Tennyson's Poems

The Epic

First published in 1842; "tho'" for "though" in line 44 has been the only alteration made since 1850.

This Prologue was written, like the Epilogue, after "The Epic" had been composed, being added, Fitzgerald says, to anticipate or excuse "the faint Homeric echoes," to give a reason for telling an old-world tale. The poet "mouthing out his hollow oes and aes" is, we are told, a good description of Tennyson's tone and manner of reading.

At Francis Allen's on the Christmas-eve,--

The game of forfeits done--the girls all kiss'd

Beneath the sacred bush and past away--

The parson Holmes, the poet Everard Hall,

The host, and I sat round the wassail-bowl,

Then half-way ebb'd: and there we held a talk,

How all the old honour had from Christmas gone,

Or gone, or dwindled down to some odd games

In some odd nooks like this; till I, tired out

With cutting eights that day upon the pond,

Where, three times slipping from the outer edge,

I bump'd the ice into three several stars,

Fell in a doze; and half-awake I heard

The parson taking wide and wider sweeps,

Now harping on the church-commissioners, [1]

Now hawking at Geology and schism;

Until I woke, and found him settled down

Upon the general decay of faith

Right thro' the world, "at home was little left,

And none abroad: there was no anchor, none,

To hold by". Francis, laughing, clapt his hand

On Everard's shoulder, with "I hold by him".

"And I," quoth Everard, "by the wassail-bowl."

"Why, yes," I said, "we knew your gift that way

At college: but another which you had,

I mean of verse (for so we held it then),

What came of that?" "You know," said Frank, "he burnt

His epic, his King Arthur, some twelve books "--[2]

And then to me demanding why? "Oh, sir,

He thought that nothing new was said, or else

Something so said 'twas nothing--that a truth

Looks freshest in the fashion of the day:

God knows: he has a mint of reasons: ask.

It pleased _me_ well enough." "Nay, nay," said Hall,

"Why take the style of those heroic times?

For nature brings not back the Mastodon,

Nor we those times; and why should any man

Remodel models? these twelve books of mine [3]

Were faint Homeric echoes, nothing-worth,

Mere chaff and draff, much better burnt."

"But I," Said Francis, "pick'd the eleventh from this hearth,

And have it: keep a thing its use will come.

I hoard it as a sugar-plum for Holmes."

He laugh'd, and I, though sleepy, like a horse

That hears the corn-bin open, prick'd my ears;

For I remember'd Everard's college fame

When we were Freshmen: then at my request

He brought it; and the poet little urged,

But with some prelude of disparagement,

Read, mouthing out his hollow oes and aes,

Deep-chested music, and to this result.

[Footnote 1: A burning topic with the clergy in and about 1833.]

[Footnote 2: 1842 to 1844. "You know," said Frank, "he flung His epic] of King Arthur in the fire!" The present reading, 1850.

[Footnote 3: 1842, 1843.]

Remodel models rather than the life?

And these twelve books of mine (to speak the truth).

Present reading, 1845.