Old warder of these buried bones,
And answering now my random stroke
With fruitful cloud and living smoke,
Dark yew, that graspest at the stones
And dippest toward the dreamless head,
To thee too comes the golden hour
When flower is feeling after flower;
But Sorrow—fixt upon the dead,
And darkening the dark graves of men,—
What whisper’d from her lying lips?
Thy gloom is kindled at the tips,
And passes into gloom again.
The reader is meant to remember cantos 2 and 3 where Tennyson compares the spring flowering of the Yew to smoke. He uses the same here; the dark tree is smoking with flowers at the tips of the branches. Is this a sign of light from darkness, life from death? Sorrow says no, the kindling at the tips is temporary, the gloom is usual. But here again sorrow is called a liar.
The flowering Yew, albeit ambiguous, is a good symbol of a certain stage of grieving in which the grief itself blossoms, where the remembrance of the dead person produces tentative signs of growth in the griever’s psyche, a bit like the signs of physical fitness in someone who has been dutifully training. The mourning person feels that she can now cope with what life throws at her. The flowers are real.