'Experiments in Quantity', manuscript poems by Lord Alfred Tennyson


The manuscript poems shown here, written in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s hand, are examples of Tennyson experimenting with classical forms of poetry.

The poem headed ‘Milton: Alcaics’ was written on the 16th November 1863 and published in the Cornhill Magazine in December. Alcaics were a form of verse invented in around 600 BC by the Greek lyric poet Alcaeus, with a distinctive prosody and stanza form, both of which Tennyson accurately mimics here. Unlike English poetry which is metrical (i.e. based on the patterning of stressed and unstressed syllables) Greek and Latin verse was quantitative (i.e. based not on stress, but rather based on the patterning of short and long vowels – for example the word ‘pain’ includes a long vowel while ‘pan’ has a short one). Tennyson experimented with different verse forms throughout his life – the Lincolnshire dialect poems ‘Northern Farmer: Old Style’ and ‘Northern Farmer: New Style’ being further examples of his experimentation in language, rhyme and format. 

‘Hendecasyllabics’ was written in the autumn of 1863 and is another example of such experimentation with form. Hendecasyllabics are verses in which the lines contain eleven syllables. The Greek lyric poet Sappho (630–612BC) and the Roman poet Catullus (84–54 BC) are particularly associated with hendecasyllabics. 

All of the poems shown here were published, with alterations, in the volume Enoch Arden, etc. in 1864.








O mighty-mouth’d inventor of harmonies,

Equal ^ O skill’d  to sing of Time or Eternity,

            God-gifted organ-voice of England,

                        Milton, a name to resound for ages,

Whose Titan Angels, Gabriel, Abdiel,

Start^r’d  from Jehovah’s gorgeous armouries,

            Tower, as the deep-domed empyrëan

                        Rings to the roar of an angel onset -

Me rather all that bowery loneliness,

Those brooks of Eden mazily murmuring,

            And bloom profuse & cedar arches

                        Charm, as a wanderer out in ocean,

Where some refulgent sunset of India

Streams Dims Dies ^ Streams  o’er a rich ambrosial * ocean isle,

            And crimson-hued the stately palmwoods

                        Whisper in odorous heights of Eden:  ^ even.




* Not to be read as a dactyl, but as a trochee &

long syllable, for the line is meant to be read






O you chorus of indolent reviewers,

Irresponsible, indolent reviewers,

Here ^ Look,  I come to the test, a tiny poem

All composed in a metre of Catullus,

All in quantity, careful of my motion,

Like the skater on ice that hardly bears him,

Lest I fall unawares before the people,

Waking laughter in indolent reviewers.

Should I flounder awhile without a tumble

Thro’ this metrification of Catullus,

They should speak to me not without a welcome,

All that chorus of indolent reviewers.

Hard, hard, hard is it only not to tumble,

So fantastical is the dainty metre.

Wherefore slight me not wholly, nor believe me

Too presumptuous, indolent reviewers.

O blatent ^ Oh you dear sweet   ^ O blatent  Magazines, regard me rather -

Since I blush to belaud myself a moment -

As some exquisite rose, a piece of inmost

Horticultural Art, or half-coquette-like

Maiden, not to be greeted unbenignly.


Full title:
'Experiments in Quantity'
Alfred Lord Tennyson
© David Lord Tennyson
Usage terms
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial licence
Held by
British Library
Add MS 37515

Full catalogue details

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