Brooks on Tennyson II: When a Poem Fails to Be Great ("Break, Break, Break")

"[Break, Break, Break] is an easier poem than 'Tears,' and, in one sense, a less confusing poem.  But it is also a much thinner poem . . . a coarser and a more confused poem" (176).

"For example, the ships are said to be 'stately,' but this observation is idle and finally irrelevant.  What relation has their stateliness to the experience of grief?" (176).

"the poet makes no attempt to connect this activity [of vanished hands and voices], still alive in memory, with its former 'actual' life.  He is content to keep close to the conventional prose account of such matters.  Memory in this poem does not become a kind of life: it is just 'memory'--whatever that is--and, in reading the poem, we are not forced beyond the bounds of our conventional thinking on the subject" (176).

"We are not encouraged to take the poignance of his present memory of [the lost day] as a ghost from the tomb.  The poet does not recognize that his experience represents such an ironical resurrection; nor does he allow the metaphors buried in 'dead' and 'come back' to suffer a resurrection into vigorous poetic life.  [ . . . ] in avoiding the psychological exploration of the experience, the poet risks losing dramatic force" (176-7).

"But when the poet is able, as in 'Tears, Idle Tears,' to analyze his experience, and in the full light of the disparity and even apparent contradiction of the various elements, bring them into a new unity, he secures not only richness and depth but dramatic power as well" (177).