Contemplate all this work of Time,
The giant labouring in his youth;
Nor dream of human love and truth,
As dying Nature’s earth and lime;

But trust that those we call the dead
Are breathers of an ampler day
For ever nobler ends. They say,
The solid earth whereon we tread

In tracts of fluent heat began,
And grew to seeming-random forms,
The seeming prey of cyclic storms,
Till at the last arose the man;

Who throve and branch’d from clime to clime,
The herald of a higher race,
And of himself in higher place,
If so he type this work of time

Within himself, from more to more;
Or, crown’d with attributes of woe
Like glories, move his course, and show
That life is not as idle ore,

But iron dug from central gloom,
And heated hot with burning fears,
And dipt in baths of hissing tears,
And batter’d with the shocks of doom

To shape and use. Arise and fly
The reeling Faun, the sensual feast;
Move upward, working out the beast,
And let the ape and tiger die.

Tennyson associates the life of the dead with the evolution of humanity on earth. He refers to what was known in his day as the Nebular Hypothesis, that is, the theory that the sun and its planets evolved from a nebula of fiery gas, and jumps to the event of human existence. Human beings are the herald of a higher race if they repeat within themselves the upward movement of evolution. He denies that we are “idle ore” but then takes the production of iron as a metaphor of the creation of the human soul, which can leave behind the satyr, the ape and the tiger. His way of saying this, “and let the ape and tiger die” strikes the contemporary ear as an uncomfortable reminder of all the species humanity has killed in its move upward.

Tennyson’s optimism about humanity can be attributed to his nation and class, but also to the shallowness of his religious philosophy. The book of Genesis had long before attributed the violence of human beings to their wanting to “be like God, knowing good and evil.”

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