I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.

But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
A use in measured language lies;
The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.

In words, like weeds, I’ll wrap me o’er,
Like coarsest clothes against the cold:
But that large grief which these enfold
Is given in outline and no more.

Like Tennyson, but very unlike him in skill, I also wrote in grieving. I think my experience of so doing was different from his, as for me it was creative of thought and feeling. He felt it as a sad mechanic exercise which acted as a painkiller, and in an precise and unusual image, as a bulky overcoat which revealed only the rough shape of the body within, that is, his grief.

Tennyson, his readers have to learn, is often very cunning in his composition, offering more subtle insights than his large eloquence seems to promise. Scholars have written of his poetic stanza that because the last line rhymes with the first, it forces the reader to look back at its end rather than forward, to relish its content before moving on. Here I appreciate his use of alliteration, for example “a use in measured language lies/ a sad mechanic exercise” where the alliteration links measured and mechanic, sad and exercise, language and lies, emphasising and strengthening his insight.

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