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I wonder'd, while I paced along :
So variously seem'd all things wrought,
And wherefore rather I made choice
ANALYSIS OF THE TWO VOICES.
THE question in this poem is the question of the ages : “Is life worth living ?” It is, once more, the battle between pessimism and optimism. • Man, thou pendulum betwixt a smile and a tear.” Every life is a constant vibration between the two extremes of a smile and a tear. Freed from cares and troubles, on a bright morning one feels that life is worth living; but ere the day wears away, and cares and weariness come with o’erspreading clouds, one is inclined to exclaim with Schopenhauer that life is a business that does n't pay expenses.
Such is the refrain in Ecclesiastes. Addison's “Vision of Mirza” is a rally over the despondency of life. And Shakespeare has treated the same problem in Hamlet.
“ To be, or not to be: that is the question :
Devoutly to be wished.” Hamlet could not dispose of the matter so easily as did Ophelia. In him the conscience against suicide was much stronger, and he battled back and forth most piteously, making it seem, as some have thought, that Hamlet had a weak and vacillating will. But such is only a seeming ; for the poet's purpose lies in another direction. There could be little worthy of attention in the idealization of a weak will. Hamlet presents the struggle of a quickened conscience
against suicide. The old Roman disposed of the matter easily. If he did not wish to play at the game of life he thought it perfectly proper to withdraw. His life he considered as his own, to do with it what he pleased ; and if he found the cost to exceed the profit there was but one logical solution of the problem. But we have grown into the feeling that life is too sacred to be disposed of even by the
Hamlet represents the working of the new conscience :
O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Seem to me all the uses of this world !” Tennyson's "Two Voices” is an effort to release this terrible strain in every human life. It is well to observe here that literary selections fall into two great classes ; namely, those which set forth a positive striving for an ideal, and those which represent a battling with some evil which invades life, and which will destroy it if the evil is not over
Bereavement enters the household, and the afflicted must overcome it, or it will overcome them. In “The Day is Done”
Longfellow is striving to rise above the “ which infest the day.” But in “Excelsior ” and in “ The Building of the Ship” he exhibits man in the positive struggle to realize his ideal. In either case, and in all literature, there is always a question of life and death ; in the one a positive movement towards the ideal; in the other, an effort to hold firmly against opposing forces. In “ Locksley Hall” and in “In Memoriam” we have splendid examples of battling successfully against one of the many forms in which life may be invaded. Even in “Break, break, break," in which there seems to be no effort to overcome grief, but rather to intensify it, the relief is in the very fact of intensifying and expressing it. In the poem now before us we have a sharply fought contest with an invading foe, repre
sented by the first voice. In this poem, as in “ Locksley Hall ” and “In Memoriam,” the condition of mind at the outset, which gives motive to the poem, is clearly announced, as is also the victory in each. In "Locksley Hall,” the life of a "youth sublime” was thrown into wild agitation by a disappointment in love ; but after due course of struggling the poet announces the victory :
“O, I see the crescent promise of my spirit hath not set.
Ancient founts of inspiration well thro' all my fancy yet.” “ The Two Voices" begins in the feeling that
6. Thou art so full of misery,
Were it not better not to be ?” The poem rises to victory in the sentiment expressed in the last seven stanzas, a victory which begins to manifest itself several stanzas earlier.
“So variously seem'd all things wrought
I marvell’d how the mind was brought
Such is the bondage felt by every soul, and such is the freedom it constantly strives to attain. That this theme is also fundamental in life appears when we consider that it determines whether man shall cling to life or yield it up. In it man is brought face to face with the problem of his own existence. It calls for a decision whether life shall be assumed hopefully and lived out manfully, or whether the man will shrinkingly and cowardly reject it all. But though the battle lead to the verge of suicide, it is certain that the quality of life depends on whether life be felt to be a burden or felt to be beautiful and good, and the joy of it altogether triumphant over the pain. This theme is different in kind from those already considered, but it reaches the same depth of life as the others.
The theme is highly idealized ; the struggle is exceptionally intense. The spirit is at first utterly cast down, but at the conclusion is wholly triumphant. Besides, the constant
swing of life from pessimism to optimism seldom brings one to such close quarters as are represented in the poem. Intense idealization is Tennyson's characteristic ; as in 66 Enoch Arden.”
This selection addresses itself to the emotions, although the poem has its basis in logical argument. The intellect is firmly engaged, but the emotional tension is still more marked. The poem may be properly called a philosophical poem; and, like “ In Memoriam,” it requires a special intellectual effort to read it. One cannot read this
in the relaxed mood of the hammock, on account both of its close thought and of its intense feeling. Tennyson thought that poets usually took the world too easy. His theory was to write but little, but make that little intense. He said to an interviewer: “ It is not the bulk; it is not the bulk.” Intensity of feeling is his characteristic; and while he thinks deeply, he is always trying to solve an emotional problem. He is a philosophic poet rather than a poetic philosopher.
The embodiment is Tennyson himself; hence this is a lyric poem. Or, rather, the embodiment is the reader himself; for when a lyric poet says “I,” he means to have the reader
say When Longfellow says, “ My life is cold and dark and dreary,” he expects the reader to put himself in the place of the writer, and say of himself, “My life," etc. The poet would not have the bad taste to parade his grief before the public, except in so far as that grief is claimed by the public. The “I” of a lyric poem is the “I” of humanity, as Tennyson explains his use of it in “In Memoriam.” Lyric poetry is, therefore, the most subjective style of poetry.
The two voices are the projection of the conflicting elements in the nature of every individual. might be regarded as a soliloquy. Tennyson argues with himself. That the second voice may be shown as having an ideal victory, it is necessary that the first voice make the strongest possible argument in favor of suicide ; which
Hence the poem