However, I do wonder whether the length and epic nature of their poems counted against them, as those qualities seem even more unfashionable than being Victorian.

    • Brit
      November 15, 2011 at 07:35

      Same here. My first encounter with Browning was at university.

  3. kathywllms1@gmail.com'
    November 16, 2011 at 20:24

    Length and epic nature were the crucial character-forming components of poetry as far as my teacher was concerned. We 11-year-olds had to learn the whole blooming lot – Good News from Ghent to Aix, Charge of the Light Brigade, The Highwayman – reciting them in unison, week after week, until we got them right. Mistakes were met by a roar of ‘you silly arse’ and we’d have to start again.

    This was in the 60s in one of the pink outposts of the dying empire. We could do it – why couldn’t you lot at home?

    • Gaw
      November 16, 2011 at 21:08

      We were deprived of those joys at my provincial English comp twenty years later. I really am envious – memorised poetry is a wonderful mental resource for life.

  4. nigeandrew@gmail.com'
    November 17, 2011 at 10:59

    Yes, a lot to be said for rote learning – even if you forget almost every line later. It instils rhythm and metre and sound patterns, if not meaning.

    • Gaw
      November 17, 2011 at 14:38

      Good point. I found memorising Russian poetry very helpful when learning the language, particularly how to speak it. This probably has something to do with it having, like English, stressed syllables.

  5. kathywllms1@gmail.com'
    November 19, 2011 at 18:08

    “even if you forget almost every line later”…………………yes, despite those years of rote learning I can only remember snatches of verse but they do last for ever. It can get you down though. A moon can only ever be a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, for example, and when we go on the motorway we are always riding into the jaws of Death. A visit to the coast is perenially to the lonely sea and the sky; when we’re in a hurry I gallop, Dirck gallops, we gallop all three. It’s a damn bind actually.

    On the other hand, rote learning of times tables saved an awful lot of bother. I wish such admirable shortcuts would make their way back to the classroom.

Comments are closed.