Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


English & Film Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Michael Moore

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


The epiphanic moments in Tennyson’s symbolic poems about death can be understood as covert or dialogical explorations of a poetics of transition from pragmatic to imaginative experience. In this way Tennysonian representations of the death of culturally symbolic characters juxtapose the prevalent “Victorian” Utilitarian voice of authority and the now marginalized “Romantic” voice of creative vision.

Through the study of the epiphanic motif in Tennyson’s poems we discover an inherent death paradigm according to which Tennyson describes his characters’ journeys of death through three imaginative spaces: the centre, the liminal and the marginal. The liminal in this paradigm features the epiphanic experience.

The language and imagery of Tennyson’s epiphanic moments are characterized by a certain persistent pattern of brightness, activity, wildness and vibrancy. They are liminal spaces in the sense that they are represented as occurring in such intermediate zones as thresholds, shorelines, rivers and roads, or in temporal transitions such as occasions of relocation, departure, or farewell. The exploration of epiphanic experience in these poems, intimately connected as it is with elegiac situations and with the reinterpreted deaths of evidently symbolic figures from legend, myth, or folklore, seems clearly associated with loss or change in the cultural role of poetry and the poetic imagination. It implicitly dramatizes a dissonance between a “Romantic” vision of the significance of ostensibly impractical art and creativity for a culture’s health and a perceived pragmatic and rationalist “Victorian” skepticism about those values. We discern a change in certain constituents of the paradigm with regard to gender.

Tennyson consistently assigns one death paradigm to men (centre. movement from liminal to marginal), and another to women (marginal to liminal to centre). This shift in the paradigm differentiates the significance of death for men and for women. In the case of male cultural heroes, Tennyson has chosen adaptations of stories that avoid imposing closure on the possibility that the values these men symbolized might somehow or someday be revived. However, the dying or dead women portrayed as cultural signs are figures Tennyson has chosen from stories that emphasize the finality of their death. In a study of Tennyson’s poems whose subjects are culturally symbolic, concentrating on the study of epiphany can be quite generative of a more complex understanding of the values of his age.

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