If one should bring me this report,
That thou hadst touch’d the land to-day,
And I went down unto the quay,
And found thee lying in the port;
And standing, muffled round with woe,
Should see thy passengers in rank
Come stepping lightly down the plank,
And beckoning unto those they know;
And if along with these should come
The man I held as half-divine;
Should strike a sudden hand in mine,
And ask a thousand things of home;
And I should tell him all my pain,
And how my life had droop’d of late,
And he should sorrow o’er my state
And marvel what possess’d my brain;
And I perceived no touch of change,
No hint of death in all his frame,
But found him all in all the same,
I should not feel it to be strange.
This fantasy is of a common sort, where the loved one is known to be dead but appears alive to the bereaved. In this case the bereaved tells his grief to his returned friend who thinks that he is loopy.
It is quite a powerful fantasy that a bereaved man, asked by his friend why he is so grieved, should answer “because you’re dead.” Like many others I guess I’ve had dreams in which my daughter appears alive, in some of which I the dreamer have known, in the dream, that she is dead. Then indeed the dead person has become a revenant.
Here in the poem the incident is brief and Introduced by an “if” which admits it is a fantasy. We are to read it as evidence of Tennyson’s feelings rather than something uncanny.