Could we forget the widow’d hour
And look on Spirits breathed away,
As on a maiden in the day
When first she wears her orange-flower!
When crown’d with blessing she doth rise
To take her latest leave of home,
And hopes and light regrets that come
Make April of her tender eyes;
And doubtful joys the father move,
And tears are on the mother’s face,
As parting with a long embrace
She enters other realms of love;
Her office there to rear, to teach,
Becoming as is meet and fit
A link among the days, to knit
The generations each with each;
And, doubtless, unto thee is given
A life that bears immortal fruit
In those great offices that suit
The full-grown energies of heaven.
Ay me, the difference I discern!
How often shall her old fireside
Be cheer’d with tidings of the bride,
How often she herself return,
And tell them all they would have told,
And bring her babe, and make her boast,
Till even those that miss’d her most
Shall count new things as dear as old:
But thou and I have shaken hands,
Till growing winters lay me low;
My paths are in the fields I know.
And thine in undiscover’d lands
In a bold change of symbolism, Tennyson asks if dead persons can be compared to brides on their wedding day, when they wear, probably in their hair, orange blossoms. This marriage custom came into Europe from the East, and is based on the fact that the orange tree can bloom and carry fruit at the same time. In England it was popularised by Queen Victoria at her wedding to Albert.
The bride’s departure from her home, in expectation of love and fruitfulness might be a parallel to the dead person’s departure from this world, into new fruitfulness in heaven. Maybe Hallam is now fruitful in some great calling in his eternal life. But whereas the bride can return to her family many times to show off children, to demonstrate her fruitfulness, Hallam cannot return to his family or dear friend. His departure will not be overcome until Tennyson’s own.
This however is a more hopeful metaphor, alongside the more despairing language used by the poet.