What words are these have fall’n from me?
Can calm despair and wild unrest
Be tenants of a single breast,
Or sorrow such a changeling be?
Or doth she only seem to take
The touch of change in calm or storm;
But knows no more of transient form
In her deep self, than some dead lake
That holds the shadow of a lark
Hung in the shadow of a heaven?
Or has the shock, so harshly given,
Confused me like the unhappy bark
That strikes by night a craggy shelf,
And staggers blindly ere she sink?
And stunn’d me from my power to think
And all my knowledge of myself;
And made me that delirious man
Whose fancy fuses old and new,
And flashes into false and true,
And mingles all without a plan?
Recognising the apparently contradictory feelings he has expressed, Tennyson asks how this has come to be: is sorrow two -faced, or is it like a lake that holds the image of a bird in the sky, thus managing to be up and down, still and moving, at the same time? This is a complex and subtle image of emotion, the product of the poet’s self-examining grief. He uses the image of a ship staggering blindly before sinking to explain the delirium caused by shock.
I can remember now, in the shock of my daughter’s death, an apparent clarity of feelings which nevertheless changed from day to day, each seeming like an obvious truth, but I don’t know if I would have remembered this experience without Tennyson’s words.
A look at the central image of this canto shows its cunning: the lake is dead ( stagnant) like Tennyson’s sorrow, but holds the shadows of lark and sky. Yes, a bright sky can cast the shadow of a bird on to water, but what throws the shadow of the sky? The bright sky must in fact be mirrored in the calm water, but Tennyson wants to exclude all brightness from his image, so describes them both as shadows.