I hear the noise about thy keel;
I hear the bell struck in the night:
I see the cabin-window bright;
I see the sailor at the wheel.

Thou bring’st the sailor to his wife,
And travell’d men from foreign lands;
And letters unto trembling hands;
And, thy dark freight, a vanish’d life.

So bring him; we have idle dreams:
This look of quiet flatters thus
Our home-bred fancies. O to us,
The fools of habit, sweeter seems

To rest beneath the clover sod,
That takes the sunshine and the rains,
Or where the kneeling hamlet drains
The chalice of the grapes of God;

Than if with thee the roaring wells
Should gulf him fathom-deep in brine;
And hands so often clasp’d in mine,
Should toss with tangle and with shells

I find this an odd section, maybe because I do not fully understand it. Tennyson reveals his knowledge of ships; I remember, sailing in an old schooner- rigged yacht, the disturbing thrum of its keel. He appreciates the ship’s voyage and its arrival in port with its passengers because it usually brings happiness.

In his case, however, a vanished life. Still, he is happy that his dead friend may now be buried on land, either in the natural landscape, or in church or churchyard. I am unsure of the precise reference of “where the kneeling hamlet drains/ the chalice of the grapes of God.” It seems a very roundabout way of referring to a church, and, by way of association with “the grapes of wrath”, (Isaiah) just a tad sinister. Land burial is for him in any case better than sea burial, in which the human body of his friend might be tossed with seaweed and shells.

It’s not clear to me why Tennyson speculates about sea burial of his friend, as this was never an option. Perhaps for him sea burial was a more powerful and disturbing symbol of the lostness of death.




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