3/07/2019

"Oenone" by Tennyson : the symbolic significance of it.

Tennyson wrote "Oenone" in the form of a simple dramatic monologue which appeals to our senses for its beautiful sketch of mountain views and appeals to our intellect for an outstanding lesson it teaches us for living a rational life. The poem, the myth, the underlying irony all contribute to symbolic dimensions that has made the poem a classic example of Tennysonian philosophy of life.

There is a sensible symbolic significance in the myth of the poem “Oenone". It can be detected in the indirect method of poetic commentary in "Oenone," in which Tennyson depicts Paris, the son of Priam, King of Troy, as judging who is the most beautiful of the
three principal goddesses, Hera, Pallas Athene, or Aphrodite. Tennyson employed classical myths extensively as a vehicle for
exploring alternative symbolic answers to the question, "how to live?". By symbolically illuminating, through mythic and legendary
material, the tensions among values, he makes us think and arrive at our own judgments independently.

The events in the poem symbolically suggest the fatal consequence of pursuing physical beauty. In this poem, Oenone, a mountain nymph who is Paris's beloved, recounts the events. We hear each goddess advance the arguments for the attribute which she represents: power, wisdom, and beauty. Tennyson as poet does not underline the decision that Paris should have made for wisdom and self-control instead of for beauty. The commentary occurs in the jealous and psychologically valid interior monologue of Oenone. War and the sacking of Troy by the Greeks is, of course, the outcome that the ending of the poem foreshadows but does not state. While the flaw in Paris's decision may seem obvious, we should not overlook
the symbolic significance that the myth gives to the necessity of choices in human life and to the fact that such choices always bear
consequences which can be fatal to individuals and to society.
Ironically, even with the most careful reasoning, in the light of the
information available at the time, the consequences often cannot be foreseen.

The events in the poem further stand for the ambiguity of situation in which choices are made and the clashes of ideals. As presented by Hera, power, properly used, especially for unselfish ends and for the good of humanity, has genuine worth. Kept in perspective, beauty, too, is surely a desirable attribute in life. But in
Tennyson's version, Aphrodite promises Paris, if he decides for he the fairest and most loving wife in Greece". Since each of the goddesses proffers to Paris a means of his own self-aggrandizement they are really bribing him and corrupting the ideal of a disinterested
judgment turning solely upon reason and merit. Yet among several alternatives in life, a most loving wife could be a wise decision for a
man to make and could lead to his greatest happiness. Paris's selecting Aphrodite and a loving wife, however, illustrates the ambiguity of circumstances in which we have to make choices. Helen is not simply a young woman capable of being the most beautiful and
the most loving wife that Greece can provide. She is already a wife somebody else's wife. Thus ideals clash. To fulfil what is an ideal for
Paris means destroying that of Menelaus. Also, to gain Helen, Paris must abandon and alienate Oenone, whose love turns to bitterness and hate.

The poem "Oenone" represents Tennyson's most penetrating poetic analysis of the life of his time and depicts the disintegration of
an ideal society through materialism, sensuality, hypocrisy falsehood, and distrust. Oenone's life-weariness may well be both a
projection of Tennyson's temperamental melancholy and a dramatization of his lifelong political pessimism, the symbolic aura
of the city of Troy extends Oenone's emotions into a broader social context. Thus, the symbolic significance of the poem provides an
elevated status to the poem discussing social, psychological and moral significance.

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