Tennyson

“In Memoriam” is a series of short poems mourning the death in 1833 of Tennyson’s good friend Arthur Hugh Hallam. That such a promising man should die young led Tennyson to a crisis in his understanding of death, religious faith, and immortality. Selections from the poem follow. (The title is in Latin, and may be translated as “In Memory of A. H. H., died 1833”)

In Memoriam A. H. H. Obiit MDCCCXXXIII

5
I sometimes hold it half a sin
put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within. But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
A use in measured language lies;
The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain. words, like weeds, I’ll wrap me o’er,
Like coarsest clothes against the cold;
But that large grief which these enfold
Is given in outline and no more.
11
Calm is the morn without a sound,
Calm as to suit a calmer grief,
And only thro’ the faded leaf
The chestnut pattering to the ground: Calm and deep peace on this high wold,
And on these dews that drench the furze.
And all the silvery gossamers
That twinkle into green and gold: Calm and still light on yon great plain
That sweeps with all its autumn bowers,
And crowded farms and lessening towers,
To mingle with the bounding main: Calm and deep peace in this wide air,
These leaves that redden to the fall;
And in my heart, if calm at all,
If any calm, a calm despair: Calm on the seas, and silver sleep,
And waves that sway themselves in rest,
And dead calm in that noble breast
Which heaves but with the heaving deep.
22
The path by which we twain did go,
Which led by tracts that pleased us well,
Thro’ four sweet years arose and fell,
From flower to flower, from snow to snow: And we with singing cheered the way,
And, crowned with all the season lent,
From April on to April went,
And glad at heart from May to May: But where the path we walked began
To slant the fifth autumnal slope,
As we descended following Hope,
There sat the Shadow feared of man; Who broke our fair companionship,
And spread his mantle dark and cold,
And wrapt thee formless in the fold,
And dulled the murmur on thy lip, And bore thee where I could not see
Nor follow, tho’ I walk in haste,
And think, that somewhere in the waste
The Shadow sits and waits for me.
30
With trembling fingers did we weave
The holly round the Christmas hearth;
A rainy cloud possessed the earth,
And sadly fell our Christmas-eve. our old pastimes in the hall
gamboled, making vain pretence
gladness, with an awful sense
one mute Shadow watching all. paused: the winds were in the beech:
We heard them sweep the winter land;
And in a circle hand-in-hand
Sat silent, looking each at each. Then echo-like our voices rang;
We sung, though every eye was dim,
A merry song we sang with him
Last year: impetuously we sang: We ceased: a gentler feeling crept
Upon us: surely rest is meet:
They rest,” we said, “their sleep is sweet,”
And silence followed, and we wept. Our voices took a higher range;
Once more we sang: “They do not die
Nor lose their mortal sympathy,
Nor change to us, although they change; Rapt from the fickle and the frail
With gathered power, yet the same,
Pierces the keen seraphic flame
From orb to orb, from veil to veil.” Rise, happy morn, rise, holy morn,
Draw forth the cheerful day from night:
O Father, touch the east, and light
The light that shone when Hope was born.
45
The baby new to earth and sky,
What time his tender palm is prest
Against the circle of the breast,
Has never thought that “this is I”: But as he grows he gathers much,
And learns the use of “I,” and “me,”
And finds “I am not what I see,
And other than the things I touch.” So rounds he to a separate mind
From whence clear memory may begin,
As thro’ the frame that binds him in
His isolation grows defined. This use may lie in blood and breath
Which else were fruitless of their due,
Had man to learn himself anew
Beyond the second birth of Death.
55
The wish, that of the living whole
life may fail beyond the grave,
Derives it not from what we have
The likest God within the soul? Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
careful of the type she seems,
careless of the single life; That I, considering everywhere
Her secret meaning in her deeds,
And finding that of fifty seeds
She often brings but one to bear, I falter where I firmly trod,
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world’s altar-stairs
That slope through darkness up to God, I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.
56
Careful of the type?” but no.
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, “A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go. Thou makest thine appeal to me:
I bring to life, I bring to death:
The spirit does but mean the breath:
I know no more.” And he, shall he, Man, her last work, who seemed so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who rolled the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer, Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law–
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shrieked against his creed– Who loved, who suffered countless ills,
Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or sealed within the iron hills? No more? A monster then, a dream,
A discord. Dragons of the prime,
That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music matched with him.    O life as futile, then, as frail!
O for thy voice to soothe and bless!
What hope of answer, or redress?
Behind the veil, behind the veil.
67
When on my bed the moonlight falls,
I know that in thy place of rest
that broad water of the west,
There comes a glory on the walls: Thy marble bright in dark appears,
slowly steals a silver flame
Along the letters of thy name,
And o’er the number of thy years. The mystic glory swims away;
From off my bed the moonlight dies;
And closing eaves of wearied eyes
I sleep till dusk is dipped in gray: And then I know the mist is drawn
A lucid veil from coast to coast,
And in the dark church like a ghost
Thy tablet glimmers to the dawn. 72
Risest thou thus, dim dawn, again,
And howlest, issuing out of night,
With blasts that blow the poplar white,
And lash with storm the streaming pane? Day, when my crowned estate begun
To pine in that reverse of doom,
Which sickened every living bloom,
And blurred the splendour of the sun; Who usherest in the dolorous hour
With thy quick tears that make the rose
Pull sideways, and the daisy close
Her crimson fringes to the shower; Who might’st have heaved a windless flame
Up the deep East, or, whispering, played
A chequer-work of beam and shade
Along the hills, yet looked the same. As wan, as chill, as wild as now;
Day, marked as with some hideous crime,
When the dark hand struck down thro’ time,
And canceled nature’s best: but thou, Lift as thou may’st thy burthened brows
Thro’ clouds that drench the morning star,
And whirl the ungarnered sheaf afar,
And sow the sky with flying boughs, And up thy vault with roaring sound
Climb thy thick noon, disastrous day;
Touch thy dull goal of joyless gray,
And hide thy shame beneath the ground. 95
By night we lingered on the lawn,
For underfoot the herb was dry;
And genial warmth; and o’er the sky
The silvery haze of summer drawn; And calm that let the tapers burn
Unwavering: not a cricket chirred:
The brook alone far-off was heard,
And on the board the fluttering urn: And bats went round in fragrant skies,
And wheeled or lit the filmy shapes
That haunt the dusk, with ermine capes
And woolly breasts and beaded eyes; While now we sang old songs that pealed
From knoll to knoll, where, couched at ease,
The white kine glimmered, and the trees
Laid their dark arms about the field. But when those others, one by one,
Withdrew themselves from me and night,
And in the house light after light
Went out, and I was all alone, A hunger seized my heart; I read
Of that glad year which once had been,
In those fallen leaves which kept their green,
The noble letters of the dead: And strangely on the silence broke
The silent-speaking words, and strange
Was love’s dumb cry defying change
To test his worth; and strangely spoke The faith, the vigour, bold to dwell
On doubts that drive the coward back,
And keen thro’ wordy snares to track
Suggestion to her inmost cell. So word by word, and line by line,
The dead man touched me from the past,
And all at once it seemed at last
The living soul was flashed on mine, And mine in this was wound, and whirled
About empyreal heights of thought,
And came on that which is, and caught
The deep pulsations of the world, Aeonian music measuring out
The steps of Time–the shocks of Chance–
The blows of Death. At length my trance
Was canceled, stricken thro’ with doubt. Vague words! but ah, how hard to frame
In matter-moulded forms of speech,
Or ev’n for intellect to reach
Thro’ memory that which I became: Till now the doubtful dusk revealed
The knolls once more where, couched at ease,
The white kine glimmered, and the trees
Laid their dark arms about the field: And sucked from out the distant gloom
A breeze began to tremble o’er
The large leaves of the sycamore,
And fluctuate all the still perfume, And gathering freshlier overhead,
Rocked the full-foliaged elms, and swung
The heavy-folded rose, and flung
The lilies to and fro, and said “The dawn, the dawn,” and died away;
And East and West, without a breath,
Mixt their dim lights, like life and death,
To broaden into boundless day.
99
Risest thou thus, dim dawn, again,
So loud with voices of the birds,
So thick with lowings of the herds,
Day, when I lost the flower of men; Who tremblest thro’ thy darkling red
On yon swollen brook that bubbles fast
By meadows breathing of the past,
And woodlands holy to the dead; Who murmurest in the foliaged eaves
A song that slights the coming care,
And Autumn laying here and there
A fiery finger on the leaves; Who wakenest with thy balmy breath
To myriads on the genial earth,
Memories of bridal, or of birth,
And unto myriads more, of death. O wheresoever those may be,
Betwixt the slumber of the poles,
Today they count as kindred souls;
They know me not, but mourn with me.
105
Tonight ungathered let us leave
This laurel, let this holly stand:
live within the stranger’s land,
And strangely falls our Christmas-eve. Our father’s dust is left alone
And silent under other snows:
There in due time the woodbine blows,
The violet comes, but we are gone. more shall wayward grief abuse
The genial hour with mask and mime;
For change of place, like growth of time,
Has broke the bond of dying use. Let cares that petty shadows cast,
By which our lives are chiefly proved,
A little spare the night I loved,
And hold it solemn to the past. But let no footstep beat the floor,
Nor bowl of wassail mantle warm;
For who would keep an ancient form
Through which the spirit breathes no more? Be neither song, nor game, nor feast;
Nor harp be touched, nor flute be blown;
No dance, no motion, save alone
What lightens in the lucid east Of rising worlds by yonder wood.
Long sleeps the summer in the seed;
Run out your measured arcs, and lead
The closing cycle rich in good.
121
Sad Hesper o’er the buried sun
And ready, thou, to die with him,
Thou watchest all things ever dim
And dimmer, and a glory done: The team is loosened from the wain,
The boat is drawn upon the shore;
Thou listenest to the closing door,
And life is darkened in the brain. Bright Phosphor, fresher for the night,
By thee the world’s great work is heard
Beginning, and the wakeful bird;
Behind thee comes the greater light: The market boat is on the stream,
And voices hail it from the brink;
Thou hear’st the village hammer clink,
And see’st the moving of the team. Sweet Hesper-Phosphor, double name
For what is one, the first, the last,
Thou, like my present and my past,
Thy place is changed; thou art the same. 126
Love is and was my Lord and King,
And in his presence I attend
hear the tidings of my friend,
Which every hour his couriers bring. Love is and was my King and Lord,
And will be, though as yet I keep
Within his court on earth, and sleep
Encompassed by his faithful guard, And hear at times a sentinel
Who moves about from place to place,
And whispers to the worlds of space,
In the deep night, that all is well.


You Ask Me, Why, Though Ill at Ease

You ask me, why, tho’ ill at ease,
Within this region I subsist,
Whose spirits falter in the mist,
And languish for the purple seas. is the land that freemen till,
That sober-suited Freedom chose,
The land, where girt with friends or foes
A man may speak the thing he will; A land of settled government,
A land of just and old renown,
Where Freedom slowly broadens down
From precedent to precedent: Where faction seldom gathers head,
But by degrees to fullness wrought,
The strength of some diffusive thought
Hath time and space to work and spread. Should banded unions persecute
Opinion, and induce a time
When single thought is civil crime,
And individual freedom mute; Tho’ Power should make from land to land
The name of Britain trebly great–
Tho’ every channel of the State
Should fill and choke with golden sand– Yet waft me from the harbour-mouth,
Wild wind! I seek a warmer sky,
And I will see before I die
The palms and temples of the South. –Alfred, Lord Tennyson