So careful of the type?’ but no.
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, `A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go.
‘Thou makest thine appeal to me:
I bring to life, I bring to death:
The spirit does but mean the breath:
I know no more.’ And he, shall he,
Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law—
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed—
Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills,
Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal’d within the iron hills?
No more? A monster then, a dream,
A discord. Dragons of the prime,
That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music match’d with him.
O life as futile, then, as frail!
O for thy voice to soothe and bless!
What hope of answer, or redress?
Behind the veil, behind the veil.
Tennyson’s geological knowledge has disabused him of the notion that if nature is careless of individuals, she is careful of species. All the latest fossils told a different story, as one extinct species after another was discovered. He knows that humankind may also disappear, but he protests that it is nature’s last and best production. The optimism of his culture could not imagine any natural species better than humanity.
This very humanity that placed trust in a deity, could it be reduced to nothing more than lifeless dust? He uses human belief in divine love expressed in creation, to protest against a nature famously described as ‘red in tooth and claw”. He characterises his own species as loving and striving for justice, conveniently forgetting its hate and its bombs. The negative aspect of humanity, nevertheless, may be present in the comparison with ‘dragons that tare each other in their slime”, (a reference to the discovery of saurian remains)
He appeals to Hallam to speak words of blessing, but accepts that his friend is ‘behind the veil’ between humanity and God.
This anguished protest against nature, arises from the fact of natural death, which Tennyson could not accept without rebellion. In the instance of my daughter’s death, I felt no sense of outrage at nature. Perhaps, if she had died from COVID which was just reaching pandemic status at that time, I might have responded differently, but as her addiction had destroyed the natural health of her body, I accepted then, as I had for some time, that death was a logical outcome of her habit. I did not think that death diminished her worth or beauty, or that it does so in any instance of human death. Our treatment of ourselves and others, however, often does.
My younger brother who died of cancer when he was just retired from work, urged me to treat death as an aspect of the contingency of life, of the happenstance of the universe. We are here accidentally, he believed, and that is our glory. No form of comfort for bereavement should be allowed to spoil that splendour. I agree with his intention, but do not think it is the whole truth.