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English Literature For Boys And Girls by H.E. Marshall

Part 13 out of 13

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I will not eat my heart alone,
Nor feed with sighs a passing wind:
. . . . .
"Regret is dead, but love is more
Than in the summers that are flown,
For I myself with these have grown
To something greater than before."

One more event is recorded, the wedding of the poet's younger
sister, nine years after the death of his friend. And with this
note of gladness and hope in the future the poem ends.

Time heals all things, and time healed Tennyson's grief. But
there was another reason, of which we hardly catch a glimpse in
the poem, for his return to peace and hope. Another love had
come into his life, the love of the lady who one day was to be
his wife. At first, however, it seemed a hopeless love, for in
spite of his growing reputation as a poet, Tennyson was still
poor, too poor to marry. And so for fourteen years he worked and
waited, at times wellnigh losing hope. But at length the waiting
was over and the wedding took place. Tennyson amused the guests
by saying that it was the nicest wedding he had ever been at.
And long afterwards with solemn thankfulness he said, speaking of
his wife, "The peace of God came into my life before the altar
when I wedded her."

A few months before the wedding Wordsworth had died. One night a
few months after it Tennyson dreamt that the Prince Consort came
and kissed him on the cheek. "Very kind but very German," he
said in his dream. Next morning a letter arrived offering him
the Laureateship.

One of the first poems Tennyson wrote as laureate was his Ode on
the Death of Wellington. Few people liked it at the time, but
now it has taken its place among our fine poems, and many of its
lines are familiar household words.

Of Tennyson's many beautiful short poems there is no room here to
tell. He wrote several plays too, but they are among the least
read and the least remembered of his works. For Tennyson was a
lyrical rather than a dramatic poet. His long poems besides In
Memoriam are The Princess, Maud, and the Idylls of the King. The
Princess is perhaps the first of Tennyson's long poems that you
will like to read. It is full of gayety, young life, and color.
It is a mock heroic tale of a princess who does not wish to marry
and who founds a college for women, within the walls of which no
man may enter. But the Prince to whom the Princess has been
betrothed since childhood and who loves her from having seen her
portrait only, enters with his friends disguised as women
students. The result is confusion, war, and finally peace. The
story must not be taken too seriously; it is a poem, not a
treatise, but it is interesting, especially at this time. For
even you who read this book must know that the question has not
yet been settled as to how far a woman ought to be educated and
take her share in the world's work. But forget that and read it
only for its light-hearted poetry. The Princess is in blank
verse, but throughout there are scattered beautiful songs which
add to the charm. Here is one of the most musical--

"Sweet and low, sweet and low,
Wind of the western sea,
Low, low, breathe and blow,
Wind of the western sea!
Over the rolling waters go,
Come from the dying moon, and blow,
Blow him again to me;
While my little one, while my pretty one, sleeps.

"Sleep and rest, sleep and rest,
Father will come to thee soon;
Rest, rest, on mother's breast,
Father will come to thee soon;
Father will come to his babe in the nest,
Silver sails all out of the west
Under the silver moon:
Sleep, my little one, sleep, my pretty one, sleep."

In the Idylls of the King, Tennyson, as you have already heard in
Chapter IX, used the old story of Arthur. He used the old story,
but he wove into it something new, for we are meant to see in his
twelve tales of the round table an allegory. We are meant to see
the struggle between what is base and what is noble in human
nature. But this inner meaning is not always easy to follow, and
we may cast the allegory aside, and still have left to us
beautiful dream-like tales which carry us away into a strange
wonderland. Like The Faery Queen, the Idylls of the King is full
of pictures. Here we find a fairy city, towered and turreted,
dark woods, wild wastes and swamps, slow gliding rivers all in a
misty dreamland. And this dreamland is peopled by knights and
ladies who move through it clad in radiant robes and glittering
armor. Jewels and rich coloring gleam and glow to the eye, songs
fall upon the ear. And over all rules the blameless King.

"And Arthur and his knighthood for a space
Were all one will, and thro' that strength the King
Drew in the petty princedoms under him,
Fought, and in twelve great battles overcame
The heathen hordes, and made a realm and reign'd."

One story of the Idylls I have already told you. Some day you
will read the others, and learn for yourselves--

"This old imperfect tale,
New-old, and shadowing Sense at war with Soul
Rather than that gray King, whose name, a ghost,
Streams like a cloud, man-shaped, from mountain peak,
And cleaves to cairn and cromlech still; or him
Of Geoffrey's book, or him of Malleor's."

Tennyson led a peaceful, simple life. He made his home for the
most part in the Isle of Wight. Here he lived quietly,
surrounded by his family, but sought after by all the great
people of his day. He refused a baronetcy, but at length in 1883
accepted a peerage and became Lord Tennyson, the first baron of
his name. He was the first peer to receive the title purely
because of his literary work. And so with gathering honors and
gathering years the poet lived and worked, a splendid old man.
Then at the goodly age of eighty-four he died in the autumn of
1892.

He was buried in Westminster, not far from Chaucer, and as he was
laid among the mighty dead the choir sang Crossing the Bar, one
of his latest and most beautiful poems.

"Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

"But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

"Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

"For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar."

With Tennyson I end my book, because my design was not to give
you a history of our literature as it is now, so much as to show
you how it grew to be what it is. In the beginning of this book
I took the Arthur story as a pattern or type of how a story grew,
showing how it passed through many stages, in each stage gaining
something of beauty and of breadth. In the same way I have tried
to show how from a rough foundation of minstrel tales and monkish
legends the great palace of our literature has slowly risen to be
a glorious house of song. It is only an outline that I have
given you. There are some great names that demand our reverence,
many that call for our love, for whom no room has been found in
this book. For our literature is so great a thing that no one
book can compass it, no young brain comprehend it. But if I have
awakened in you a desire to know more of our literature, a desire
to fill in and color for yourselves this outline picture, I shall
be well repaid, and have succeeded in what I aimed at doing. If
I have helped you to see that Literature need be no dreary lesson
I shall be more than repaid.

"They use me as a lesson-book at schools," said Tennyson, "and
they will call me 'that horrible Tennyson.'" I should like to
think that the time is coming when schoolgirls and schoolboys
will say, "We have Tennyson for a school-book. How nice." I
should like to think that they will say this not only of
Tennyson, but of many other of our great writers whose very names
come as rest and refreshment to those of us who have learned to
love them.

BOOK TO READ

Tennyson for the Young, Alfred Ainger.

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