My own dim life should teach me this,
That life shall live for evermore,
Else earth is darkness at the core,
And dust and ashes all that is;
This round of green, this orb of flame,
Fantastic beauty such as lurks
In some wild Poet, when he works
Without a conscience or an aim.
What then were God to such as I?
‘Twere hardly worth my while to choose
Of things all mortal, or to use
A little patience ere I die;
‘Twere best at once to sink to peace,
Like birds the charming serpent draws,
To drop head-foremost in the jaws
Of vacant darkness and to cease.
Tennyson sets up the contingency of all existence, as having the fantastic beauty formed by one who works without conscience or aim. He dismisses this view as offering only darkness, dust and ashes. He would have known Horace’s poem on Spring, which contrasts the renewal of the earth with the non- renewal of human life.
“Damna tamen céleres reparant caelestia lunae:
Nos, ubi decidimos,
Quo pater Aeneas, quo Tullus dives et Ancus
Pulvis et umbra sumus.
The swift moons repair their losses in the skies: but when we fall, we come to where Father Aeneas, rich Tullus and Ancus are; we are dust and a shadow.
But neither Horace, nor Tennyson’s beloved classical tradition, concluded thereby that human life was worthless, whereas he judges that if life is not eternal, you might as well pack it up now. This passionate either -or is his response to Hallam’s death.