Take wings of fancy, and ascend,
And in a moment set thy face
Where all the starry heavens of space
Are sharpen’d to a needle’s end;
Take wings of foresight; lighten thro’
The secular abyss to come,
And lo, thy deepest lays are dumb
Before the mouldering of a yew;
And if the matin songs, that woke
The darkness of our planet, last,
Thine own shall wither in the vast,
Ere half the lifetime of an oak.
Ere these have clothed their branchy bowers
With fifty Mays, thy songs are vain;
And what are they when these remain
The ruin’d shells of hollow towers?
Tennyson’s fancy is astonishing: today we may easily imagine our Milky Way galaxy seen from another as sharpened to a needle’s end, but for him this would be much more difficult. Given his reading of sciences, we may think he read this speculation in the work if an astronomer.
He journeys in time as well as space: thy deepest lays are dumb/ before the mouldering of a yew. The lifespan of trees outdoes that of humans, and of human poetry. The matin songs are probably the great classics, Homer, Virgil and others, but they may be the morning stars of Job 38:7, singing together at the creation of the world. Tennyson manages the contrast with the life of oaks very neatly.