I will not shut me from my kind,
And, lest I stiffen into stone,
I will not eat my heart alone,
Nor feed with sighs a passing wind:
What profit lies in barren faith,
And vacant yearning, tho’ with might
To scale the heaven’s highest height,
Or dive below the wells of Death?
What find I in the highest place,
But mine own phantom chanting hymns?
And on the depths of death there swims
The reflex of a human face.
I’ll rather take what fruit may be
Of sorrow under human skies:
‘Tis held that sorrow makes us wise,
Whatever wisdom sleep with thee.
Tennyson states clearly his decision to abandon questions of religious speculation and the meaning of death, because wherever he looks he discovers his own face, his own emotion rather than any new wisdom. He decides to find wisdom in the human experience of sorrow. It’s interesting that in the first stanza of this canto the dead metaphor of eating one’s heart comes alive with an almost bizarre literalness.