High wisdom holds my wisdom less,
That I, who gaze with temperate eyes
On glorious insufficiencies,
Set light by narrower perfectness.
But thou, that fillest all the room
Of all my love, art reason why
I seem to cast a careless eye
On souls, the lesser lords of doom.
For what wert thou? some novel power
Sprang up for ever at a touch,
And hope could never hope too much,
In watching thee from hour to hour,
Large elements in order brought,
And tracts of calm from tempest made,
And world-wide fluctuation sway’d
In vassal tides that follow’d thought
It may be that I have a tin ear for certain kinds of generality in poetry, but I find this stanza difficult. What does “set light by” mean? I would have expected simply “set light.” And who are “the lesser lords of doom”? Is this a reference to the Last Judgement”? But surely then there is only One Lord. Ot does it perhaps mean those whose judgement (doom) is not so good? If so, I’m tempted to think the phrase owes more to the need for a rhyme than the need to communicate. The complex metaphor of oceans of discourse brought into order by Hallam’s thinking, as the moon orders the tides, is more precise and impressive.
An old Webster’s dictionary tells me that to “set light by” means to slight or despise, which is what I imagined Tennyson meant. So my puzzlement was mere ignorance. However I’ll leave my questioning above as others may share it.
I guess I wonder why Tennyson is to determined to prove that his great love for Hallam was well-founded in Hallam’s virtues.