Tennyson's Reinvention of the Hero as Poet
I AM! yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish, an oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death's oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tos't
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
And e'en the dearest--that I loved the best--
Are strange--nay, rather stranger than the rest.
- John Clare1
There is no more enduring theme in the truly Western body of literature, religion, and philosophy than that of the hero. Western thought apotheosizes the hero and the act of heroism. This practice is rooted in the heroic ages, where, as in the Iliad, the heroes of both sides have unique access to the gods and goddesses. The hero is the man who transcends with dirt under his fingernails and the dust of battle in his throat. He transcends through the savage wilds of Nature. In the West, too, the hero is known not only for physical skill or bravery, but also for inculcation of mental qualities, for cultivation of a superior sense of insight, a Higher vision and comprehension.
Thomas Carlyle revives and revisits the ancient concepts of the hero and the heroic. Heroes have evolved into two hypothetically universal forms: the Hero as Man of Letters2, and the Hero as Poet 3. The Man of Letters and the Poet are closely linked in form, but exist as separate heroes. The Man of Letters transcends his socially imposed and self-imposed limitations, and the binding force of personal needs and wants. This hero is simply the best of Nature and is not thought to transcend it. The Man of Letters is "genuine", and "will be found discharging a function for us which is ever honourable, ever the highest;"4 . The Man of Letters's purpose is to know and to teach a "Divine Idea of the World"5 . The Hero as Man of Letters brings its era what it requires: non religious guidance to a public whose social facets wane in spirituality. Carlyle's hero is that of National Socialism, a person of ideals who lives in transcendence, who seeks to learn, to teach, to change, not simply to exist and know. It far from being the province only of someone in the profession of war.
Alternately, The Hero as Poet is recognized as divine or as having a connection with the divine, not entirely unlike the Hero as Man of Letters, who is shaped by Nature and is innately and unconsciously sincere, incapable of being anything but unaffected. The Hero as Poet exists on a higher plane of existence, a person who "belongs to all ages"6 , capable of discerning the truth of existence, a truth that exists in all ages, rather than transcends with the era. Here we see a distinct split in Carlyle's Hero as Man of Letters and Hero as Poet. The Hero as...