Tennyson's Poems


First printed in 1830.

Lord Tennyson tells us ('Life of Tennyson', i., 43) that in this poem his father more or less described his own mother, who was a "remarkable and saintly woman". In this as in the other poems elaborately painting women we may perhaps suspect the influence of Wordsworth's 'Triad', which should be compared with them.


Eyes not down-dropt nor over-bright, but fed

With the clear-pointed flame of chastity,

Clear, without heat, undying, tended by

Pure vestal thoughts in the translucent fane

Of her still spirit [1]; locks not wide-dispread,

Madonna-wise on either side her head;

Sweet lips whereon perpetually did reign

The summer calm of golden charity,

Were fixed shadows of thy fixed mood,

Revered Isabel, the crown and head,

The stately flower of female fortitude,

Of perfect wifehood and pure lowlihead. [2]


The intuitive decision of a bright

And thorough-edged intellect to part

Error from crime; a prudence to withhold;

The laws of marriage [3] character'd in gold

Upon the blanched [4] tablets of her heart;

A love still burning upward, giving light

To read those laws; an accent very low

In blandishment, but a most silver flow

Of subtle-paced counsel in distress,

Right to the heart and brain, tho' undescried,

Winning its way with extreme gentleness

Thro' [5] all the outworks of suspicious pride.

A courage to endure and to obey;

A hate of gossip parlance, and of sway,

Crown'd Isabel, thro' [6] all her placid life,

The queen of marriage, a most perfect wife.


The mellow'd reflex of a winter moon;

A clear stream flowing with a muddy one,

Till in its onward current it absorbs

With swifter movement and in purer light

The vexed eddies of its wayward brother:

A leaning and upbearing parasite,

Clothing the stem, which else had fallen quite,

With cluster'd flower-bells and ambrosial orbs

Of rich fruit-bunches leaning on each other--

Shadow forth thee:--the world hath not another

(Though all her fairest forms are types of thee,

And thou of God in thy great charity)

Of such a finish'd chasten'd purity,

[Footnote 1: With these lines may be compared Shelley, 'Dedication to] the Revolt of Islam':--

And through thine eyes, e'en in thy soul, I see

A lamp of vestal fire burning eternally.

[Footnote 2: Lowlihead a favourite word with Chaucer and Spenser.]

[Footnote 3: 1830. Wifehood.]

[Footnote 4: 1830. Blenched.]

[Footnote 5: 1830 and all before 1853. Through.]

[Footnote 6: 1830. Through.]