The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.

II. The Tennysons

§ 4. Maud

In the year of In Memoriam, Tennyson succeeded Wordsworth in the post of poet laureate, and his first official poem was the fine Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington (1852), a bold metrical experiment, the motif for which is given by the funeral march and the pomp of the obsequies in St. Paul’s. In the dramatic use of varying metres no poet was ever a more constant and generally felicitous experimenter than Tennyson, and in his next considerable poem Maud, issued in Maud, and Other Poems (1855), he employed the device of sections, not, as in In Memoriam, of like metrical structure, but varying in the boldest fashion from long six-foot to short three-foot lines, to tell in monodrama a story of tragic passion. The hero and narrator is dramatically conceived, and Tennyson was very anxious not to be identified with the Hamlet of his story. But the political opinions which he put into his mouth were his own, in the main, and the morbid, hysterical temperament was his own, too, dramatically intensified and elaborated. The result was a poem which greatly disconcerted his admirers—alike those who would have had him content to remain the Theocritus of idylls like The Gardener’s Daughter and The Brook (which was published in the same volume as Maud), and those who were calling on him for a great poem, and were prepared to acclaim him—mainly on the strength of Locksley Hall—as the laureate of an age of “unexampled progress.” The latter were profoundly shocked at the poet’s fierce exultation over war for a cause, his clear perception of the seamy side of commercial prosperity and his contempt for what he thought a mean conception of the blessing of peace. A great poem Maud is not. The heroine is too shadowy, the hero a Hamlet only in the hysterical instability of his temperament, with none of Hamlet’s range of thought, or that ultimate strength of soul which held madness and suicide at arm’s length; but “I have led her home,” “Come into the garden, Maud,” and “O that ’twere possible” are among the most perfect of Tennyson’s dramatic love-lyrics.