The narrative of the poem concerns an unnamed lover. The first part of the poem dwells on the funeral of the protagonist's father, and a feeling of loss and lament prevails. Then the appearance of Maud transforms the narrative into a pastoral, dwelling on her beauty. The appearance of Maud's brother causes conflict, and the poet kills him in an unnarrated duel. Maud's death impacts the psychological state of the protagonist, and an emotional longing for contact with the deceased echoes the tones of his earlier work, In Memoriam. The poem ends in Part III with the poet leaving to fight in the Crimean War, and parallels may be drawn between the death of Maud's brother, and the apparently justified killing of soldiers in war.
The interpretation of Maud is complicated by the compromised position of the narrator; his emotional instability of the poet. The puzzle of the outside sphere of Maud, for example, the point of view of Maud herself, remains unresolved. The poem is a distorted view of a single reality, and the variation in meter can be seen to reflect the manic-depressive emotional tone of the speaker. While the poem was Tennyson's own favourite, it was met with much criticism in contemporary circles.
In Maud, Tennyson returns to the poetry of sensation, and dwells on a consciousness constituted of fragments of feeling. He deliberately denies an autonomous voice, and the ending is deeply ironic. The complex of feeling is ephemeral, and the culmination of these feelings ends in the unsatisfactory conclusion of the Crimean War. Tennyson is expressing the feelings of an age where identity, intellect and modernity were contentious issues. He does not offer a clear, linear answer. The chivalric style of the love-poem is combined with a contemporary cynicism, and so the Victorian tendency to look to remote cultures (here, medievalism) is insufficient. The interweaving of death and life images gives expression to the greater concern for the afterlife, and the movement of the human race into a greater age from past monuments.