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  • 1909
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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.


Tennyson for the Young, Alfred Ainger.