A PILGRIMAGE THROUGH ‘IN MEMORIAM, 104

On that last night before we went
From out the doors where I was bred,
I dream’d a vision of the dead,
Which left my after-morn content.


Methought I dwelt within a hall,
And maidens with me: distant hills
From hidden summits fed with rills
A river sliding by the wall.


The hall with harp and carol rang.
They sang of what is wise and good
And graceful. In the centre stood
A statue veil’d, to which they sang;


And which, tho’ veil’d, was known to me,
The shape of him I loved, and love
For ever: then flew in a dove
And brought a summons from the sea:


And when they learnt that I must go
They wept and wail’d, but led the way
To where a little shallop lay
At anchor in the flood below;


And on by many a level mead,
And shadowing bluff that made the banks,
We glided winding under ranks
Of iris, and the golden reed;


And still as vaster grew the shore
And roll’d the floods in grander space,
The maidens gather’d strength and grace
And presence, lordlier than before;


And I myself, who sat apart
And watch’d them, wax’d in every limb;
I felt the thews of Anakim,
The pulses of a Titan’s heart;


As one would sing the death of war,
And one would chant the history
Of that great race, which is to be,
And one the shaping of a star;


Until the forward-creeping tides
Began to foam, and we to draw
From deep to deep, to where we saw
A great ship lift her shining sides.


The man we loved was there on deck,
But thrice as large as man he bent
To greet us. Up the side I went,
And fell in silence on his neck;


Whereat those maidens with one mind
Bewail’d their lot; I did them wrong:
`We served thee here,’ they said, `so long,
And wilt thou leave us now behind?’


So rapt I was, they could not win
An answer from my lips, but he
Replying, `Enter likewise ye
And go with us:’ they enter’d in.


And while the wind began to sweep
A music out of sheet and shroud,
We steer’d her toward a crimson cloud
That landlike slept along the deep.

 

 

This vision, set at Tennyson’s departure from his childhood home, begins a forward movement in the poem, away from grieving, and towards a new hopefulness, not merely for his future as a person and a poet but also for the future of humanity. He disclosed to a friend that the maidens here stand for his fundamental convictions and creativity; they are ethical and poetic muses. They travel with him into a new life. The notion of physical growth as an emblem of spiritual growth, is only just workable; there is something clumsy about it, especially the thrice- human size Hallam on the deck of the ship. The maidens, the ship, the voyage into mystery, remind the reader of the close of Morte D’ Arthur, although the imagery here is more perhaps more comforting.

I have made no spirit- journeys with my late daughter.

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