“To Love Once and Forever!” Line eight of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “Spring” seems to be insinuating a rallying cry of men. Can we, as Tennyson’s readers, agree? And what does one gather from “The Flower”—a lesson in life, perhaps? Let us then delve into the world of Alfred Lord Tennyson through two of his poems—“Spring” and “The Flower” and find out what lies beneath the lyrics. What I have discovered is that Tennyson constructs some of his poems to teach the readers a point (“The Flower”), while in comparison, “Spring” to relay an emotion.
I will be dissecting into each poem to pore into this comparative plane, and in the process, discover Tennyson’s mindset that resulted into these two unique works of poetry.
“Spring” is a free verse as it does not conform to any set rule. Though not once was the title mentioned in the poem, one finds himself thinking of this particular season.
The poem speaks of “Birds’ love and birds’ song/ Flying here and there” which does evoke feelings of revival or renewal. One thinks of the return of the birds from the South, their beautiful songs of warmth, and their flight back to beloved trees that are coming into bloom. The third line repeats the first, then the fourth surprises you with, “And you with gold for hair!” This line tells you that the poem is not all about our flying friends. It speaks of an adored target (a woman comes to mind) with golden hair.
A repeat of the first line once more, then the words, “Passing with the weather”, 7th and 8th lines read “Men’s song and men’s love/To love once and forever”. Indeed? Tennyson seems to be saying that though the birds’ flights, songs and love change with the weather, men’s last forever. What was surprising was the word “once,” that to me connotes a first love that never did die. The second verse brings birds, men, and women together. Third and fourth lines of the second verse reads, “And you my wren with a crown of gold/You my queen of the wrens!” Here the feelings flow out. The poet gives his love a bird’s name.
A wren, curiously enough, is generally only of a dark brown plumage, but since wrens are considered songbirds, Tennyson obviously thought them a good enough species. It also emphasizes how special his love is—Queen of the wrens of their ordinary color, indeed! “You the queen of the wrens–/We’ll be birds of a feather/I’ll be King of the Queen of the wrens/And all in a nest together”, the final lines read. His hopes all summarized into the last two lines—that in future he sees himself united in marriage with his love and building a home together. Tennyson, relaying pure emotion, talked here of Spring, of love, of songs of love.
It’s curious to note how Tennyson has more that one poem with Spring in its title. “Progress of Spring,” which speaks of man’s hopes and likening it to Spring is another. Tennyson also once quoted: “In the Spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” So this poem is just Tennyson relaying his thoughts of love to his readers. No hidden lessons, just a light rendering of words.
On the other hand, “The Flower” goes a little further than “Spring.” It is what is called a Quatrain (a type of rhyming verse), having 4 lines with each line’s last words rhyming interchangeably (1). The rhyming might make it seem childlike, but its message is not. It tells of a person who planted a seed, then “Up there came a flower/The people said, a weed”. Here begins a difference of opinion. He thinks it’s a flower, others think it’s a weed. The next lines speak of these same people going through his bower, “And muttering discontent/Cursed me and my flower.” A bower is basically an arbor, and this is usually within one’s property.
I would surmise that people had access to his bower and resisted strongly to the presence of a plant, that to them, ruined the scenery. But what happens next is curious. “Then it grew so tall/It wore a crown of light/But thieves from o’er the wall/Stole the seed by night.” A change was wrought in that man’s flower that it got the attention of wrong-doers. They didn’t steal the flower though, but just the seed. What the thieves did with the seed was, in the words of Alice, even curiouser. The thieves sowed the seed “by every town and tower,” “Till all the people cried/Splendid is the Flower!” Here you see Tennyson’s lesson starting to take shape.
Once the flower was in abundance, it seemed most wonderful to behold. Just like how some material things that at first seemed irrelevant become valuable when your neighbors flashed them in front of you. So now, according to the poem, “And some are pretty enough/And some are poor indeed/And now again the people/Call it but a weed.” How insightful! Once everybody could have easily acquire it, nobody wanted it once more. It cannot be denied that people easily put something down because of its unappealing look, if you will, then once others have it, change their minds. And Tennyson’s poem goes full circle. What started as a weed to others, came back to being regarded as one.
I loved the fact that Tennyson used the flower as a metaphor. A flower can be beautiful to some, superfluous to others. It is quite easily grown, and just as easily destroyed. Just as reputations or a good name is easily made and destroyed. You somehow feel that Tennyson was in a somber and reflective mood when he wrote this. After a deeper examination of these poems, I do see a few similarities. One who reads this poem for the first time gets the feeling that they were written by the same author. Tennyson makes use of nature quite a number of times in his poems. Poems like “The Oak” and “Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal” are a few others that are nature-themed.
“Spring” and “The Flower” are not the only ones where he incorporated nature into poetry, or where he used them as symbols. Birds like men, flowers like frivolities. He also used the word “crown” in both poems. A “crown of gold” from “Spring” and a “crown of light” from “The Flower.” His sense of imagery is the same throughout both poems. The differences are stark, as well. Of course, the type of poetry used was different. In fact, Tennyson used quite a number of poetry styles for all his works, from ballads to free verse, from rhymes to odes (2). There is also the “mood.” There is a sense of exhilaration in “Spring” that one doesn’t get in “The Flower.”
Likewise, there’s an air of “hear-this” in “The Flower” that is absent from “Spring.” There’s a timbre of importance, of a lesson that MUST be learned. The use of symbolism was the same, but then again, quite different. In “Spring,” humans were likened to birds or vice versa. The feelings that were evoked by birds and songs were translated to human emotion. In “The Flower,” however, the inanimate thing (flower) was likened to still inanimate objects (material things, reputations, and such). But differences spell uniqueness, so they say.
Alfred Lord Tennyson Tennyson suffered from extreme short-sightedness — without a monocle he could not even see to eat — which gave him considerable difficulty writing and reading, and this disability in part, accounts for his manner of creating poetry(3). We see his imagination come through because that was all he could do—imagine a world of color and shade. The poems we examined are just that—color and shade. Love came out so colorfully in “Spring,” while weeds of judgment darkened the page of “The Flower.”
W O R K S C I T E D
1.”Quatrain.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 27 Mar 2007, 01:36 UTC. Wikimedia
Foundation, Inc. 12 Apr 2007
2. Ormond, Leonee. Alfred Tennyson: A Literary Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press,
3.Everett, Glenn. Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Brief Biography. 30 November 2004.
University of Tennessee. 12 April 2007.