Poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Browning's The Pied Piper of Hamelin is full of rapid beats and ferocious actions—we used to chant it, tapping on the table. But I loved most the romantic mystery of Tennyson's Lady of Shalott, cursed to see the world only in a great mirror in her tower and weave a wonderful tapestry until—"half sick of shadows"—she looks out to see a knight passing. "Out flew the web and floated wide; / The mirror crack'd from side to side; / 'The curse is come upon me,' cried / The Lady of Shalott." Or the tale of Sir Bedivere in Morte d'Arthur, throwing the dying king's sword into the dark lake after the last battle. I saved up these images and rhythms for half a century—they crept into my ordinary prose if I didn't watch it—and then they broke out in Possession. Quite different was the driving ballad verse of Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, with its supernatural vision of seas burning and freezing, coiling sea snakes, and the crew of dead men taking the ship home. "And ice, mast-high, came floating by, / As green as emerald."


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