Tennyson's Poems

Lady Clare

First published 1842. After 1851 no alterations were made.

This poem was suggested by Miss Ferrier's powerful novel 'The Inheritance'. A comparison with the plot of Miss Ferrier's novel will show with what tact and skill Tennyson has adapted the tale to his ballad. Thomas St. Clair, youngest son of the Earl of Rossville, marries a Miss Sarah Black, a girl of humble and obscure birth. He dies, leaving a widow and as is supposed a daughter, Gertrude, who claim the protection of Lord Rossville, as the child is heiress presumptive to the earldom. On Lord Rossville's death she accordingly becomes Countess of Rossville. She has two lovers, both distant connections, Colonel Delmour and Edward Lyndsay. At last it is discovered that she was not the daughter of Thomas St. Clair and her supposed mother, but of one Marion La Motte and Jacob Leviston, and that Mrs. St. Clair had adopted her when a baby and passed her off as her own child, that she might succeed to the title. Meanwhile Delmour by the death of his elder brother succeeds to the title and estates forfeited by the detected foundling, but instead of acting as Tennyson's Lord Ronald does, he repudiates her and marries a duchess. But her other lover Lyndsay is true to her and marries her. Delmour not long afterwards dies without issue, and Lyndsay succeeds to the title, Gertrude then becoming after all Countess of Rossville. In details Tennyson follows the novel sometimes very closely. Thus the "single rose," the poor dress, the bitter exclamation about her being a beggar born, are from the novel.

The 1842 and all editions up to and including 1850 begin with the following stanza and omit stanza 2:--

Lord Ronald courted Lady Clare,

I trow they did not part in scorn;

Lord Ronald, her cousin, courted her

And they will wed the morrow morn.

It was the time when lilies blow,

And clouds are highest up in air,

Lord Ronald brought a lily-white doe

To give his cousin Lady Clare.

I trow they did not part in scorn:

Lovers long-betroth'd were they:

They two will wed the morrow morn!

God's blessing on the day!

"He does not love me for my birth,

Nor for my lands so broad and fair;

He loves me for my own true worth,

And that is well," said Lady Clare.

In there came old Alice the nurse,

Said, "Who was this that went from thee?"

"It was my cousin," said Lady Clare,

"To-morrow he weds with me."

"O God be thank'd!" said Alice the nurse,

"That all comes round so just and fair:

Lord Ronald is heir of all your lands,

And you are not the Lady Clare."

"Are ye out of your mind, my nurse, my nurse?"

Said Lady Clare, "that ye speak so wild";

"As God's above," said Alice the nurse,

"I speak the truth: you are my child.

"The old Earl's daughter died at my breast;

I speak the truth, as I live by bread!

I buried her like my own sweet child,

And put my child in her stead."

"Falsely, falsely have ye done,

O mother," she said, "if this be true,

To keep the best man under the sun

So many years from his due."

"Nay now, my child," said Alice the nurse,

"But keep the secret for your life,

And all you have will be Lord Ronald's,

When you are man and wife."

"If I'm a beggar born," she said,

"I will speak out, for I dare not lie.

Pull off, pull off, the broach [1] of gold,

And fling the diamond necklace by."

"Nay now, my child," said Alice the nurse,

"But keep the secret all ye can."

She said, "Not so: but I will know

If there be any faith in man".

"Nay now, what faith?" said Alice the nurse,

"The man will cleave unto his right."

"And he shall have it," the lady replied,

"Tho' [2] I should die to-night."

"Yet give one kiss to your mother dear!

Alas, my child, I sinn'd for thee."

"O mother, mother, mother," she said,

"So strange it seems to me.

"Yet here's a kiss for my mother dear,

My mother dear, if this be so,

And lay your hand upon my head,

And bless me, mother, ere I go."

She clad herself in a russet gown,

She was no longer Lady Clare:

She went by dale, and she went by down,

With a single rose in her hair.

The lily-white doe Lord Ronald had brought

Leapt up from where she lay,

Dropt her head in the maiden's hand,

And follow'd her all the way. [3]

Down stept Lord Ronald from his tower:

"O Lady Clare, you shame your worth!

Why come you drest like a village maid,

That are the flower of the earth?"

"If I come drest like a village maid,

I am but as my fortunes are:

I am a beggar born," she said, [4]

"And not the Lady Clare."

"Play me no tricks," said Lord Ronald,

"For I am yours in word and in deed.

Play me no tricks," said Lord Ronald,

"Your riddle is hard to read."

O and proudly stood she up!

Her heart within her did not fail:

She look'd into Lord Ronald's eyes,

And told him all her nurse's tale.

He laugh'd a laugh of merry scorn:

He turn'd, and kiss'd her where she stood:

"If you are not the heiress born,

And I," said he, "the next in blood--

"If you are not the heiress born,

And I," said he, "the lawful heir,

We two will wed to-morrow morn,

And you shall still be Lady Clare."

[Footnote 1: All up to and including 1850. Brooch.]

[Footnote 2: All up to and including 1850. Though.]

[Footnote 3: The stanza beginning "The lily-white doe" is omitted in] 1842 and 1843, and in the subsequent editions up to and including 1850 begins "A lily-white doe".

[Footnote 4: In a letter addressed to Tennyson the late Mr. Peter Bayne] ventured to object to the dramatic propriety of Lady Clare speaking of herself as "a beggar born". Tennyson defended it by saying: "You make no allowance for the shock of the fall from being Lady Clare to finding herself the child of a nurse". But the expression is Miss Ferrier's: "Oh that she had suffered me to remain the beggar I was born"; and again to her lover: "You have loved an impostor and a beggar".