Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal by Alfred Lord Tennyson

‘Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal’ is taken from the longer narrative poem, ‘The Princess’. The poem was read out loud by the princess to the prince who was recovering from his wounds. He was in love with her but is as of yet, has not revealed how she feels about him. It is through this poem that a reader gets that insight. In this piece, Tennyson focuses on the themes of desire and love but also touches on those of eternity and peace. 

Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal by Alfred Tennyson

 

Summary of Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal 

‘Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson depicts an intimate encounter between a man and a woman through figurative language.

In the first lines of ‘Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal,’ the speaker begins addressing a woman he loves. He describes the scene around her and how quiet it is. Eventually, he asks her to wake up and engage in sex with him. She opens her heart, willing to receive him. After the encounter is over, in a romantic and lovely conclusion to the sonnet, he asks that she allow herself to become lost in him. 

 

Structure of Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal

Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson is a five stanza poem that is separated into two sets of four lines, known as quatrains, and three sets of two lines, known as couplets. The couplets fall in the middle of the poem, bookended by the quatrains. 

It is important to remember when analyzing this poem that it is part of a much longer narrative work. The poem is embedded in the poem ‘The Princess,’ and therefore makes use of the same pattern. The lines are written in blank verse. This means that there is no rhyme scheme but it does make use of iambic pentameter. 

Of the various metrical patterns, iambic pentameter is by far the most popular for its steady rhythm and elegance. When a line makes use of this pattern it can be separated into five sets of two beats or syllables. The first of these is unstressed and the second is stressed, alternating back and forth. It sounds something like “duh DUM duh DUM”. 

 

Poetic Techniques in Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal 

Tennyson makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, anaphora, and simile. The latter, simile, is a comparison between two unlike things that uses the words “like” or “as”. A poet uses this kind of figurative language to say that one thing is similar to another, not like metaphor, that it “is” another.  There is an example in the first line of the second stanza. It reads “Now droops the milk-white peacock like a ghost”. This is only one of several examples Tennyson used in this particular piece. 

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “petal” and “palace’ in lines one and two of the first stanza and “lily” and “lake” in the first two lines of the fifth stanza.

Tennyson also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. This poem provides the reader with a good example of how anaphora can be used throughout the poem to help create a solid rhythm. Five lines begin with “Now,” one per stanza, three starts with “And” and two in a row in the first stanza start with “Nor”. 

 

Analysis of Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal 

Stanza One 

Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font.
The firefly wakens; waken thou with me.

Despite being read by the princess to the recovering prince in ‘The Princess,’ this poem has a male speaker. The poem starts off with the line that later came to be used as the title. The male speaker is appealing to a woman that he loves, confessing his true feelings to her. Everything is quiet in the scene that the man depicts. Everything and everyone is sleeping. The red flowers, signifying passion as well as the white signifying purity. This is a very clear use of symbolism. 

The “cypress” tree is not waving in the palace walk, it too has grown still. In the last line of this stanza, he addresses the woman, asking her to wake up. 

 

Stanzas Two and Three 

   Now droops the milk-white peacock like a ghost,

And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.

 

Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars,

And all thy heart lies open unto me.

The second and third stanzas both begin with “Now,” as did the first. Without explicitly stating what happened, the speaker alludes to sex. The first couplet makes very vague connections between natural imagery and the man’s desire to have sex with the woman. In the third stanza  the speaker makes a reference to Danaë in the third stanza, a character from Greek mythology who Zeus forces himself upon. But, unlike the story, the woman in the story is willing to have sex with him. Her “heart lies open”. 

 

Stanza Four 

   Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves

A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.

The third couplet suggests that the sexual encounter is over, the “silent meteor” slides on and leave behind it a “shining furrow”. For the time period at which this piece was written, it was wholly improper to write about sex explicitly. Therefore, Tennyson chose this roundabout and deeply metaphorical way to describe the experience from the perspective of a man. 

 

Stanza Five 

   Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,

And slips into the bosom of the lake.

So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip

Into my bosom and be lost in me.

In the last four lines of ‘Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal’ the speaker returns to the image of the lily, a white flower. It is a direct reference to the woman’s body which, now taken by the man, folds all “her sweetness up”. But, this is not all the man wants. He loves this woman and the last lines confirm that. He asks that she fold herself into him and allow herself to become “lost”. 

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