Tennyson's Locksley Hall

Cite as: Gardner, Traci. "Tennyson's Locksley Hall" The Explicator  44:2 (Winter 1986): 23-24.

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      In the opening lines of Tennyson's "Locksley Hall," the speaker remembers evenings when he observed the constellation Orion. Yet, Tennyson expects his reader to see more than this seemingly casual observation. Tennyson has specifically chosen the constellation Orion because the mythological and astronomical situation of the classical Roman character mirrors the present condition of the speaker.

       The speaker's failed engagement to Amy is defined by its parallel to Orion's relationship to Merope. Orion fell in love with Merope and wanted to marry her, but her father, Oenopian, the King of Chios, refused to consent to the marriage. Because of Orion's violent attempt to take Merope, he was blinded and cast out onto the beach. After his sight was restored, Orion became one of Diana's hunters. The speaker suggests that his marriage was similarly denied--Amy was "puppet to a father's threat, and servile to a shrewish tongue" (l. 42). While the speaker does not admit committing any violent act to gain Amy's hand in marriage, he does have a "jaundiced eye;/Eye to which all order festers, all things are out of joint" (ll. 132-33). The speaker no longer views things as he did prior to Amy's rejection; he has been blinded by her refusal.

       Further, much as Orion thought of his lost Merope, the speaker contemplates his loss of Amy as he wanders the beach of Locksley Hall in the opening of the

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poem. The speaker continues to walk the "moorland" until he is called by his "merry comrades . . . sounding on the bugle-horn" (l. 145). Thus, the speaker is called to join the hunters just as Orion was called to join the huntress Diana. Appropriately, the speaker's present attitude toward marriage would qualify him to be one of Diana's band as she is also the virgin goddess. Both the mythological Orion and the speaker, then, are rejected by love, blinded, and cast out to hunt for happiness.

       Tennyson underscores the differences between the speaker and Amy's husband by comparing Orion's astronomical relationship to Sirius to the speaker's relationship with Amy's husband. In his analysis of the parallels between the speaker and Orion, E. C. Bufkin noted that Amy's husband offers a contrast to the speaker since the husband is merely a man who "hunts in dreams," and the speaker, like Orion, is a true hunter (Victorian Poetry, II, 1964, p. 26). Though Bufkin asserts that "the ironical contrast between the giant Orion and the man of small worth is effective as it is subtle," the contrast is even more effective when the subtle importance of Orion's position in the sky is compared to Tennyson's full line. the constellation Sirius, Orion's dog, appears at the base of Orion's constellation: the dog and the giant man contrast each other in the night sky. Tennyson's full line, "like a dog, he hunts in dreams" (l. 79), obviously alludes to this astronomical relationship. Tennyson compares Amy's husband to the dog Sirius, and the speaker to the great hunter Orion. Amy's husband is not only less of a hunter than the speaker but also less of a man.

       Tennyson's allusion to these mythological and astronomical parallels heighten the speaker's agony and pain. The speaker is not a mere man rejected by love--he is a mythic giant refused by his beloved princess; the speaker's situation grows from a gentleman's misfortune to a mythic hero's lost love.