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15 Pages

The Sense of an Ending

ByRichard Hoggart

The two Great Victorian Poetic Masters were each at certain times preoccupied with ageing and death, but in different ways. Browning was usually optimistic: ‘Grow old along with me/The best is yet to be’; or bold and hearty: ‘Fear death/To feel the fog in my throat?’ Tennyson could be resignedly cheerful: ‘Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;/Tho’ much is taken, much abides’; or horrified: ‘And Time, a maniac scattering dust/And Life a fury slinging flame’. Those are all, yes, from dramatic poems and may be said to represent no more than the attitudes of the characters the poets created. Yet they are all in some ways ‘typical’ of their authors and differ greatly in their force. One could not switch the names and retain credibility. Lawrence’s point stands: ‘Never trust the teller, trust the tale.’ Even in fiction, and no less in dramatic poetry, we write most often and most strongly about what in ourselves we feel most powerfully.