Tennyson's Poems

"You Ask Me Why, Tho' Ill At Ease..."

This is another poem which, though included among those belonging to 1833, was not published till 1842. It is an interesting illustration, like the next poem but one, of Tennyson's political opinions; he was, he said, "of the same politics as Shakespeare, Bacon and every sane man". He was either ignorant of the politics of Shakespeare and Bacon or did himself great injustice by the remark. It would have been more true to say--for all his works illustrate it--that he was of the same politics as Burke. He is here, and in all his poems, a Liberal-Conservative in the proper sense of the term. At the time this trio of poems was written England was passing through the throes which preceded, accompanied and followed the Reform Bill, and the lessons which Tennyson preaches in them were particularly appropriate. He belonged to the Liberal Party rather in relation to social and religious than to political questions. Thus he ardently supported the Anti-slavery Convention and advocated the measure for abolishing subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles, but he was, as a politician, on the side of Canning, Peel and the Duke of Wellington, regarding as they did the new-born democracy with mingled feelings of apprehension and perplexity. His exact attitude is indicated by some verses written about this time published by his son ('Life', i., 69-70). If Mr. Aubrey de Vere is correct this and the following poem were occasioned by some popular demonstrations connected with the Reform Bill and its rejection by the House of Lords. See 'Life of Tennyson', vol. i., appendix.

You ask me, why, tho' [1] ill at ease,

Within this region I subsist,

Whose spirits falter in the mist, [2]

And languish for the purple seas?

It is the land that freemen till,

That sober-suited Freedom chose,

The land, where girt with friends or foes

A man may speak the thing he will;

A land of settled government,

A land of just and old renown,

Where Freedom broadens slowly down

From precedent to precedent:

Where faction seldom gathers head,

But by degrees to fulness wrought,

The strength of some diffusive thought

Hath time and space to work and spread.

Should banded unions persecute

Opinion, and induce a time

When single thought is civil crime,

And individual freedom mute;

Tho' Power should make from land to land [3]

The name of Britain trebly great--

Tho' every channel [4] of the State

Should almost choke with golden sand--

Yet waft me from the harbour-mouth,

Wild wind! I seek a warmer sky,

And I will see before I die

The palms and temples of the South.

[Footnote 1: 1842 and 1851. Though.]

[Footnote 2: 1842 to 1843. Whose spirits fail within the mist. Altered] to present reading in 1845.

[Footnote 3: All editions up to and including 1851. Though Power, etc.]

[Footnote 4: 1842-1850. Though every channel.]