Tis well; ’tis something; we may stand
Where he in English earth is laid,
And from his ashes may be made
The violet of his native land.

‘Tis little; but it looks in truth
As if the quiet bones were blest
Among familiar names to rest
And in the places of his youth.

Come then, pure hands, and bear the head
That sleeps or wears the mask of sleep,
And come, whatever loves to weep,
And hear the ritual of the dead.

Ah yet, ev’n yet, if this might be,
I, falling on his faithful heart,
Would breathing thro’ his lips impart
The life that almost dies in me;

That dies not, but endures with pain,
And slowly forms the firmer mind,
Treasuring the look it cannot find,
The words that are not heard again.

As the last verse indicates, there is a more collected mind evident in this canto, an ability to come to terms with his fiend’s death; the ordinariness of a village grave, and the conventional notion of the violet, signal a goodbye to wild fantasies of grief. But still, the gesture of throwing himself on his friends body and breathing into his lips, like Elijah in the Bible, or a version of mouth to mouth resuscitation, is hugely dramatic, and as he knows, impossible.

A question remains for me at least: whose are the pure hands? Often in one of Tennyson’s cantos, there’s a phrase, line or verse, that seems to come from another place, without explanation. It may be that this is only my inadequate knowledge of his culture.

“that endures with pain/ and slowly forms the firmer mind” This is well said and truly speaks for many grieving people. In me, as in Tennyson it was the fruit of trying to say my grief in words. The firmer mind is not detached from the dead, but clearly attached to the dead as dead. It is an acceptance of what has happened.









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