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Saturday
Nov272010

Tennyson and LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN

The title of McCann's novel is taken from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Locksley Hall," a long, 197-line poem about war, love, the past, and even the future. Here's the quote, as it's found in the poem's final, fourteen lines:

. . . .  Forward, forward let us range,
Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.

 

Thro' the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day;
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.

 

Mother-Age (for mine I knew not) help me as when life begun:
Rift the hills, and roll the waters, flash the lightnings, weigh the Sun.

 

O, I see the crescent promise of my spirit hath not set.
Ancient founts of inspiration well thro' all my fancy yet.

 

Howsoever these things be, a long farewell to Locksley Hall!
Now for me the woods may wither, now for me the roof-tree fall.

 

Comes a vapour from the margin, blackening over heath and holt,
Cramming all the blast before it, in its breast a thunderbolt.

 

Let it fall on Locksley Hall, with rain or hail, or fire or snow;
For the mighty wind arises, roaring seaward, and I go.

Admittedly, it's a tough poem--about a soldier in an unnamed war who pauses in a long march, sending his troops ahead as he engages in a complex, interior monologue.

His march has taken him near Locksley Hall, a place he loved as a child and where he first fell in love. As he lingers amid the chaos of war, he tries to come to terms with his own past--and eventually finds himself adrift in the murky waters of his own sexism and racism before finally imagining a future utopia, largely predicated on Europe vanquishing "the Orient" and born of wars where (in a strange bit of prophecy for the 1830s) air-born navies fight it out in the skies. By the end of his monologue, his wish, as you can see in the bit above, is for his cherished Locksley Hall to be obliterated.

The poem is among Tennyson's masterpieces: dense, trying, exasperting, oddly childlike, and full of contradictions, ranking up there with his most significant work: "In Memoriam A. H. H." Tennyson was a man of his time, invested in the dream of nineteenth-century progress, always doubting it, finding his religious faith shaken by Darwin and new geological findings, hanging on to the church despite not wanting to, defending England to the last, yet knowing that he was a man out of step with his beloved country, a throw-back to another era who could not survive outside a patronage system that ran counter to the mercantile spirit of the day.

I may bring copies of "Locksley Hall" to our group meeting this week--but I fear we won't have time to tackle such a clever poem. If you'd like, we can think about setting aside a meeting in the future to discuss it--and its relation to Colum McCann's novel.

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