Tennyson's Poems

Ode To Memory

First printed in 1830.

After the title in 1830 ed. is "Written very early in life". The influence most perceptible in this poem is plainly Coleridge, on whose 'Songs of the Pixies' it seems to have been modelled. Tennyson considered it, and no wonder, as one of the very best of "his early and peculiarly concentrated Nature-poems". See 'Life', i., 27. It is full of vivid and accurate pictures of his Lincolnshire home and haunts. See 'Life', i., 25-48, 'passim'.


Thou who stealest fire,

From the fountains of the past,

To glorify the present; oh, haste,

Visit my low desire!

Strengthen me, enlighten me!

I faint in this obscurity,

Thou dewy dawn of memory.


Come not as thou camest [1] of late,

Flinging the gloom of yesternight

On the white day; but robed in soften'd light

Of orient state.

Whilome thou camest with the morning mist,

Even as a maid, whose stately brow

The dew-impearled winds of dawn have kiss'd, [2]

When she, as thou,

Stays on her floating locks the lovely freight

Of overflowing blooms, and earliest shoots

Of orient green, giving safe pledge of fruits,

Which in wintertide shall star

The black earth with brilliance rare.


Whilome thou camest with the morning mist.

And with the evening cloud,

Showering thy gleaned wealth into my open breast,

(Those peerless flowers which in the rudest wind

Never grow sere,

When rooted in the garden of the mind,

Because they are the earliest of the year).

Nor was the night thy shroud.

In sweet dreams softer than unbroken rest

Thou leddest by the hand thine infant Hope.

The eddying of her garments caught from thee

The light of thy great presence; and the cope

Of the half-attain'd futurity,

Though deep not fathomless,

Was cloven with the million stars which tremble

O'er the deep mind of dauntless infancy.

Small thought was there of life's distress;

For sure she deem'd no mist of earth could dull

Those spirit-thrilling eyes so keen and beautiful:

Sure she was nigher to heaven's spheres,

Listening the lordly music flowing from

The illimitable years.[3]

O strengthen me, enlighten me!

I faint in this obscurity,

Thou dewy dawn of memory.


Come forth I charge thee, arise,

Thou of the many tongues, the myriad eyes!

Thou comest not with shows of flaunting vines

Unto mine inner eye,

Divinest Memory!

Thou wert not nursed by the waterfall

Which ever sounds and shines

A pillar of white light upon the wall

Of purple cliffs, aloof descried:

Come from the woods that belt the grey hill-side,

The seven elms, the poplars [4] four

That stand beside my father's door,

And chiefly from the brook [5] that loves

To purl o'er matted cress and ribbed sand,

Or dimple in the dark of rushy coves,

Drawing into his narrow earthen urn,

In every elbow and turn,

The filter'd tribute of the rough woodland.

O! hither lead thy feet!

Pour round mine ears the livelong bleat

Of the thick-fleeced sheep from wattled folds,

Upon the ridged wolds,

When the first matin-song hath waken'd [6] loud

Over the dark dewy earth forlorn,

What time the amber morn

Forth gushes from beneath a low-hung cloud.


Large dowries doth the raptured eye

To the young spirit present

When first she is wed;

And like a bride of old

In triumph led,

With music and sweet showers

Of festal flowers,

Unto the dwelling she must sway.

Well hast thou done, great artist Memory,

In setting round thy first experiment

With royal frame-work of wrought gold;

Needs must thou dearly love thy first essay,

And foremost in thy various gallery

Place it, where sweetest sunlight falls

Upon the storied walls;

For the discovery

And newness of thine art so pleased thee,

That all which thou hast drawn of fairest

Or boldest since, but lightly weighs

With thee unto the love thou bearest

The first-born of thy genius.


Ever retiring thou dost gaze

On the prime labour of thine early days:

No matter what the sketch might be;

Whether the high field on the bushless Pike,

Or even a sand-built ridge

Of heaped hills that mound the sea,

Overblown with murmurs harsh,

Or even a lowly cottage [7] whence we see

Stretch'd wide and wild the waste enormous marsh,

Where from the frequent bridge,

Like emblems of infinity, [8]

The trenched waters run from sky to sky;

Or a garden bower'd close

With plaited [9] alleys of the trailing rose,

Long alleys falling down to twilight grots,

Or opening upon level plots

Of crowned lilies, standing near

Purple-spiked lavender:

Whither in after life retired

From brawling storms,

From weary wind,

With youthful fancy reinspired,

We may hold converse with all forms

Of the many-sided mind,

And those [10] whom passion hath not blinded,

Subtle-thoughted, myriad-minded.

My friend, with you [11] to live alone,

Were how much [12] better than to own

A crown, a sceptre, and a throne!

O strengthen, enlighten me!

I faint in this obscurity,

Thou dewy dawn of memory.

[Footnote 1: 1830. Cam'st.]

[Footnote 2: 1830. Kist.]

[Footnote 3: Transferred from 'Timbuctoo'.]

And these with lavish'd sense

Listenist the lordly music flowing from

The illimitable years.

[Footnote 4: The poplars have now disappeared but the seven elms are] still to be seen in the garden behind the house. See Napier, 'The Laureate's County', pp. 22, 40-41.

[Footnote 5: This is the Somersby brook which so often reappears in] Tennyson's poetry, cf. 'Millers Daughter, A Farewell', and 'In Memoriam', 1 xxix. and c.

[Footnote 6: 1830. Waked. For the epithet "dew-impearled" 'cf'.] Drayton, Ideas, sonnet liii., "amongst the dainty 'dew-impearled flowers'," where the epithet is more appropriate and intelligible.

[Footnote 7: 1830. The few.]

[Footnote 8: 1830 and 1842. Thee.]

[Footnote 9: 1830. Methinks were, so till 1850, when it was altered to] the present reading.

[Footnote 10: The cottage at Maplethorpe where the Tennysons used to] spend the summer holidays. (See 'Life', i., 46.)

[Footnote 11: 1830. Emblems or Glimpses of Eternity.]

[Footnote 12: 1830. Pleached. The whole of this passage is an exact] description of the Parsonage garden at Somersby. See 'Life', i., 27.