Maud and other poems
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Maud and other poems was Alfred, Lord Tennyson's first collection after becoming poet laureate in 1850, published in 1855. Among the "other poems" was "The Charge of the Light Brigade", which had already been published in the Examiner a few months before. It was considered a disgrace to society in the early days of its release and was banned for eight and a half years, until popular demand made it available to read once more. The ban was reportedly commissioned due to suggestive themes and supposedly biased opinions toward the current government opposition, which were later confirmed false by Tennyson, while also expressing his own judgement on the whole event as 'a bit of a joke'.
The poem was inspired by Charlotte Rosa Baring, younger daughter of William Baring (1779-1820) and Frances Poulett-Thomson (d. 1877). Frances Baring married, secondly, Arthur Eden (1793-1874), Assistant-Comptroller of the Exchequer, and they lived at Harrington Hall, Spilsby, Lincolnshire, which is the garden of the poem (also referred to as 'the Eden where she dwelt' in Tennyson's poem 'The Gardener's Daughter').
The first part of the poem dwells on the funeral of the protagonist's father, and a feeling of loss and lament prevails; then Maud is the prevailing theme. At first the narrator is somewhat antagonistic towards Maud and is unsure whether she is teasing him; he feels Maud is unfit to be a wife. Later the narrator falls passionately in love with Maud and this transforms the narrative into a pastoral, dwelling on her beauty.
The appearance of Maud's brother causes conflict. Maud's brother favours a collier who is seen as an upstart as his family have been rich for only three generations, and forbids Maud to contact the narrator. The brother goes to London for a week, giving the narrator a chance to court Maud, but on his return he arranges a ball, invites the collier and leaves the narrator out. During the ball the poet waits for Maud in the garden, leading to the famous line, “Come into the garden, Maud”. Early in the morning Maud comes out. Shortly afterwards Maud's brother also comes out and strikes the narrator. The poet kills him in an unnarrated duel.
The narrator is forced to flee to France where he learns later that Maud has also died. The reason is unclear but one suspects a broken heart. Maud's death impacts on the psychological state of the protagonist, and an emotional longing for contact with the deceased echoes the tones of In Memoriam. The distressed poet loses his sanity for a while and imagines that he himself is dead.
The poem ends in Part III with the poet apparently restored to sanity leaving to fight in the Crimean War; parallels may be drawn between the death of Maud's brother, and the apparently justified killing of soldiers in war.
Interpretation of Maud
The interpretation of Maud is complicated by the compromised position of the narrator: the emotional instability of the poet. This is expressed through a variety of poetic meters and forms as well as a proto-cinematic cycling of imagery. The puzzle of the outside sphere of Maud, for example, the point of view of Maud herself, remains unresolved. The poem is a distorted view of a single reality, and the variation in meter can be seen to reflect the manic-depressive emotional tone of the speaker. While the poem was Tennyson's own favourite (he was known very willingly to have recited the poem in its entirety on social occasions), it was met with much criticism in contemporary circles.
In Maud, Tennyson returns to the poetry of sensation, and dwells on a consciousness constituted of fragments of feeling. He deliberately denies an autonomous voice, and the ending is deeply ironic. The complex of feeling is ephemeral, and the culmination of these feelings ends in the unsatisfactory conclusion of the Crimean War. Tennyson is expressing the feelings of an age where identity, intellect and modernity were contentious issues. He does not offer a clear, linear answer. The chivalric style of the love-poem is combined with a contemporary cynicism, and so the Victorian tendency to look to remote cultures (here, medievalism) is insufficient. The interweaving of death and life images gives expression to the greater concern for the afterlife, and the movement of the human race into a different age from past monuments.
The well known song "come into the garden Maud" appears at the end of the first part of Maud.
- Maud (Online text of Maud)
- The Literary Encyclopedia, Alfred Tennyson: Maud, and other Poems (Login required to access this fully)
- Webster Booth - Come Into the Garden, Maud (Video of the song)