This poem while on the surface may seem like an innocent love poem from a man to his delicate love, a sinister meaning lies beneath the surface of the lake. Lord Tennyson uses imagery to allure readers into his love poem with visions of white, lilies, peacocks, and sweetness builds the readers heightened senses in dream like world up with tranquility and peace only to unmask an overtaking of the innocent in the end. In his writing Lord Tennyson builds a beautiful imagery of what a woman of England in the 1800’s ought to look and behave like. Use of words such as white signifying pure and holy, lily to illustrate delicacy and innocence, Lord Tennyson brings forth the imagery of an angelic creature, which in time is overtaken by the passion and lust of the ‘crimson petal’.
To open the poem Lord Tennyson gives the vision of stillness and sleep leading readers to picture darkness and night. The author also uses a ‘milk-white peacock like a ghost’ to reiterate the darkness as a peacock in light would be ‘glimmering’ with bright colors in the light, and a ghost appears in the wake of the night. By using this illustration, Lord Tennyson instills a fear that something is amiss. ‘The silent meteor’ conveys that the woman sits silent and should not speak.
Danae of mythology carefully tucked into line 7 was the only child of King Acrisius and the King longed for a son. When he went to the gods asking for a son he was told no and also that Danae would have a son who was destined to kill him. Fearing his predestined fate Acrisius built Danae a bronze house with only the top open for air to keep her tucked away and unheard in the world outside. This is the same for the women of Victorian era who were dominated by the men, and were expected to remain quiet and reserved. In the last stanza, the risqué writing of its’ time vividly expresses one sinking into the chest of another, by collectively analyzing the poem as a whole the last lines are much darker than an erotic dream dancing through one’s head.
‘Now folds the lily all her sweetness up, and slips into the bosom of the lake. So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip, Into my bosom and be lost in me.’ This suggests that the lily, once innocent and sweet, turns inward and silences itself, only to surrender falling onto the darkness of the lake, and as “impracticalcritism” states in their interpretation “might reveal a preoccupation with loss of identity through submitting to another person”.
While this man certainly could have had visions of love and feelings of lust for the woman of guilty desires, there was a deeper rational waiting to erupt at the surface. The use of the word ‘slips’ is also a very interesting play on what was happening in society of the Victorian Era. Merriam Webster defines slip as “to move quietly and cautiously”. During this period women were expected to not make a fuss and without notice to others submit into the subjugation of the men. I cannot help picturing the lily gracefully falling into the pond, and with that comes an outward force steering the lily where it should go. The same was true of the men ‘steering’ their wives and giving them criteria or standards that should be met.
While certainly not direct in his approach to speak against the travesties happening in England to young women and wives, Lord Tennyson brings to light the darkness that is occurring in the Victorian society in such a romanticized way. Victorian women were not being viewed as equals or helpers to the men, as God had intended, but rather an item that that the men kept at home to raise the children and tidy the house, and occasionally to be brought out to show off as a trophy. Now even almost 200 years in some areas and cultures societies still adhere or fight these standards.
Hamilton, Edith, and Steele Savage. Mythology. New York: New American Library, 1969. Print.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson – Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal, 29-Sep-2011. [Online]. Available: https://impracticalcriticism.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/alfred-lord-tennyson-now-sleeps-the-crimson-petal/. [Accessed: 12-May-2019]
"slip." Merriam-Webster.com. 2011. https://www.merriam-webster.com (15 May 2019).