Comparison & Contrast in Atmosphere of Poems

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There are many ways in which the atmosphere in Tennyson’s poems Morte d’Arthur and The Lady of Shalott is defined. It is shown throughout the poems using landscape, weather, pathos, isolation, sound and colour. Although there are many similarities in the atmosphere of both poems there are also some stark differences. Landscape plays a big part in portraying the atmosphere of any poem in particular The Lady of Shalott and Morte d’Arthur.

The second line of The Lady of Shalott straight away helps you to sense the atmosphere of the poem, ‘Long fields of barley and rye’ gives you a vision of where the poem is set and of what type of poem it is; in contrast to that Morte d’Arthur has the second line; ‘Among the mountains by the winter sea’. You can see from this that the landscape of the poems is very different and this is not the only time that the contrast in landscape can be seen.

In the second stanza of part one in The Lady of Shalott there is a line that when compared with a line in stanza two of part one in Morte d’Arthur you really begin to see the contrast; ‘Overlook a space of flowers’ is the line from The Lady of Shalott whereas in Morte d’Arthur lines such as ‘That stood on a dark strait of barren land’ are being used. These depictions of landscape show that Morte d’Arthur has a much darker atmosphere than The Lady of Shalott and this difference in the atmospheres can be seen not just from reading the first two stanzas of both the poems but throughout the whole of both poems.

The landscape of the poems plays a big part in the depiction of the atmosphere as landscape can include other important indicators such as colour – ‘As often through the purple night’ is a line used in The Lady of Shalott and the mention of colour helps to really define the landscape which therefore helps to define the poem’s atmosphere. The use of weather plays a big part in helping to envision the atmosphere of the poems as we often associate our moods with the weather so therefore the weather is a good way to set the atmosphere of poems.

In The Lady of Shalott Tennyson begins by describing the wind as a breeze, ‘Willows whitens, aspens quiver, Little breezes dusk and shiver’ but as the poem goes on the description of the weather begins to change and by Part IV we are being told that, ‘In the stormy east-wind straining, The pale yellow woods were waning,’ which perfectly depicts the way in which the atmosphere changes throughout the poem; The Lady of Shalott begins as a cheery, summery poem but by the end it has become a darker, stormier poem – along the lines of Morte d’Arthur.

In contrast to this the portrayal of weather in Morte d’Arthur stays roughly the same right through the poem, in the beginning Tennyson tells us that, ‘So all day long the noise of battle roll’d Among the mountains by the winter sea;’ these are the first two lines of Morte d’Arthur and straight away they show what is to come in the rest of the poem, these lines give off a picture of a cold, dark and mysterious place where the mountains and the sea contrast perfectly with each other to create a world where disaster seems destined to strike.

The mention of the sea being a ‘winter sea’ highlights the coldness of the place and really makes as if you are there on the mountains and overlooking that cold, lashing water. The penultimate stanza of Morte d’Arthur consists of the lines, ‘Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow, Nor ever winds blow loudly; but it lies’ this has the same sense of atmosphere as the delineation of weather in the first two lines and so is verification that the whole of the poem holds the same dark, cold interpretation of atmosphere throughout.

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