Oenone by Lord Alfred Tennyson
“Oenone” is a dramatic monologue written by The Victorian poet Lord Alfred Tennyson in 1829. The whole poem is a kind of lament in which the elegiac mood predominates. Oenone feels so miserable that she calls upon death to come and end her life. Memories of Paris’s past love for her intensify Oenone’s anguish. In a mood of helplessness, Oenone desires death, but the next moment the forms a grim resolve in order to take her revenge.
The poem’s imagery, its elegiac mood, its lyrical, narrative and dramatic passages and its verbal felicities are its most conspicuous features. It is a “Tennysonian,” poem in every line, whether one takes the word “Tennysonian” in a congratulatory or disparaging sense.
In this, as in many other poems, Tennyson takes an ancient theme and gives it touches and variations that arise from modem life.
The character Oenone laments her fate and is portrayed as a victim to outside circumstances. In every version of the story, Oenone is represented as the dutiful and loving wife who is deserted by her one true love and takes her own life in response.
Oenone continued – and continues – to be remembered this way as a cautionary tale to women who devote themselves to men who do not deserve their love.
Prior History of Paris and Oenone
According to Homer and these later tales, Paris was among the many sons of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. Just before he was born, Hecuba dreamed she gave birth to a torch of bright flame. This dream was interpreted by Aesacus, another of Priam’s sons and a seer (who also loved, and lost, Oenone’s sister Asterope). Aesacus understood the dream to mean that the child would bring ruin upon Troy and should be killed. Once Paris was born, neither his father nor mother could bring themselves to harm him and so Priam gave him to his trusted herdsman, Agelaus, to remove from the palace and dispose of.
Agelaus could not bear to harm the boy either, but also could not bring him back to Priam, and so left him exposed to die on Mount Ida. When he returned nine days later, he found the infant thriving, having been suckled daily by a she-bear. Agelaus then brought the baby back to his own house to rear as his own.
Paris grew up as a shepherd on Mount Ida, presumably the son of Agelaus, but his noble heritage was apparent in his great beauty, courage, and natural intelligence. After he had driven off a group of thieves, he was known as Alexandros (“defender of men”), the name most commonly used for him by later writers. He attracted the attention of Oenone who fell in love with him, even though he was a lowly shepherd and she a nymph and the daughter of the river god, and he swore his eternal love for her, promising he would never leave. The two were married, Oenone bore Paris a son, Corythus, and the family lived happily on Mount Ida.
Some years later, Paris took one of the bulls from Agelaus’ herd to Troy as an offering in a grand celebration, not knowing this event was a commemoration of his own “death” consisting of funeral games in his honor. He took part in these games and won the bull he had brought as well as the admiration of many but some, including his own brothers, berated him for his presumption since he was only a shepherd and yet had managed to somehow do better than his superiors and even better even than the god Ares who had participated in a bull’s form. Before they could attack him, however, he was identified as the supposedly dead prince by his sister Cassandra who had the power of prophecy.
Oenone, Corythus, and Paris then moved to Troy and were welcomed into the royal family.
The poem “Oenone” starts with the description of a mountain “Ida” and the natural beauty of the mountain. Here, the poet describes the sad and pensive life of Oenone. Oenone and Paris were a happy couple. But this happiness was not last long. Once, Oenone and her husband were invited in a weeding party.
The goddess of Power (Hera), goddess of Knowledge (Pallas), and the goddess of Beauty (Aphrodite) were also invited. Then, the king of all gods and men (Zeus) wanted to give her a golden apple who is the most beautiful goddess. Paris was selected to decide it.
Each of the goddesses wants to give Paris a gift to announce her name as the most beautiful goddess. But the condition was that Paris can select only one goddess as the most beautiful goddess. So, each of the goddesses offered to give Paris a gift. The goddess of power wants to give him unlimited power, the goddess of knowledge wants to give him knowledge, and the goddess of beauty wants to give him the most beautiful lady in the Greece whose name was Helen.
Paris was attracted by the beauty of Helen so he announces that Aphrodite is the most beautiful goddess. So, Aphrodite gives him the most beautiful lady in Greece. Then, Paris release Oenone and accepts Helen. On the other hand, Oenone becomes mad and lost his self-control by losing her beloved Paris. Every moment she wished her death. She can’t acknowledge the refusal of Paris so she starts to abhor Paris and cursed him. At last, she begs to God not to make her child as a deceiver like Paris.
Death of Oenone
Paris brought Helen back to Troy where their marriage was celebrated. Oenone, abandoned, vowed revenge on her faithless husband, and when the Achaean Greeks arrived, she had Corythus guide them to Troy. As the war wore on, she sent Corythus again to seduce Helen and prove to Paris that his new wife was faithless and hardly worth his affection. Paris found Corythus in bed with Helen and, not recognizing his adult son, killed him.
Paris, the cause of the war, was the weakest participant in the conflict whose sole achievement was killing the Achaean hero Achilles by firing the arrow which struck his heel, the only part of his body unprotected by the promises of all the elements and aspects of the earth which had sworn to his mother to defend him. Paris was afterward struck by the arrow of the Achaean hero Philoctetes and was carried to Mount Ida to be saved by the potions of Oenone.
She, hurt by his betrayal of her with Helen of Sparta, refused to help him and he was carried back to Troy where he died. Oenone repented of her decision and rushed to Troy with aid but arrived too late. In her grief and regret, she flung herself onto his funeral pyre and died. Two alternate ends of Oenone’s life claim she hanged herself or threw herself off a cliff near Troy.
The moral lesson in “Oenone” is clear and it is a very beautiful and simple poem. Paris was a prince, but he was not a good husband. He was fond of some gods and goddesses, but as a human being, he was terrible.
There is a strong moral lesson that if you get too much carried away with your emotion then you are bound to suffer.
Oenone did not think anything but became crazy for Paris. She did not bother to think whether Paris was a good man or a bad man. The same can be said about Paris who got a very kind and devoted wife in Oenone, but yet he became crazy when he got the offer from Aphrodite that he would be able to get married to the most beautiful woman in entire Greece.
Tennyson is suggesting here that emotion is not enough in life and we must apply knowledge and our brain. We must use our senses and think about life. When it comes to marriage you must not easily take any decision. Otherwise, you will suffer badly in life just as Oenone suffered.