Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Supposed Confessions of a Second-rate Sensitive Mind”
Oh God! my God! have mercy now.
I faint, I fall. Men say that thou
Didst die for me, for such as me,
Patient of ill, and death, and scorn,
And that my sin was as a thorn
Among the thorns that girt thy brow,
Wounding thy soul.–That even now,
In this extremest misery
Of ignorance, I should require
A sign! and if a bolt of fire
Would rive the slumbrous summernoon
While I do pray to thee alone,
Think my belief would stronger grow!
Is not my human pride brought low?
The boastings of my spirit still?
The joy I had in my freewill
All cold, and dead, and corpse-like grown?
And what is left to me, but thou,
And faith in thee? Men pass me by;
Christians with happy countenances–
And children all seem full of thee!
And women smile with saint-like glances
Like thine own mother’s when she bow’d
Above thee, on that happy morn
When angels spake to men aloud,
And thou and peace to earth were born.
Goodwill to me as well as all–
I one of them: my brothers they:
Brothers in Christ–a world of peace
And confidence, day after day;
And trust and hope till things should cease,
And then one Heaven receive us all.
How sweet to have a common faith!
To hold a common scorn of death!
And at a burial to hear
The creaking cords which wound and eat
Into my human heart, whene’er
Earth goes to earth, with grief, not fear,
With hopeful grief, were passing sweet!
A grief not uninformed, and dull
Hearted with hope, of hope as full
As is the blood with life, or night
And a dark cloud with rich moonlight.
To stand beside a grave, and see
The red small atoms wherewith we
Are built, and smile in calm, and say–
“These little moles and graves shall be
Clothed on with immortality
More glorious than the noon of day–
All that is pass’d into the flowers
And into beasts and other men,
And all the Norland whirlwind showers
From open vaults, and all the sea
O’er washes with sharp salts, again
Shall fleet together all, and be
Indued with immortality.”
Thrice happy state again to be
The trustful infant on the knee!
Who lets his waxen fingers play
About his mother’s neck, and knows
Nothing beyond his mother’s eyes.
They comfort him by night and day;
They light his little life alway;
He hath no thought of coming woes;
He hath no care of life or death,
Scarce outward signs of joy arise,
Because the Spirit of happiness
And perfect rest so inward is;
And loveth so his innocent heart,
Her temple and her place of birth,
Where she would ever wish to dwell,
Life of the fountain there, beneath
Its salient springs, and far apart,
Hating to wander out on earth,
Or breathe into the hollow air,
Whose dullness would make visible
Her subtil, warm, and golden breath,
Which mixing with the infant’s blood,
Fullfills him with beatitude.
Oh! sure it is a special care
Of God, to fortify from doubt,
To arm in proof, and guard about
With triple-mailed trust, and clear
Delight, the infant’s dawning year.
Would that my gloomed fancy were
As thine, my mother, when with brows
Propped on thy knees, my hands upheld
In thine, I listen’d to thy vows,
For me outpour’d in holiest prayer–
For me unworthy!–and beheld
Thy mild deep eyes upraised, that knew
The beauty and repose of faith,
And the clear spirit shining through.
Oh! wherefore do we grow awry
From roots which strike so deep? why dare
Paths in the desert? Could not I
Bow myself down, where thou hast knelt,
To th’ earth–until the ice would melt
Here, and I feel as thou hast felt?
What Devil had the heart to scathe
Flowers thou hadst rear’d–to brush the dew
From thine own lily, when thy grave
Was deep, my mother, in the clay?
Myself? Is it thus? Myself? Had I
So little love for thee? But why
Prevail’d not thy pure prayers? Why pray
To one who heeds not, who can save
But will not? Great in faith, and strong
Against the grief of circumstance
Wert thou, and yet unheard. What if
Thou pleadest still, and seest me drive
Thro’ utter dark a fullsailed skiff,
Unpiloted i’ the echoing dance
Of reboant whirlwinds, stooping low
Unto the death, not sunk! I know
At matins and at evensong,
That thou, if thou were yet alive,
In deep and daily prayers wouldst strive
To reconcile me with thy God.
Albeit, my hope is gray, and cold
At heart, thou wouldest murmur still–
“Bring this lamb back into thy fold,
My Lord, if so it be thy will”.
Wouldst tell me I must brook the rod,
And chastisement of human pride;
That pride, the sin of devils, stood
Betwixt me and the light of God!
That hitherto I had defied
And had rejected God–that grace
Would drop from his o’erbrimming love,
As manna on my wilderness,
If I would pray–that God would move
And strike the hard hard rock, and thence,
Sweet in their utmost bitterness,
Would issue tears of penitence
Which would keep green hope’s life. Alas!
I think that pride hath now no place
Nor sojourn in me. I am void,
Dark, formless, utterly destroyed.
Why not believe then? Why not yet
Anchor thy frailty there, where man
Hath moor’d and rested? Ask the sea
At midnight, when the crisp slope waves
After a tempest, rib and fret
The broadimbasèd beach, why he
Slumbers not like a mountain tarn?
Wherefore his ridges are not curls
And ripples of an inland mere?
Wherefore he moaneth thus, nor can
Draw down into his vexed pools
All that blue heaven which hues and paves
The other? I am too forlorn,
Too shaken: my own weakness fools
My judgment, and my spirit whirls,
Moved from beneath with doubt and fear.
“Yet” said I, in my morn of youth,
The unsunned freshness of my strength,
When I went forth in quest of truth,
“It is man’s privilege to doubt,
If so be that from doubt at length,
Truth may stand forth unmoved of change,
An image with profulgent brows,
And perfect limbs, as from the storm
Of running fires and fluid range
Of lawless airs, at last stood out
This excellence and solid form
Of constant beauty. For the Ox
Feeds in the herb, and sleeps, or fills
The horned valleys all about,
And hollows of the fringed hills
In summerheats, with placid lows
Unfearing, till his own blood flows
About his hoof. And in the flocks
The lamb rejoiceth in the year,
And raceth freely with his fere,
And answers to his mother’s calls
From the flower’d furrow. In a time,
Of which he wots not, run short pains
Through his warm heart; and then, from whence
He knows not, on his light there falls
A shadow; and his native slope,
Where he was wont to leap and climb,
Floats from his sick and filmed eyes,
And something in the darkness draws
His forehead earthward, and he dies.
Shall man live thus, in joy and hope
As a young lamb, who cannot dream,
Living, but that he shall live on?
Shall we not look into the laws
Of life and death, and things that seem,
And things that be, and analyse
Our double nature, and compare
All creeds till we have found the one,
If one there be?” Ay me! I fear
All may not doubt, but everywhere
Some must clasp Idols. Yet, my God,
Whom call I Idol? Let thy dove
Shadow me over, and my sins
Be unremembered, and thy love
Enlighten me. Oh teach me yet
Somewhat before the heavy clod
Weighs on me, and the busy fret
Of that sharpheaded worm begins
In the gross blackness underneath.
O weary life! O weary death!
O spirit and heart made desolate!
O damnéd vacillating state!