One writes, that `Other friends remain,’
That `Loss is common to the race’—
And common is the commonplace,
And vacant chaff well meant for grain.
That loss is common would not make
My own less bitter, rather more:
Too common! Never morning wore
To evening, but some heart did break.
O father, wheresoe’er thou be,
Who pledgest now thy gallant son;
A shot, ere half thy draught be done,
Hath still’d the life that beat from thee.
O mother, praying God will save
Thy sailor,—while thy head is bow’d,
His heavy-shotted hammock-shroud
Drops in his vast and wandering grave.
Ye know no more than I who wrought
At that last hour to please him well;
Who mused on all I had to tell,
And something written, something thought;
Expecting still his advent home;
And ever met him on his way
With wishes, thinking, `here to-day,’
Or `here to-morrow will he come.’
O somewhere, meek, unconscious dove,
That sittest ranging golden hair;
And glad to find thyself so fair,
Poor child, that waitest for thy love!
For now her father’s chimney glows
In expectation of a guest;
And thinking `this will please him best,’
She takes a riband or a rose;
For he will see them on to-night;
And with the thought her colour burns;
And, having left the glass, she turns
Once more to set a ringlet right;
And, even when she turn’d, the curse
Had fallen, and her future Lord
Was drown’d in passing thro’ the ford,
Or kill’d in falling from his horse.
O what to her shall be the end?
And what to me remains of good?
To her, perpetual maidenhood,
And unto me no second friend.
Thee are sufficient evidences in this section of Tennyson’s patriarchal prejudice, to tempt the modern reader to ignore that he is insisting on the democracy of loss, turning a commonplace – man was made to mourn- into specific instances; and even more importantly, that he identifies astonishingly with the young woman who has lost her fiancé: “to her perpetual maidenhood, and unto me no second friend.”
In other parts of the poem he calls himself a widow. One could interpret this language as Tennyson’s knowledge of his own femininity, the counterpart of his masculine traits. Or perhaps in his relationship with Hallam, he felt he felt feminine in his need of the other, a need most evident when he was bereft. In the context of his culture, Tennyson’s love for Hallam was not seen as excessive. In the “heroic” understanding of empire, passionate male friendships were compared with those of Achilles with Patroclus, David and Jonathan. Perhaps Tennyson saw his love of Hallam as ‘wonderful, passing the love of women.” “No second friend” is nevertheless an odd utterance, even in grief.