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Tennyson's "Maud" and the Song of Songs

Alice Chandler
Victorian Poetry
Vol. 7, No. 2 (Summer, 1969), pp. 91-104
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40001486
Page Count: 14
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Tennyson's "Maud" and the Song of Songs
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Abstract

The Song of Songs-which Tennyson's "Maud" resembles in plot, imagery, and genre-can help clarify the meaning of that poem. The classical interpretation holds that the Canticles are an allegorical dramatization of the soul's love for God. "Maud," too, with its parallel story of rich man, poor man, and maiden, charts the progress of a soul in language strongly reminiscent of its Biblical analogue. The narrator is the seeker; Maud, like the Shulamite maiden, is the active principle of love-not so much a person as a "voice." As in the Song of Songs, the forces antagonistic to the seeker are wealth and worldliness, while his love for Maud is purifying and redemptive. However, this passive conversion is inadequate. At the end of Part I the narrator commits murder, and throughout Part II he suffers separation from his beloved. When Maud reappears in Part III she is no longer the radiant Shulamite, giving love without merit; she is a sterner figure demanding that her lover fight for righteousness. This shift from love given to love earned suggests the changes in Tennyson's attitude between "In Memoriam" and the "Idylls of the King" and prepares us for such poems as "The Holy Grail."

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