Tennyson's Poems

The Golden Year

This poem was first published in the fourth edition of the poems 1846. No alterations were made in it after 1851. The poem had a message for the time at which it was written. The country was in a very troubled state. The contest between the Protectionists and Free-traders was at its acutest stage. The Maynooth endowment and the "godless colleges" had brought into prominence questions of the gravest moment in religion and education, while the Corn Bill and the Coercion Bill had inflamed the passions of party politicians almost to madness. Tennyson, his son tells us, entered heartily into these questions, believing that the remedies for these distempers lay in the spread of education, a more catholic spirit in the press, a partial adoption of Free Trade principles, and union as far as possible among the different sections of Christianity.

Well, you shall have that song which Leonard wrote:

It was last summer on a tour in Wales:

Old James was with me: we that day had been

Up Snowdon; and I wish'd for Leonard there,

And found him in Llanberis: [1] then we crost

Between the lakes, and clamber'd half-way up

The counterside; and that same song of his

He told me; for I banter'd him, and swore

They said he lived shut up within himself,

A tongue-tied Poet in the feverous days,

That, setting the _how much_ before the _how_,

Cry, like the daughters of the horseleech, "Give, [2]

Cram us with all," but count not me the herd!

To which "They call me what they will," he said:

"But I was born too late: the fair new forms,

That float about the threshold of an age,

Like truths of Science waiting to be caught--

Catch me who can, and make the catcher crown'd--

Are taken by the forelock. Let it be.

But if you care indeed to listen, hear

These measured words, my work of yestermorn.

"We sleep and wake and sleep, but all things move;

The Sun flies forward to his brother Sun;

The dark Earth follows wheel'd in her ellipse;

And human things returning on themselves

Move onward, leading up the golden year.

"Ah, tho' the times, when some new thought can bud,

Are but as poets' seasons when they flower,

Yet seas, that daily gain upon the shore, [3]

Have ebb and flow conditioning their march,

And slow and sure comes up the golden year.

"When wealth no more shall rest in mounded heaps,

But smit with freer light shall slowly melt

In many streams to fatten lower lands,

And light shall spread, and man be liker man

Thro' all the season of the golden year.

"Shall eagles not be eagles? wrens be wrens?

If all the world were falcons, what of that?

The wonder of the eagle were the less,

But he not less the eagle. Happy days

Roll onward, leading up the golden year.

"Fly happy happy sails and bear the Press;

Fly happy with the mission of the Cross;

Knit land to land, and blowing havenward

With silks, and fruits, and spices, clear of toll,

Enrich the markets of the golden year.

"But we grow old! Ah! when shall all men's good

Be each man's rule, and universal Peace

Lie like a shaft of light across the land,

And like a lane of beams athwart the sea,

Thro' all the circle of the golden year?"

Thus far he flow'd, and ended; whereupon

"Ah, folly!" in mimic cadence answer'd James--

"Ah, folly! for it lies so far away.

Not in our time, nor in our children's time,

'Tis like the second world to us that live;

'Twere all as one to fix our hopes on Heaven

As on this vision of the golden year."

With that he struck his staff against the rocks

And broke it,--James,--you know him,--old, but full

Of force and choler, and firm upon his feet,

And like an oaken stock in winter woods,

O'erflourished with the hoary clematis:

Then added, all in heat: "What stuff is this!

Old writers push'd the happy season back,--

The more fools they,--we forward: dreamers both:

You most, that in an age, when every hour

Must sweat her sixty minutes to the death,

Live on, God love us, as if the seedsman, rapt

Upon the teeming harvest, should not dip [4]

His hand into the bag: but well I know

That unto him who works, and feels he works,

This same grand year is ever at the doors."

He spoke; and, high above, I heard them blast

The steep slate-quarry, and the great echo flap

And buffet round the hills from bluff to bluff.

[Footnote 1: 1846 to 1850.]

And joined him in Llanberis; and that same song

He told me, etc.

[Footnote 2: Proverbs xxx. 15:]

"The horseleach hath two daughters, crying,

Give, give".

[Footnote 3: 1890. Altered to "Yet oceans daily gaining on the land".]

[Footnote 4: 'Selections', 1865. Plunge.]