3/09/2019

"Oenone" by Tennyson : Use of Irony or Ironic dilemma of Oenone.


Tennyson's "Oenone," is the least complex of his poems. It is focused on an ironic dilemma presented in the character of Oenone. She is trapped by her own fruitless passion, left in desolation, and forced to regard death as a victory. A careful consideration of the poem opens up a contradictory point of view
regarding her fate and suffering. We begin to reevaluate her from different angle. She is not a simple victim of her fate or circumstances.

There is an irony connected with our point of view. Though the dominant current of the poem is Oenone's lament, a passionate song that involves us strongly, there is, at the same time, an inner contradiction, that is crucial but that can be perceived only by suspending our involvement. Oenone's surrender to her emotions begins to look like that of her ostensible betrayer. Thus, we see her as something other than a simple victim of Paris or the arbitrary power of the goddesses. She is also victimized by her own passion, perhaps finally by the absurdity and irrationality that rule in human affairs. The constant reiteration of "Dear mother Ida, harken ere I die" comes to indicate to us how bound she is by circumstance and her own emotions.

Despite our participation in her cry of pain and injustice, we see that she too has been denied the gift of "self-reverence, self knowledge self-control" (l. 142). Pallas's offer, we are led to believe, is clearly the proper one for Paris or any other human being to accept: her appeals are the broadest and most conventionally moral. She appears to disdain rising any deceptive rhetoric to persuade Paris.  Her offer of law and freedom combines all basic human aspirations and most crucially she has Oenone's direct support: "and I cried, O Paris, / Give it to Pallas!' " But the acceptance of Pallas's offer seems in the end, both necessary and impossible as Oenone herself goes on to demonstrate. Oenone reacts to Paris's decision by echoing exactly the unreasoning feelings that had controlled her false lover. She does not rise to Pallas's counselled self-control but competes on the same grounds as the love goddess Aphrodite:

“Fairest- why fairest wife? am I not fair?
My love hath told me so a thousand times
Ah me, my mountain shepherd, that my arms
Were wound about thee, and my hot lips prest
Close, close to thine" [Ill. 192-93, 198-200]”

Instead of adopting Pallas's "wisdom in the scorn of consequence" (1.148), she submits to and is ruled by consequence. Instead of self-reverence, she feeds on thoughts of self-destruction. Instead of law, she thinks of revenge. The ironic climax comes when she stirs herself to live, not to change, and repent but to experience the grim consolation of seeing others go with her: "I will not die alone" (1. 253)

Thus, the poem hides an ironic twist which only careful reading can reveal. Our judgment is in constant tension with the vision of Oenone as a completely innocent victim. There is no way we can blame her for her passion. Passion is all that works, and she has, in any case, no choice in the matter. The poem acts to deny us the comfort of a solution by making us live with the desolate and bewildered Oenone, who like us, senses the rightness of Pallas's answer but who proves by her pathetic life the irrelevance of "self- reverence, self-knowledge, self-control." We can be neither
completely absorbed by the pathos of her life nor comfortably detached from it thereby making it an artistic ironic dilemma.

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