To Sleep I give my powers away;
⁠My will is bondsman to the dark;
⁠I sit within a helmless bark,
And with my heart I muse and say:

O heart, how fares it with thee now,
⁠That thou should’st fail from thy desire,
⁠Who scarcely darest to inquire,
‘What is it makes me beat so low?’

Something it is which thou hast lost,
⁠Some pleasure from thine early years.
⁠Break, thou deep vase of chilling tears,
That grief hath shaken into frost!

Such clouds of nameless trouble cross
⁠All night below the darken’d eyes;
⁠With morning wakes the will, and cries,
‘Thou shalt not be the fool of loss.’


Tennyson wonders at the traumatised state into which he has entered: he is aimless and desireless through grief. I thought myself normal and even efficient, but much later, looking back, I realised how shocked I had been, able to do things that had to be done, and no more. Tennyson understands that his heart, which he compares to a deep vase, needed to break open, so that his frozen tears could flow out. His conscious will however, resisted the outpouring of grief, which it characterised as being a “fool of loss.” His understanding of this stage of shock is quite subtle.

At the time I wanted to weep, but was unable to do so through shock. This is a common experience which worries many bereaved people. Why can’t I weep? What is wrong with me? I have wept much and often since, sometimes in situations where it was inappropriate, and have become aware of the triggers of this weeping, one of which is reciting poetry, another, singing hymns: the emotion of words and/or music arouses my own.

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