I sing to him that rests below,
And, since the grasses round me wave,
I take the grasses of the grave,
And make them pipes whereon to blow.

The traveller hears me now and then,
And sometimes harshly will he speak:
`This fellow would make weakness weak,
And melt the waxen hearts of men.’

Another answers, `Let him be,
He loves to make parade of pain
That with his piping he may gain
The praise that comes to constancy.’

A third is wroth: `Is this an hour
For private sorrow’s barren song,
When more and more the people throng
The chairs and thrones of civil power?

‘A time to sicken and to swoon,
When Science reaches forth her arms
To feel from world to world, and charms
Her secret from the latest moon?’

Behold, ye speak an idle thing:
Ye never knew the sacred dust:
I do but sing because I must,
And pipe but as the linnets sing:

And one is glad; her note is gay,
For now her little ones have ranged;
And one is sad; her note is changed,
Because her brood is stol’n away.

Although Tennyson has been writing about grief that cannot be told, he continues his poem, his song to Hallam, imagining himself as a constant presence at his grave. The public might react to his extensive grieving as unmanly weakness, desire for approval as a constant friend, or as irritating private whingeing at a time of great political change and scientific achievement. (I think the political reference is positive but cannot be sure.)

No, he says I sing as the linnet, cheerfully if her brood has fledged, sadly if it has been taken by a predator. I doubt if he knew much about linnets and their singing. He wants to say he grieves as naturally as a bird sings but spoils it by his fancy about the bird’s grief.(Some birds and animals appear to grieve, but that is not the function of bird song.)

As I walk through this great poem, with my loss in mind, I am sensitive to expressions that do not ring true. Tennyson’s insistence on his lasting grief, a period of 17 years between the death and the publication of the poem, is perhaps unusual, but in my experience, not false, as I have not “got over” my grief at our daughter’s death, but learned to live with it.

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