On the Book

Demeter and Other Poems is a book of poems published in 1889 by Macmillan & Co., by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The book that we have in the University of Victoria's McPherson library (PR5555 D4) is a first edition (according to WorldCat). The book is bound in green cloth and is very plain, with few markings on it at all except for the title on its spine with no images, embossed in gold.

Taken by author, February 15 2016
Taken by author, February 15 2016

The pages are obviously cut because of their ragged appearance, and the paper is quite thick. The binding is beginning to fall apart.

Taken by author, February 15 2016

Inside the book, again, there is very little decoration, and the text is small and plain. It is obvious this edition was not a gift book and was simply a book read in everyday life. There is some evidence of what looks to be an old bookplate, but the plate is missing from the book itself.

Taken by author, February 15 2016

There are twenty-eight poems in total of the book of 175 pages, which means that all of the poems in the collection are quite short. The book is small, at 10 by 16 centimeters, but is a bit longer from top to bottom than the typical pocket book of the Victorian period. There are no inscriptions in it whatsoever, which indicates that it was perhaps not read a lot or well loved, or maybe that it was so well loved that it was deeply cherished. It is in extremely good condition for its age as well, which is another indication that it has not been picked up by many.


Demeter and Other Poems was published near the end of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's life, as he passed away in 1892 after being born in 1809 (Tennyson 1). He began publishing with Macmillan & Co. in 1884, though his relations with Macmillan went back about 25 years (James 134).When the book was published late in 1889 in London and New York, during the first week, it sold 20,000 copies (Hallam Tennyson xxii). This is understandable, as Tennyson was arguably the most popular poet of the Victorian period and people would have sought his work out. It would have been a very exciting time when Tennyson published another book of poetry, as people enjoyed reading the poet laureate's work. The tone of criticism on Demeter and Other Poems was generally positive (Hallam Tennyson 724).

According to a memoir written by Tennyson's son, the book was dedicated to two people: Lord Dufferin, a political diplomat and prominent figure of the Victorian period, and, separately, to "Professor Jebb", who we can assume is Richard Claverhouse Jebb, one of Tennyson's friends (Hallam Tennyson 724). He dedicated it to Lord Dufferin as a "tribute of affection and gratitude" (724), but dedicated the book to his friend in a more personal way. He dedicated it to Professor Jebb because Jebb believed that Demeter represented the ideal of motherhood (724).

Table of Contents

The poems in the book tend to vary, with several being elegiac but varying from lyric to monologue to epistle. There is no clear division to the poems at all, with only a table of contents at the beginning but no sections titled with certain types of poems. There does seem to be indication of some sort of division, but it is extremely unclear. The poems are as follows:

To the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava
On the Jubilee of Queen Victoria
To Professor Jebb (note: dedication to him)
Demeter and Persephone
Owd Roä
The Ring
To Ulysses
To Mary Boyle
The Progress of Spring
Merlin and the Gleam
Romney's Remorse
By an Evolutionist
Far -- Far -- Away
Beautiful City
The Roses on the Terrace
The Play
On One Who Affected an Effeminate Manner
The One Who Ran Down the English
The Snowdrop
The Throstle
The Oak
In Memoriam -- William George Ward
Crossing the Bar

The first three poems are epistles, but then there are two more later on, so there is no division there. There are also three nature-inspired poems in a row ("The Snowdrop", "The Throstle", and "The Oak"). The last two poems are reminiscent of death; upon Tennyson's request, all books of poetry published towards the end of his life had to end with his short lyric "Crossing the Bar", and Demeter and Other Poems is no exception (Hallam Tennyson 725).

On "Demeter and Persephone"

The title poem is one of the longest of the book, at eight pages. It is a dramatic monologue, with Demeter as the speaker. Tennyson's goal was to reinvent the myth of Demeter and Persephone with the poem, and to give it a more modern twist (Hallam Tennyson 724). Not only does he reinvent the myth, but he also reinvents both of the goddesses. In the poem, Persephone is the literal representation of nature. She is the spirit of trees and hills, and is interchangeable with her environment (Radford 70). Demeter, on the other hand, is a character that is more easily grasped. She represents the ideal of Victorian womanhood and is the cultural construction of late-Victorian femininity with her depressed demeanour and longing speech (70). She is always in a melancholy frame of mind, even when Persephone comes to visit because she knows that her daughter will have to return to the underworld eventually (70). Demeter takes on the domestic role of the mother, but Tennyson intertwines this common role with her representation as the feminine deity (70). Most of Demeter's monologue in the poem begins in the past tense and ends in the future tense, with very few lines in the present, suggesting the pull she feels to have her daughter with her in Enna but the inevitable heartbreak when she must retire to the Underworld (70).

Read Demeter and Other Poems online at https://www.questia.com/read/22866956/demeter-and-other-poems

Price for the original first edition copy ranges from three to thirty dollars on abebooks.com http://www.abebooks.com/book-search/title/demeter-other-poems/first-edition/

Works Cited

James, Elizabeth. Macmillan: A Publishing Tradition. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave, 2002. Dec. 2008. Web. 15 Feb. 2016

Radford, Andrew D. The Lost Girls: Demeter and Persephone and the Literary Imagination, 1850-1930. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007. 70. Print.

Tennyson, Alfred. Demeter and Other Poems. 1st ed. London: Macmillan, 1889. Print.

Tennyson, Hallam. Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir by His Son. New York: MacMillan, 1906. Print.

"Demeter and Other Poems." WorldCat.org. Web. 15 Feb. 2016