Tennyson's Poems

Love And Duty

Published first in 1842.

Whether this beautiful poem is autobiographical and has reference to the compulsory separation of Tennyson and Miss Emily Sellwood, afterwards his wife, in 1840, it is impossible for this editor to say, as Lord Tennyson in his 'Life' of his father is silent on the subject.

Of love that never found his earthly close,

What sequel? Streaming eyes and breaking hearts?

Or all the same as if he had not been?

Not so. Shall Error in the round of time

Still father Truth? O shall the braggart shout [1]

For some blind glimpse of freedom work itself

Thro' madness, hated by the wise, to law

System and empire? Sin itself be found

The cloudy porch oft opening on the Sun?

And only he, this wonder, dead, become

Mere highway dust? or year by year alone

Sit brooding in the ruins of a life,

Nightmare of youth, the spectre of himself!

If this were thus, if this, indeed, were all,

Better the narrow brain, the stony heart,

The staring eye glazed o'er with sapless days,

The long mechanic pacings to and fro,

The set gray life, and apathetic end.

But am I not the nobler thro' thy love?

O three times less unworthy! likewise thou

Art more thro' Love, and greater than thy years.

The Sun will run his orbit, and the Moon

Her circle. Wait, and Love himself will bring

The drooping flower of knowledge changed to fruit

Of wisdom. [2] Wait: my faith is large in Time,

And that which shapes it to some perfect end.

Will some one say, then why not ill for good?

Why took ye not your pastime? To that man

My work shall answer, since I knew the right

And did it; for a man is not as God,

But then most Godlike being most a man.--

So let me think 'tis well for thee and me--

Ill-fated that I am, what lot is mine

Whose foresight preaches peace, my heart so slow

To feel it! For how hard it seem'd to me,

When eyes, love-languid thro' half-tears, would dwell

One earnest, earnest moment upon mine,

Then not to dare to see! when thy low voice,

Faltering, would break its syllables, to keep

My own full-tuned,--hold passion in a leash,

And not leap forth and fall about thy neck,

And on thy bosom, (deep-desired relief!)

Rain out the heavy mist of tears, that weigh'd

Upon my brain, my senses, and my soul!

For love himself took part against himself

To warn us off, and Duty loved of Love--

O this world's curse--beloved but hated--came Like

Death betwixt thy dear embrace and mine,

And crying, "Who is this? behold thy bride,"

She push'd me from thee.

If the sense is hard

To alien ears, I did not speak to these--

No, not to thee, but to thyself in me:

Hard is my doom and thine: thou knowest it all.

Could Love part thus? was it not well to speak,

To have spoken once? It could not but be well.

The slow sweet hours that bring us all things good, [3]

The slow sad hours that bring us all things ill,

And all good things from evil, brought the night

In which we sat together and alone,

And to the want, that hollow'd all the heart,

Gave utterance by the yearning of an eye,

That burn'd upon its object thro' such tears

As flow but once a life. The trance gave way

To those caresses, when a hundred times

In that last kiss, which never was the last,

Farewell, like endless welcome, lived and died.

Then follow'd counsel, comfort and the words

That make a man feel strong in speaking truth;

Till now the dark was worn, and overhead

The lights of sunset and of sunrise mix'd

In that brief night; the summer night, that paused

Among her stars to hear us; stars that hung

Love-charm'd to listen: all the wheels of Time

Spun round in station, but the end had come.

O then like those, who clench [4] their nerves to rush

Upon their dissolution, we two rose,

There-closing like an individual life--

In one blind cry of passion and of pain,

Like bitter accusation ev'n to death,

Caught up the whole of love and utter'd it,

And bade adieu for ever. Live--yet live--

Shall sharpest pathos blight us, knowing all

Life needs for life is possible to will--

Live happy; tend thy flowers; be tended by

My blessing! Should my Shadow cross thy thoughts

Too sadly for their peace, remand it thou

For calmer hours to Memory's darkest hold, [5]

If not to be forgotten--not at once--

Not all forgotten. Should it cross thy dreams,

O might it come like one that looks content,

With quiet eyes unfaithful to the truth,

And point thee forward to a distant light,

Or seem to lift a burthen from thy heart

And leave thee freer, till thou wake refresh'd,

Then when the first low matin-chirp hath grown

Full quire, and morning driv'n her plow of pearl [6]

Far furrowing into light the mounded rack,

Beyond the fair green field and eastern sea.

[Footnote 1: As this passage is a little obscure, it may not be] superfluous to point out that "shout" is a substantive.

[Footnote 2: The distinction between "knowledge" and "wisdom" is a] favourite one with Tennyson. See 'In Memoriam', cxiv.; 'Locksley Hall', 141, and for the same distinction see Cowper, 'Task', vi., 88-99.

[Footnote 3: Suggested by Theocritus, 'Id'., xv., 104-5.]

[Footnote 4: 1842 to 1845. O then like those, that clench.]

[Footnote 5: Pathos, in the Greek sense, "suffering". All editions up to] and including 1850 have a small "s" and a small "m" for Shadow and Memory, and read thus:--

Too sadly for their peace, so put it back

For calmer hours in memory's darkest hold,

If unforgotten! should it cross thy dreams,

So might it come, etc.

[Footnote 6: 'Cf. Princess', iii.:--]

Morn in the white wake of the morning star

Came furrowing all the orient into gold,

and with both cf. Greene, 'Orlando Furioso', i., 2:--

Seest thou not Lycaon's son?

The hardy plough-swain unto mighty Jove

Hath _trac'd his silver furrows in the heaven_,

which in its turn is borrowed from Ariosto, 'Orl. Fur.', xx., lxxxii.:--

Apena avea Licaonia prole

Per li solchi del ciel volto