Tennyson's Poems

TO - - - - After Reading A Life And Letters

Originally published in the 'Examiner' for 24th March, 1849; then in the sixth edition of the poems, 1850, with the second part of the title and the alterations noted. When reprinted in 1851 one more slight alteration was made. It has not been altered since. The work referred to was Moncton Milne's (afterwards Lord Houghton) 'Letters and Literary Remains of Keats' published in 1848, and the person to whom the poem may have been addressed was Tennyson's brother Charles, afterwards Charles Tennyson Turner, to the facts of whose life and to whose character it would exactly apply. See Napier,'Homes and Haunts of Tennyson', 48-50. But Sir Franklin Lushington tells me that it was most probably addressed to some imaginary person, as neither he nor such of Tennyson's surviving friends as he kindly consulted for me are able to identify the person.

You might have won the Poet's name

If such be worth the winning now,

And gain'd a laurel for your brow

Of sounder leaf than I can claim;

But you have made the wiser choice,

A life that moves to gracious ends

Thro' troops of unrecording friends,

A deedful life, a silent voice:

And you have miss'd the irreverent doom

Of those that wear the Poet's crown:

Hereafter, neither knave nor clown

Shall hold their orgies at your tomb.

For now the Poet cannot die

Nor leave his music as of old,

But round him ere he scarce be cold

Begins the scandal and the cry:

"Proclaim the faults he would not show:

Break lock and seal: betray the trust:

Keep nothing sacred: 'tis but just

The many-headed beast should know".

Ah, shameless! for he did but sing.

A song that pleased us from its worth;

No public life was his on earth,

No blazon'd statesman he, nor king.

He gave the people of his best:

His worst he kept, his best he gave.

My Shakespeare's curse on [1] clown and knave

Who will not let his ashes rest!

Who make it seem more sweet [2] to be

The little life of bank and brier,

The bird that pipes his lone desire

And dies unheard within his tree,

Than he that warbles long and loud

And drops at Glory's temple-gates,

For whom the carrion vulture waits

To tear his heart before the crowd!

[Footnote 1: In Examiner and in 1850. My curse upon the.]

[Footnote 2: In Examiner. Sweeter seem. For the sentiment 'cf'. Goethe:--]

Ich singe, wie der Vogel singt

Der in den Zweigen wohnet;

Das Lied das aus dem Seele dringt

Ist Lohn, der reichlich lohnet.

--'Der Saenger'.