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CHAPTER I

TENNYSON AS BOTANIST

As a subject for poetic treatment nothing comes amiss to the poet, for poetry is here, there, everywhere, if only he has an eye to see and a heart to feel and is in the mood for shaping his thoughts into suitable words and images. There is poetic material in the heavens above, in the earth beneath, and in the waters under the earth; the stars in

! their courses, the very dust under our feet, the flowers of the field, the wild life of land and sky are all fit subjects for the muse.

The poet's eye in a fine frenzy rolling,

Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven. It all depends on the emotional mood. He may deal with great themes or “ build a princely throne

“ on humble truth”. O Reader! had

you

in
your

mind
Such stores as silent thoughts can bring,
O gentle Reader !

you

would find A tale in everything.

Natural history as ordinarily viewed is organised knowledge, truth systematically ordered and detailed with accuracy and precision ; in other words, we call it science. As science, it has its own laws and is expounded in a way of its own. Still its facts and conclusions are not the sole property of the scientist. They are common property as soon as they are made known, and are free to be utilised by every thoughtful human being according to his needs. The poet, therefore, since it is his nature to assimilate whatever comes in his way, is not slow to annex scientific discoveries and turn them to account for his own poetic purposes. Poetry, like every other art, follows at the heels of knowledge, dogging her steps and picking up part of the wealth which she scatters behind her. The modern poet in particular has shown great aptitude in availing himself of all the materials that “the fairy tales of science and the long result of time” have provided in the last half-century. He holds the mirror up to Nature and paints in words what the painter clothes in colours. The outside worldthe hills, the trees, the flowers, the insects, the birds, and all wild life have from the beginning been a source of growing interest to souls endowed with poetic leanings, but through the great advances

made in the closer study of external nature it is more especially in recent times that natural science as such has crept into poetry. The poet, learning from the scientist the value of close observation, has trained himself also to be a close observer, and to see things for himself. The naturalist leads the way, but the poet has been an apt pupil, and now keeps his eye as lovingly on the object and scans its minutest features as thoroughly as the naturalist. The day was, in the eighteenth century, when the poet was largely content to sit close in his study and spin cobwebs from his brain with the help of books and without the aid of personal observation in the open air.

His references to natural life were conventional and stereotyped and devoid of charm and interest. For a long period not a single new image from Nature was added to English poetry. Nowadays all this is changed for the better, and since Cowper and Burns, down through Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Tennyson and Matthew Arnold, the accession of new ideas and of minute picturing drawn from actual firsthand contact with Nature is apparent to the most casual reader of poetry.

In Tennyson, above all, is this feature particularly noteworthy. Being the friend of Darwin he

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