The Festival Ode

We think that Tennyson’s poem merits inclusion in The Objects column, as our research is discovering that poetry celebrating International Exhibitions was quite a typical Victorian response to these events.  Inventive (if rather florid) rhyming couplets can be found in most guidebooks to the exhibition, as well as contemporary newspaper reports.  The novelist William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) penned his own ‘May Day Ode’ to celebrate the opening of the Crystal Palace, published in The Times in 1851. 1.

George Frederic Watts, 'Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson', c.1863-1864, oil on canvas, 61.3 x 51.4 cm.  The National Portrait Gallery, NPG 1015 © National Portrait Gallery, London, 2014

George Frederic Watts, ‘Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson’, c.1863-1864, oil on canvas, 61.3 x 51.4 cm. The National Portrait Gallery, NPG 1015 © National Portrait Gallery, London, 2014

In a similar vein, Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) in his capacity as Poet Laureate wrote an ode especially for the opening ceremonial of 1862, held on May-Day.  It makes for fruitful reading as there are some interesting themes touched upon, including design theory and process, craft and labour, religion and nature.

Particularly striking is the reflection upon the juxtapositions of objects the displays created, which mixed ‘the works of peace with works of war’ – brotherhood is Tennyson’s hopeful message, but 1862 masked the harsh reality of contemporary international relations.

 

The Festival Ode

Uplift a thousand voices full and sweet,

In this wide hall with earth’s inventions stored,

And praise th’invisible universal Lord,

Who lets once more in peace the nations meet,

Where Science, Art, and Labour have outpour’d

Their myriad horns of plenty at our feet.

 

O silent father of our Kings to be,

Mourn’d in this golden hour of jubilee,

For this, for all, we weep our thanks to thee!

 

The world-compelling plan was thine,

And, lo!  the long laborious miles

Of Palace; lo! the giant aisles,

Rich in model and design,

Harvest-tool and husbandry,

Loom and wheel and engin’ry,

Secrets of the sullen mine,

Steel and gold, and corn and wine,

Fabric rough or fairy fine,

Sunny tokens of the Line,

Polar marvels, and a feast

Of wonder out of West and East,

And shapes and hues of Art divine!

All of beauty, all of use,

That one fair planet can produce,

Brought from under every star,

Blown from over every main,

And mixt, as life is mixt with pain,

The works of peace with works of war.

 

And is the goal so far away?

Far, how far, no man can say;

Let us have our dream to-day.

 

O ye, the wise who think, the wise who reign,

From growing commerce loose her latest chain,

And let the fair white-winged peacemaker fly

To happy havens under all the sky,

And mix the seasons and the golden hours,

Till each man find his own in all men’s good,

And all men work in noble brotherhood,

Breaking their mailéd fleets and arméd towers,

And ruling by obeying Nature’s powers,

And gathering all the fruits of Peace and crowned with all her

flowers.

 

Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1862

For the Opening Ceremonial of the International Exhibition, 1862

Published in Cassell’s Illustrated Exhibitor; containing about three hundred illustrations, with letter-press descriptions of all the principal objects in The International Exhibition of 1862 (London: Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1862), pp.2-3

 

What do you think of Tennyson’s Ode?  Please post your ideas upon Victorian poetry and comments below…

1. To read ‘A May Day Ode’ visit http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/g/great-exhibition-poem-by-william-makepeace-thackeray/

© Helen Cresswell and Ruth Mason, 2014

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