Thou comest, much wept for: such a breeze
Compell’d thy canvas, and my prayer
Was as the whisper of an air
To breathe thee over lonely seas.
For I in spirit saw thee move
Thro’ circles of the bounding sky,
Week after week: the days go by:
Come quick, thou bringest all I love.
Henceforth, wherever thou may’st roam,
My blessing, like a line of light,
Is on the waters day and night,
And like a beacon guards thee home.
So may whatever tempest mars
Mid-ocean, spare thee, sacred bark;
And balmy drops in summer dark
Slide from the bosom of the stars.
So kind an office hath been done,
Such precious relics brought by thee;
The dust of him I shall not see
Till all my widow’d race be run.
Tennyson imagines that his prayer has been a persistent gentle wind blowing the ship with Hallam’s body to England. Likewise he imagines his blessing on the ship being a kind of moveable lighthouse which will always guide it safely to harbour. The literal sense of Tennyson’s words is rarely easy, making the reader pause and consider them. This is one of the pleasures of reading him, that a slow reading yields meaning.
“And balmy drops in summer dark
Slide from the bosom of the stars.”
He wishes no storms for this ship, but gentle rain or dew, in a warm season. But more precisely how are we to understand it ‘sliding from the bosom of the stars”? Is this breast milk from the Milky Way, or tears of the stars which are weeping for Hallam? The latter I think, but we must resist an impulse just to treat ‘bosom of the stars’ as mere poetic diction.