Tennyson's Poems

St. Agnes

This exquisite little poem was first published in 1837 in the 'Keepsake', an annual edited by Lady Emmeline Stuart Wortley, and was included in the edition of 1842. No alteration has been made in it since 1842.

In 1857 the title was altered from "St. Agnes" to "St. Agnes' Eve," thus bringing it near to Keats' poem, which certainly influenced Tennyson in writing it, as a comparison of the opening of the two poems will show. The saint from whom the poem takes its name was a young girl of thirteen who suffered martyrdom in the reign of Diocletian: she is a companion to Sir Galahad.

Deep on the convent-roof the snows

Are sparkling to the moon:

My breath to heaven like vapour goes:

May my soul follow soon!

The shadows of the convent-towers

Slant down the snowy sward,

Still creeping with the creeping hours

That lead me to my Lord:

Make Thou [1] my spirit pure and clear

As are the frosty skies,

Or this first snowdrop of the year

That in [2] my bosom lies.

As these white robes are soiled and dark,

To yonder shining ground;

As this pale taper's earthly spark,

To yonder argent round;

So shows my soul before the Lamb,

My spirit before Thee;

So in mine earthly house I am,

To that I hope to be.

Break up the heavens, O Lord! and far,

Thro' all yon starlight keen,

Draw me, thy bride, a glittering star,

In raiment white and clean.

He lifts me to the golden doors;

The flashes come and go;

All heaven bursts her starry floors,

And strows [3] her lights below,

And deepens on and up! the gates

Roll back, and far within

For me the Heavenly Bridegroom waits, [4]

To make me pure of sin. [5]

The sabbaths of Eternity,

One sabbath deep and wide--

A light upon the shining sea--

The Bridegroom [6] with his bride!

[Footnote 1: In 'Keepsake': not capital in Thou.]

[Footnote 2: In 'Keepsake': On.]

[Footnote 3: In 'Keepsake': Strews.]

[Footnote 4: In 'Keepsake': not capitals in Heavenly and Bridegroom.]

[Footnote 5: In 'Keepsake': To wash me pure from sin.]

[Footnote 6: In 'Keepsake': capital in Bridegroom.]