He tasted love with half his mind,
Nor ever drank the inviolate spring
Where nighest heaven, who first could fling
This bitter seed among mankind;
That could the dead, whose dying eyes
Were closed with wail, resume their life,
They would but find in child and wife
An iron welcome when they rise:
‘Twas well, indeed, when warm with wine,
To pledge them with a kindly tear,
To talk them o’er, to wish them here,
To count their memories half divine;
But if they came who past away,
Behold their brides in other hands;
The hard heir strides about their lands,
And will not yield them for a day.
Yea, tho’ their sons were none of these,
Not less the yet-loved sire would make
Confusion worse than death, and shake
The pillars of domestic peace.
Ah dear, but come thou back to me:
Whatever change the years have wrought,
I find not yet one lonely thought
That cries against my wish for thee.
The stories of those who actually did return to their families after being thought dead for some time, show that Tennyson’s ‘bitter seed’ is all too bitter, at least as regards most family relationships. His relationship with Hallam, which was not yet a family matter, was different: he wants him back.
I hope if my daughter were to return, I’d be a better father.
“Confusion worse than death” also appears in a similar context in the Lotus Eaters 6, and may describe a personal horror of family strife.