O thou that after toil and storm
Mayst seem to have reach’d a purer air,
Whose faith has centre everywhere,
Nor cares to fix itself to form,

Leave thou thy sister when she prays,
Her early Heaven, her happy views;
Nor thou with shadow’d hint confuse
A life that leads melodious days.

Her faith thro’ form is pure as thine,
Her hands are quicker unto good:
Oh, sacred be the flesh and blood
To which she links a truth divine!

See thou, that countest reason ripe
In holding by the law within,
Thou fail not in a world of sin,
And ev’n for want of such a type.

The persons invoked here are abstract models of faith, one whose rational belief has moved away from biblical or other forms of faith; the other still gratefully holding to them. Given the language used, they may also have some reference to Tennyson and his equally bereft sister, to whom Hallam was engaged.

He warns against any sense of superiority towards a simpler, more conventional faith, which holds to a human revealer of divine truth. Such a faith may lead more directly to good deeds and resistance to wrong. Tennyson is self-critical here, envying perhaps a more unquestioning faith than his own.

My own, biblically anchored, form of faith, was far from unquestioning, having already in preceding years been softened up by the deaths of a best friend and a beloved brother. My brother in particular pushed me to ask if a belief in resurrection did not destroy the blessed contingency which gave every life its sacred value: that it existed for no purpose and would never exist again after its death. In the case of my daughter I have had to ask how I can take her earthly life seriously, that is, how I can love her, if I also believe she is now alive with God. I feel that I can, but I have not fully resolved this paradox.




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