If these brief lays, of Sorrow born,
Were taken to be such as closed
Grave doubts and answers here proposed,
Then these were such as men might scorn:
Her care is not to part and prove;
She takes, when harsher moods remit,
What slender shade of doubt may flit,
And makes it vassal unto love:
And hence, indeed, she sports with words,
But better serves a wholesome law,
And holds it sin and shame to draw
The deepest measure from the chords:
Nor dare she trust a larger lay,
But rather loosens from the lip
Short swallow-flights of song, that dip
Their wings in tears, and skim away.
So, after I have explored Tennyson’s philosophy of the individual soul in a little depth, along he comes to rebuke me for taking his poetry too seriously: he is not stating positions but playing on the surface of grief, imagined wonderfully as “short swallow-flights of song that dip/ their wings in tears and skim away.” But we should beware poets bearing gifts of modesty.
Still, to produce poems about the death of a loved one is a strange phenomenon, for composition is of necessity playful, establishing metre, rhyme, form, meaning, with words. What has that to do with the grief in the heart? I have done this myself, after my daughter’s death,my sharing none of Tennyson’s genius, but perhaps a little of his playfulness. Of course I hoped that by some miracle, even a playful utterance might honour my loved one.
I’m sure Tennyson also had this hope.