Yet if some voice that man could trust
Should murmur from the narrow house,
`The cheeks drop in; the body bows;
Man dies: nor is there hope in dust:’
Might I not say? `Yet even here,
But for one hour, O Love, I strive
To keep so sweet a thing alive:’
But I should turn mine ears and hear
The moanings of the homeless sea,
The sound of streams that swift or slow
Draw down Æonian hills, and sow
The dust of continents to be;
And Love would answer with a sigh,
`The sound of that forgetful shore
Will change my sweetness more and more,
Half-dead to know that I shall die.’
O me, what profits it to put
An idle case? If Death were seen
At first as Death, Love had not been,
Or been in narrowest working shut,
Mere fellowship of sluggish moods,
Or in his coarsest Satyr-shape
Had bruised the herb and crush’d the grape,
And bask’d and batten’d in the woods.
The notion that love should still be sweet for mortal beings is given short shrift; faced with the vast eras of geological evolution love must either be mere companionship or brute sexuality. There seems no compelling reason for this opinion, other than Tennyson’s grief for Hallam. His readers might ask, “If eternal life is ruled out by you, will you change your view of your love for Hallam?” He might reply, “But because my feeling for Hallam is what it is, life must be eternal!” In all sections of the poem, feeling is given at least as much credibility as reason.
The geological facts are beautifully presented: the sea is homeless because over geological time it has no permanent place ; and the streams carrying the eroded fragments of mountains have reduced vast volcanos to the dimensions of Arthur’s Seat. (‘Aeonian’ hills are the hills of ages.)
The stanza about the instincts of Satyrs is also a fine vision of what Tennyson regards as loutish animality. Both classical and 21st century UK views of sexuality clash with his. Sex is seen now as a reasonable pleasure for all, as an available joy. It is also evident as an assertion of male control and an abuse of women and children. Modern readers should extend imaginative sympathy to Tennyson’s image of femininity as herbs and grapes which may be crushed by brutal males.
Our daughter, an alcoholic, was a number of times assaulted by men.