You say, but with no touch of scorn,
Sweet-hearted, you, whose light-blue eyes
Are tender over drowning flies,
You tell me, doubt is Devil-born.
I know not: one indeed I knew
In many a subtle question versed,
Who touch’d a jarring lyre at first,
But ever strove to make it true:
Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds,
At last he beat his music out.
There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds.
He fought his doubts and gather’d strength,
He would not make his judgment blind,
He faced the spectres of the mind
And laid them: thus he came at length
To find a stronger faith his own;
And Power was with him in the night,
Which makes the darkness and the light,
And dwells not in the light alone,
But in the darkness and the cloud,
As over Sinaï’s peaks of old,
While Israel made their gods of gold,
Altho’ the trumpet blew so loud.
Tennyson’s interlocutor here is perhaps his sister or his future wife. Out of conventional faith she questions his process of doubt, that it may be a satanic temptation. He defends doubt, using a sketch of someone he admired – not necessarily Hallam as some have speculated- whose rigorous reflection led him into doubt, and ultimately deeper faith. Tennyson’s declaration that ‘there lives more faith in honest doubt , believe me than in half the creeds’ is a defence of his own intellectual struggles with Christianity. His identification of God as one present in darkness as well as light is perfectly biblical as he notes himself with his reference to Sinai.
This reference allows him to hint that the demonic temptation may not be honest doubt but rather the creation of false Gods.
I am a person of Christian faith, but I did not experience any obvious challenge to my faith in my daughter’s death. I had faced the kind of loss that Tennyson deals with, not once but many times, which rid me of all pious accretions to faith, including the notion that faith would be rewarded with a trouble – free life.
A less obvious temptation may be a prevailing melancholy which is now part of my character.