Tennyson's Poems


First published in 1842. No alteration since 1850.

In this humorous allegory the poet bewails his unhappy lot on having fallen on an age so unpropitious to poetry, contrasting it with the happy times so responsive to his predecessors who piped to a world prepared to dance to their music. However, he must toil and be satisfied if he can make a little garden blossom.

My father left a park to me,

But it is wild and barren,

A garden too with scarce a tree

And waster than a warren:

Yet say the neighbours when they call,

It is not bad but good land,

And in it is the germ of all

That grows within the woodland.

O had I lived when song was great

In days of old Amphion, [1]

And ta'en my fiddle to the gate,

Nor cared for seed or scion!

And had I lived when song was great,

And legs of trees were limber,

And ta'en my fiddle to the gate,

And fiddled in the timber!

'Tis said he had a tuneful tongue,

Such happy intonation,

Wherever he sat down and sung

He left a small plantation;

Wherever in a lonely grove

He set up his forlorn pipes,

The gouty oak began to move,

And flounder into hornpipes.

The mountain stirr'd its bushy crown,

And, as tradition teaches,

Young ashes pirouetted down

Coquetting with young beeches;

And briony-vine and ivy-wreath

Ran forward to his rhyming,

And from the valleys underneath

Came little copses climbing.

The linden broke her ranks and rent

The woodbine wreathes that bind her,

And down the middle, buzz! she went,

With all her bees behind her. [2]

The poplars, in long order due,

With cypress promenaded,

The shock-head willows two and two

By rivers gallopaded.

The birch-tree swang her fragrant hair,

The bramble cast her berry,

The gin within the juniper

Began to make him merry.

Came wet-shot alder from the wave,

Came yews, a dismal coterie;

Each pluck'd his one foot from the grave,

Poussetting with a sloe-tree:

Old elms came breaking from the vine,

The vine stream'd out to follow,

And, sweating rosin, plump'd the pine

From many a cloudy hollow.

And wasn't it a sight to see

When, ere his song was ended,

Like some great landslip, tree by tree,

The country-side descended;

And shepherds from the mountain-caves

Look'd down, half-pleased, half-frighten'd,

As dash'd about the drunken leaves

The random sunshine lighten'd!

Oh, nature first was fresh to men,

And wanton without measure;

So youthful and so flexile then,

You moved her at your pleasure.

Twang out, my fiddle! shake the twigs!

And make her dance attendance;

Blow, flute, and stir the stiff-set sprigs,

And scirrhous roots and tendons.

'Tis vain! in such a brassy age

I could not move a thistle;

The very sparrows in the hedge

Scarce answer to my whistle;

Or at the most, when three-parts-sick

With strumming and with scraping,

A jackass heehaws from the rick,

The passive oxen gaping.

But what is that I hear? a sound

Like sleepy counsel pleading:

O Lord!--'tis in my neighbour's ground,

The modern Muses reading.

They read Botanic Treatises.

And works on Gardening thro' there,

And Methods of transplanting trees

To look as if they grew there.

The wither'd Misses! how they prose

O'er books of travell'd seamen,

And show you slips of all that grows

From England to Van Diemen.

They read in arbours clipt and cut,

And alleys, faded places,

By squares of tropic summer shut

And warm'd in crystal cases.

But these, tho' fed with careful dirt,

Are neither green nor sappy;

Half-conscious of the garden-squirt,

The spindlings look unhappy, [3]

Better to me the meanest weed

That blows upon its mountain,

The vilest herb that runs to seed

Beside its native fountain.

And I must work thro' months of toil,

And years of cultivation,

Upon my proper patch of soil

To grow my own plantation.

I'll take the showers as they fall,

I will not vex my bosom:

Enough if at the end of all

A little garden blossom.

[Foonote 1: Amphion was no doubt capable of performing all the feats] here attributed to him, but there is no record of them; he appears to have confined himself to charming the stones into their places when Thebes was being built. Tennyson seems to have confounded him with Orpheus.

[Footnote 2: Till 1857 these four lines ran thus:--]

The birch-tree swang her fragrant hair,

The bramble cast her berry.

The gin within the juniper

Began to make him merry.

[Footnote 3: All editions up to and including 1850. The poor things look] unhappy.