This truth came borne with bier and pall,
I felt it, when I sorrow’d most,
‘Tis better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all—
O true in word, and tried in deed,
Demanding, so to bring relief
To this which is our common grief,
What kind of life is that I lead;
And whether trust in things above
Be dimm’d of sorrow, or sustain’d;
And whether love for him have drain’d
My capabilities of love;
Your words have virtue such as draws
A faithful answer from the breast,
Thro’ light reproaches, half exprest,
And loyal unto kindly laws.
My blood an even tenor kept,
Till on mine ear this message falls,
That in Vienna’s fatal walls
God’s finger touch’d him, and he slept.
The great Intelligences fair
That range above our mortal state,
In circle round the blessed gate,
Received and gave him welcome there;
And led him thro’ the blissful climes,
And show’d him in the fountain fresh
All knowledge that the sons of flesh
Shall gather in the cycled times.
But I remain’d, whose hopes were dim,
Whose life, whose thoughts were little worth,
To wander on a darken’d earth,
Where all things round me breathed of him. ‘
O friendship, equal-poised control,
O heart, with kindliest motion warm,
O sacred essence, other form,
O solemn ghost, O crowned soul!
Yet none could better know than I,
How much of act at human hands
The sense of human will demands
By which we dare to live or die.
Whatever way my days decline,
I felt and feel, tho’ left alone,
His being working in mine own,
The footsteps of his life in mine;
A life that all the Muses deck’d
With gifts of grace, that might express
And so my passion hath not swerved
To works of weakness, but I find
An image comforting the mind,
And in my grief a strength reserved.
Likewise the imaginative woe,
That loved to handle spiritual strife
Diffused the shock thro’ all my life,
But in the present broke the blow.
My pulses therefore beat again
For other friends that once I met;
Nor can it suit me to forget
The mighty hopes that make us men.
I woo your love: I count it crime
To mourn for any overmuch;
I, the divided half of such
A friendship as had master’d Time;
Which masters Time indeed, and is
Eternal, separate from fears:
The all-assuming months and years
Can take no part away from this:
But Summer on the steaming floods,
And Spring that swells the narrow brooks,
And Autumn, with a noise of rooks,
That gather in the waning woods,
And every pulse of wind and wave
Recalls, in change of light or gloom,
My old affection of the tomb,
And my prime passion in the grave:
My old affection of the tomb,
A part of stillness, yearns to speak:
`Arise, and get thee forth and seek
A friendship for the years to come.
‘I watch thee from the quiet shore;
Thy spirit up to mine can reach;
But in dear words of human speech
We two communicate no more.’
And I, `Can clouds of nature stain
The starry clearness of the free?
How is it? Canst thou feel for me
Some painless sympathy with pain?’
And lightly does the whisper fall:
`’Tis hard for thee to fathom this;
I triumph in conclusive bliss,
And that serene result of all.’
So hold I commerce with the dead;
Or so methinks the dead would say;
Or so shall grief with symbols play
And pining life be fancy-fed.
Now looking to some settled end,
That these things pass, and I shall prove
A meeting somewhere, love with love,
I crave your pardon, O my friend;
If not so fresh, with love as true,
I, clasping brother-hands, aver
I could not, if I would, transfer
The whole I felt for him to you.
For which be they that hold apart
The promise of the golden hours?
First love, first friendship, equal powers,
That marry with the virgin heart.
Still mine, that cannot but deplore,
That beats within a lonely place,
That yet remembers his embrace,
But at his footstep leaps no more,
My heart, tho’ widow’d, may not rest
Quite in the love of what is gone,
But seeks to beat in time with one
That warms another living breast.
Ah, take the imperfect gift I bring,
Knowing the primrose yet is dear,
The primrose of the later year,
As not unlike to that of Spring.
After repeating here his famous lines from Canto 27, Tennyson embarks on a long, honest and delicate report on his own feelings at this stage of his mourning. He writes of being questioned by an honest friend about how he is living, and whether his grieving for Hallam has diminished his love of life and of other people.
He responds by stating his faith that Hallam is alive in heaven where all questions are answered, while he remains in earth, remembering an unexcelled friendship. He imagines Hallam’s presence in his own life, giving balance and strength, but yet every movement of the seasons reminds him of ‘his old affection of the grave.’
Then Hallam’s own voice tells him to get on with life and to look for new friendships. When Tennyson asks if Hallam in heaven can be disturbed by pity for his earthly friend, Hallam gently signals that for him there are now no more disturbing questions. Although he gives the reader the script of this encounter, he admits that it is his own composition.
Now he apologises to his future friend that he cannot give him all he gave to Hallam, but true friendship nevertheless. He compares first friendship with Hallam to a first (man to woman ) love, frankly placing these experiences on the same level, but declares that a summer primrose is like, if not the same as, the primrose of spring. (Because I love the primrose, I checked and discovered as I thought that Prímula Vulgaris, the common primrose only flowers in spring in the wild; but since Tennyson’s time there have been many garden cultivars of primrose with varied colours and an extended growing season. So Tennyson’s metaphor stands.)
This movement of thought and feeling is vivid, doing justice to the complexity of what it records.
My own experience of bereavement, which I think to be common, is that intimate friendships became more important to me than ever before.