The Speaker’s Madness Manifested as Obsessions in Maud
Alfred Tennyson breaks away from the pastoral discourse that is typical of the Romantic Age and transcends into the Victorian Age with a poem full of obsession, madness, death, love, and patriotism in his creation of Maud. In Maud, the state of the speaker’s life and his mental health are called into question from the very beginning. The speaker’s initial mental state is one of madness, a melancholic, morbidity that has been influenced by the suicide of his father into a persona that is not perfect or happy, but a disturbed man with nothing to recommend him to a higher state. We see this morbid side immediately when he says, “I hate the dreadful hollow behind the little wood, / Its lips in the field above are dabbled with blood- / red heath, / The red-ribbed ledges drip with a silent horror of blood, / And Echo there, whatever is asked her, answers / “Death.” (I,1-4). The speaker is already preoccupied with death and loss. He is all about thinking in extremes. The extremes of death, love, loss, and patriotism permeate his personality with such intensity that everything in his life is an obsession. The intensity of the character creates a situation where he never operates in the middle. He is always very high or very low either in anguish or happiness. It can be argued that his madness resonates as different phases of obsessions and that sanity at the end is not an arguable point as the reader never actually sees him operating within a sane situation. The speaker’s patriotic discourse in Part III is just one more obsession, another faucet of his internal madness that has found an alternate focus. The speaker’s is caught in a weave of madness that is present throughout the story, but it continually shifts focus from his love of Maud, his exile, and finally his patriotic call to duty.
Tennyson’s introduction to the speaker gives us a straight forward look into his psyche as he laments over the death of his father, contemplates suicide, and agonizes over poverty, but his words seem like the ranting of a man who has experienced too much grief in his life. The hint of madness creeps into the verse once Maud enters the stanzas. She appears first as the memory that the speaker has nurtured. He shifts back and forth between thinking she is “the delight of the village” (I, 70) and then a “passionless, pale, cold face” (I, 91) of a woman who is haunting him. He spends eleven stanzas talking about her family, his own lack of funds, and ends with what seems a firm ending believing that she would not make him a good wife. He maintains:
And most of all would I flee from the cruel
madness of love,
The honey of poison-flowers and all the
Ah Maud, you milkwhite fanwn, you are all unmeet
for a wife. (I, 156-158)
He sees then how dangerous it will be for him to fall in love with her, but starting with line 162 in Part I, Tennyson changes the meter, format, and...