Tennyson's Poems

Audley Court

First published in 1842.

Only four alterations were made in the text after 1842, all of which are duly noted. Tennyson told his son that the poem was partially suggested by Abbey Park at Torquay where it was written, and that the last lines described the scene from the hill looking over the bay. He saw he said "a star of phosphorescence made by the buoy appearing and disappearing in the dark sea," but it is curious that the line describing that was not inserted till long after the poem had been published. The poem, though a trifle, is a triumph of felicitous description and expression, whether we regard the pie or the moonlit bay.

"The Bull, the Fleece are cramm'd, and not a room

For love or money. Let us picnic there

At Audley Court." I spoke, while Audley feast

Humm'd like a hive all round the narrow quay,

To Francis, with a basket on his arm,

To Francis just alighted from the boat,

And breathing of the sea. "With all my heart,"

Said Francis. Then we shoulder'd thro' [1] the swarm,

And rounded by the stillness of the beach

To where the bay runs up its latest horn.

We left the dying ebb that faintly lipp'd

The flat red granite; so by many a sweep

Of meadow smooth from aftermath we reach'd

The griffin-guarded gates and pass'd thro' all

The pillar'd dusk [2] of sounding sycamores

And cross'd the garden to the gardener's lodge,

With all its casements bedded, and its walls

And chimneys muffled in the leafy vine.

There, on a slope of orchard, Francis laid

A damask napkin wrought with horse and hound,

Brought out a dusky loaf that smelt of home,

And, half-cut-down, a pasty costly-made,

Where quail and pigeon, lark and leveret lay,

Like fossils of the rock, with golden yolks [3]

Imbedded and injellied; last with these,

A flask of cider from his father's vats,

Prime, which I knew; and so we sat and eat

And talk'd old matters over; who was dead,

Who married, who was like to be, and how

The races went, and who would rent the hall:

Then touch'd upon the game, how scarce it was

This season; glancing thence, discuss'd the farm,

The fourfield system, and the price of grain; [4]

And struck upon the corn-laws, where we split,

And came again together on the king

With heated faces; till he laugh'd aloud;

And, while the blackbird on the pippin hung

To hear him, clapt his hand in mine and sang--

"Oh! who would fight and march and counter-march,

Be shot for sixpence in a battle-field,

And shovell'd up into a [5] bloody trench

Where no one knows? but let me live my life.

"Oh! who would cast and balance at a desk,

Perch'd like a crow upon a three-legg'd stool,

Till all his juice is dried, and all his joints

Are full of chalk? but let me live my life.

"Who'd serve the state? for if I carved my name

Upon the cliffs that guard my native land,

I might as well have traced it in the sands;

The sea wastes all: but let me live my life.

"Oh! who would love? I wooed a woman once,

But she was sharper than an eastern wind,

And all my heart turn'd from her, as a thorn

Turns from the sea: but let me live my life."

He sang his song, and I replied with mine:

I found it in a volume, all of songs,

Knock'd down to me, when old Sir Robert's pride,

His books--the more the pity, so I said--

Came to the hammer here in March--and this--

I set the words, and added names I knew.

"Sleep, Ellen Aubrey, sleep and dream of me:

Sleep, Ellen, folded in thy sister's arm,

And sleeping, haply dream her arm is mine.

"Sleep, Ellen, folded in Emilia's arm;

Emilia, fairer than all else but thou,

For thou art fairer than all else that is.

"Sleep, breathing health and peace upon her breast:

Sleep, breathing love and trust against her lip:

I go to-night: I come to-morrow morn.

"I go, but I return: I would I were

The pilot of the darkness and the dream.

Sleep, Ellen Aubrey, love, and dream of me."

So sang we each to either, Francis Hale,

The farmer's son who lived across the bay,

My friend; and I, that having wherewithal,

And in the fallow leisure of my life

A rolling stone of here and everywhere, [6]

Did what I would; but ere the night we rose

And saunter'd home beneath a moon that, just

In crescent, dimly rain'd about the leaf

Twilights of airy silver, till we reach'd

The limit of the hills; and as we sank

From rock to rock upon the gloomy quay,

The town was hush'd beneath us: lower down

The bay was oily-calm: the harbour buoy

With one green sparkle ever and anon [7]

Dipt by itself, and we were glad at heart. [8]

[Footnote 1: 1842 to 1850. Through.]

[Footnote 2: 'cf'. Milton, 'Paradise Lost', ix., 1106-7:--]

A pillar'd shade

High overarch'd.

[Footnote 3: 1842. Golden yokes.]

[Footnote 4: That is planting turnips, barley, clover and wheat, by] which land is kept constantly fresh and vigorous.

[Footnote 5: 1872. Some.]

[Footnote 6: Inserted in 1857.]

[Footnote 7: Here was inserted, in 1872, the line--Sole star of] phosphorescence in the calm.

[Footnote 8: Like the shepherd in Homer at the moonlit landscape,] 'gegaethe de te phrena poimaen', 'Il'., viii., 559.