I cannot love thee as I ought,
For love reflects the thing beloved;
My words are only words, and moved
Upon the topmost froth of thought.
‘Yet blame not thou thy plaintive song,’
The Spirit of true love replied;
`Thou canst not move me from thy side,
Nor human frailty do me wrong.
‘What keeps a spirit wholly true
To that ideal which he bears?
What record? not the sinless years
That breathed beneath the Syrian blue:
‘So fret not, like an idle girl,
That life is dash’d with flecks of sin.
Abide: thy wealth is gather’d in,
When Time hath sunder’d shell from pearl.’
If our love of the dead is love for what they were, how can it be true love, which reflects what a person is? Our memory of them is at our disposal, but they are not. I felt this gap in relationship, which led me to be careful and imaginative in what I wrote about her. Tennyson welcomes a useful interlocutor, the Spirit of true love, who affirms that it cannot be harmed by human frailty, and that there is nothing, not even the life of Christ, that keeps a human life true to its ideal. One day persons will be released from the outward shells that are marked by wrongness, to appear in their wealth as pearls.
These good thoughts are marred by his careless use of “like an idle girl”, as if a) such innocent desire for perfection were only felt by girls and b) that because it is only felt by girls and not complete male human beings, it must be mistaken.