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Queen Victoria (181-101) was the first English monarch to see her name given to the period of her reign whilst still living. The Victorian Age was characterised by rapid change and developments in nearly every sphere - from advances in medical, scientific and technological knowledge to changes in population growth and location. Over time, this rapid transformation deeply affected the countrys mood an age that began with a confidence and optimism leading to economic boom and prosperity eventually gave way to uncertainty and doubt regarding Britains place in the world. Today we associate the nineteenth century with the great change in English literature in particular the area of poetry. Victorian poetry as it’s most commonly referred to, was very much concerned with contemporary social problems. Change rather than stability came to be accepted for the first time as normal in the nature of human outlook. Victorian poetry can be classified as Early (187-51), Mid(1851-70) and late(1870-101) saw the progress in poetic style from the Romantic Era to the Modernist Era, it also saw the rise of the popular form of poetry referred to as the Sonnet.

Some of the most famous poets of the Victorian era include;

ɨ Ralph Waldo Emerson (180-8)

ɨ Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-61)

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ɨ Alfred, Lord Tennyson (180-)

ɨ Robert Browning (181-8)

ɨ Edward Lear (181-88)

ɨ Emily Bronte (1818-48)

ɨ Matthew Arnold (18-88) ɨ Dante Gabriel Rossetti (188-8)

ɨ Christina Rossetti (180-4)

ɨ Emily Dickinson (180-86,)

ɨ Lewis Carroll (18-8)

ɨ Algernon Swinburne (187-10)

ɨ Thomas Hardy (1840-18)

ɨ Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-8)

As mentioned previously the Victorian Era was a period in British history where much change occurred not only socially, economically or politically but attitudes and values towards different aspects of society also changed. Therefore attitudes can be described as Victorian if they reflect the values also expressed during this period. One such example is the attitude towards health. Health occupied the Victorian mind more than -- religion, or politics, or improvement, or Darwinism. In the name of health, Victorians flocked to the seaside, tramped about in the Alps, dieted, took pills, sweated themselves in Turkish baths, and adopted different systems of medicines to reflect this. For the sake of health, they invented, revived, or imported a multitude of athletic recreations, and England became, in Sir Charles Tennysons words, the worlds game master. Literary critics thought of health when they read a new book of poems; social theorists thought of Health when they envisioned an ideal society.

This attitude towards health is also strongly expressed in today’s society and we therefore can say that we hold a very ‘Victorian’ view on health and well being. In today’s society many other Victoria views are seen to be somewhat conservative, however when these views were made public they sparked much controversy and changed the face of British society.

“The sun never sets on the British Empire,”

Rudyard Kipling

Recessional serves as a warning against England’s precarious position in trade and against the complacency setting in to the British Empire. Kipling warns about England’s Dominion where Australia and Canada act as its poles. He expresses his fear about the possibility of England loosing all its pomp of yesterday and loosing all control over the colonies, he does this by comparing Britain to the great trade cities of Nineveh and Trye and how they disappeared, later becoming ruins. He also points out the idea of blinding power and ignorance on the British empire’s behalf, believing that this could lead to it’s downfall;

“ If, drunk with sight of power, we loose”

Finally the poem contains a strong warning to the British not to exploit other races;

“ Such boastings as the Gentiles use, Or lesser breeds without the Law”.

In terms of the major techniques used by Kipling to present his view ,one must make reference to the rhyme scheme employed by Kipling and the enhancement this has on the poem’s flow. The use of the rhyme scheme ‘aabbcc’ enhances the effect of the poem and reinforces the prey ‘like’ flow to the text. Also the fact that the last two lines of each stanza make significant religious reference reinforces the idea of the poem’s prey like structure;

“Lord of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget- lest we forget!”

In relation to the prey like structure of the poem the very title, ‘Recessional’ carries great religious weight, referring to the piece of music played or sung at the closure of a religious service and alludes the reader to the idea that the British Empire’s rule is coming to an end. In terms of another technique used, the very language alludes the reader to the power of the British Empire and the power that God holds;

“Who’s awful Hand we hold”,

“ Judge of the nations, spare us yet,”

“Our Far Flung battleline.”

Finally Rudyard Kipling’s perspective of the British Empire and the date in which the poem was written explain of the perceivable downfalls in the nations past, present and future.

“Loss of faith”

By Matthew Arnold

The poem ‘Dover Beach’ explains of the ‘loss of faith’ within the church during the Victorian era, and does so by using the ocean and the tide to represent this ‘loss of faith’. It is through Arnold’s use of imagery, language and presentation of issues the reader is automatically forced to react somewhat sympathetically but also forced to realise a hidden message ‘behind the words’.

In terms of imagery the most meaningful image is that of the sea, hence the title. Throughout the poem, the sea is used as an image and a metaphor. At first, it is beautiful to look at in the moonlight, then it begins to make hostile sounds grating roar, tremulous cadence that evoke the general feelings of sadness. In the third stanza, the sea is turned into a metaphoric Sea of Faith, a symbol for a time when religion could still be experienced without the doubts brought about by the progress of science, in particular the introduction of Darwinism. It is behind this image, Arnold presents the concept of religion withdrawing itself from the human mind and leaving only darkness, and in turn causes the reader to contemplate the effect science had on religion throughout the Victorian era.

The use of language throughout the poem also has a strong impact on the reader and adds to the poem’s already dramatic tone. With the use of phrases like “human misery”, and “ naked shingles of the world”, Arnold alludes the reader to the fact that without religion the world is somewhat ‘naked’ and expresses a general feeling of misery. Finally the language used in the 4th stanza lines five and six sums up what Arnold perceives the world to become, and raises the question that if these basic human values do not exist, what remains? Along with Arnold’s use of language, his poetic treatment also enhances the effect of the poem. The use of repetition, in particular ‘is’ reinforces the loss and darkness felt by Arnold himself. As for rhyme, there is no apparent rhyme scheme, except in the fourth stanza where a rhyme scheme of abbacddcc can be detected, along with seven lines of iambic pentameter.

Finally the poem uses the concepts mentioned previously to force the reader to assess religion and it’s value but also gives an insight into the role religion played during the Victorian era and the mixed feelings expressed. Best of all the poem leaves the reader with the idea that if the bottom has fallen out of everything the only thing left to do is be ‘true to each other’.

“a sombre idealism”

by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Tennysons poem Ulysses is very much a reflection on the life of the heroic character Ulysses, his dangers past and now his growing tiredness of having to stay home and ‘grow old with the rest’. The poem uses a very unique way of expressing the feelings of Ulysses, instead of making use of comparison the poem uses a method of discussion, thereby capturing the reader’s interest and offering explanation.

“ Free hearts, free foreheads- you and I are old”.

The poem very much presents the age old saying of ‘live life to the full’ and does so by pointing out the fact that even though many battles have been fought and many adventures had there is still challenges to complete,

“Tis not too late to seek a newer world.”

Finally the poem combines past, present and future to reflect on life and it’s challenges and at the same time uses strong phrases such as “ made weak by time and fate, but strong in will,” to convey a meaning and purpose to the reader. However the poems greatest downfall is the expectation of the readers background knowledge of Ulysses and other ancient myths.

Much of the poetry produced during and after the Victorian era was very much related to the social, economic and political changes occurring. For instance middle class liberalism was a very powerful movement throughout the Victorian era and was brought about by poets such as Thomas Carlyle, J.S. Mill, Matthew Arnold, John Ruskin, and Walter Pater in the aim of modifying liberal assumptions about human nature, economics, and social organisation. Also the advances in science became widely spread in much of the work produced throughout the Victorian era and writers like Lyell, Wallace, and Darwin introduced the belief that when science advances, so does human society. Along with the new dominance of science comes anxiety over the loss of the older, religious outlook. It was poets like Matthew Arnold who expressed the fact that many British citizens found it hard to maintain their Christian beliefs.

Finally the most distinguishable characteristics of works, in particular poetry, throughout the Victorian poetry was their expression of human thought and emotion. They achieved this through reflecting on issues effecting much of British society and expressing the views of not merely the upper class but the middle and lower classes.

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