November 30, 2005

T is for Tennyson

is for Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

I'm not really a huge Tennyson fan; I don't really have the patience to plow through the Idylls of the King, I find the Lady of Shalott annoying (the person, not the poem), and I don't much care what In Memoriam says about his sexuality. (My guess is that if Tennyson (or Shakespeare, for that matter) felt romantic or sexual love for a man, he didn't view it as a matter of his identity in a modern way. But that's an unsubstantiated guess, and not one I feel much of a Need to Know.)

But, but, but. There is one poem of Tennyson's which with I am hopelessly and passionately in love, so instead of quoting bits of several different poems, I'll just include this one whole one here.

Ulysses IT little profits that an idle king, By this still hearth, among these barren crags, Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole Unequal laws unto a savage race, That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me. 5

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That lov’d me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades 10
Vex’d the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known: cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honor’d of them all; 15
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades 20
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life. Life pil’d on life
Were all too little, and of one to me 25
Little remains: but every hour is sav’d
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire 30
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle—
Well-lov’d of me, discerning to fulfil 35
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail 40
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners, 45
Souls’ that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and oppos’d
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil; 50
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep 55
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
’T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths 60
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ 65
We are not now that strength which in old days
Mov’d earth and heaven, that which we are, we are:
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. 70

I have a poster with a rower and a stanza of this on the wall next to my desk. Unfortunately, the creator of the poster apparently thought a computer spell-checker was sufficient proof-reading. Three lines of the poem as shown in the poster should be sufficient:

How dull it is to pause, to make and end, to rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use! As tho' to breath were life! Life piled on life Were all to little, and of one to me

Humph. Sacrilege.

Posted by dichroic at November 30, 2005 01:44 PM
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