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Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

The Palace of Art


              1  I built my soul a lordly pleasure-house,
              2    Wherein at ease for aye to dwell.
              3I said, "O Soul, make merry and carouse,
              4      Dear soul, for all is well."

              5  A huge crag-platform, smooth as burnish'd brass
              6    I chose. The ranged ramparts bright
              7From level meadow-bases of deep grass
              8      Suddenly scaled the light.

              9  Thereon I built it firm. Of ledge or shelf
            10    The rock rose clear, or winding stair.
            11My soul would live alone unto herself
            12      In her high palace there.

            13  And "while the world runs round and round," I said,
            14    "Reign thou apart, a quiet king,
            15Still as, while Saturn whirls, his steadfast shade
            16      Sleeps on his luminous ring."

            17  To which my soul made answer readily:
            18    "Trust me, in bliss I shall abide
            19In this great mansion, that is built for me,
            20      So royal-rich and wide."

* * * * *

            21  Four courts I made, East, West and South and North,
            22    In each a squared lawn, wherefrom
            23The golden gorge of dragons spouted forth
            24      A flood of fountain-foam.

            25  And round the cool green courts there ran a row
            26    Of cloisters, branch'd like mighty woods,
            27Echoing all night to that sonorous flow
            28      Of spouted fountain-floods.

            29  And round the roofs a gilded gallery
            30    That lent broad verge to distant lands,
            31Far as the wild swan wings, to where the sky
            32      Dipt down to sea and sands.

            33  From those four jets four currents in one swell
            34    Across the mountain stream'd below
            35In misty folds, that floating as they fell
            36      Lit up a torrent-bow.

            37  And high on every peak a statue seem'd
            38    To hang on tiptoe, tossing up
            39A cloud of incense of all odour steam'd
            40      From out a golden cup.

            41  So that she thought, "And who shall gaze upon
            42    My palace with unblinded eyes,
            43While this great bow will waver in the sun,
            44      And that sweet incense rise?"

            45  For that sweet incense rose and never fail'd,
            46    And, while day sank or mounted higher,
            47The light aërial gallery, golden-rail'd,
            48      Burnt like a fringe of fire.

            49  Likewise the deep-set windows, stain'd and traced,
            50    Would seem slow-flaming crimson fires
            51From shadow'd grots of arches interlaced,
            52      And tipt with frost-like spires.

* * * * *

            53  Full of long-sounding corridors it was,
            54    That over-vaulted grateful gloom,
            55Thro' which the livelong day my soul did pass,
            56      Well-pleased, from room to room.

            57  Full of great rooms and small the palace stood,
            58    All various, each a perfect whole
            59From living Nature, fit for every mood
            60      And change of my still soul.

            61  For some were hung with arras green and blue,
            62    Showing a gaudy summer-morn,
            63Where with puff'd cheek the belted hunter blew
            64      His wreathed bugle-horn.

            65  One seem'd all dark and red--a tract of sand,
            66    And some one pacing there alone,
            67Who paced for ever in a glimmering land,
            68      Lit with a low large moon.

            69  One show'd an iron coast and angry waves.
            70    You seem'd to hear them climb and fall
            71And roar rock-thwarted under bellowing caves,
            72      Beneath the windy wall.

            73  And one, a full-fed river winding slow
            74    By herds upon an endless plain,
            75The ragged rims of thunder brooding low,
            76      With shadow-streaks of rain.

            77  And one, the reapers at their sultry toil.
            78    In front they bound the sheaves. Behind
            79Were realms of upland, prodigal in oil,
            80      And hoary to the wind.

            81  And one a foreground black with stones and slags,
            82    Beyond, a line of heights, and higher
            83All barr'd with long white cloud the scornful crags,
            84      And highest, snow and fire.

            85  And one, an English home--gray twilight pour'd
            86    On dewy pastures, dewy trees,
            87Softer than sleep--all things in order stored,
            88      A haunt of ancient Peace.

            89  Nor these alone, but every landscape fair,
            90    As fit for every mood of mind,
            91Or gay, or grave, or sweet, or stern, was there,
            92      Not less than truth design'd.

* * * * *

            93  Or the maid-mother by a crucifix,
            94    In tracts of pasture sunny-warm,
            95Beneath branch-work of costly sardonyx
            96      Sat smiling, babe in arm.

            97  Or in a clear-wall'd city on the sea,
            98    Near gilded organ-pipes, her hair
            99Wound with white roses, slept St. Cecily;
          100      An angel look'd at her.

          101  Or thronging all one porch of Paradise
          102    A group of Houris bow'd to see
          103The dying Islamite, with hands and eyes
          104      That said, We wait for thee.

          105  Or mythic Uther's deeply-wounded son
          106    In some fair space of sloping greens
          107Lay, dozing in the vale of Avalon,
          108      And watch'd by weeping queens.

          109  Or hollowing one hand against his ear,
          110    To list a foot-fall, ere he saw
          111The wood-nymph, stay'd the Ausonian king to hear
          112      Of wisdom and of law.

          113  Or over hills with peaky tops engrail'd,
          114    And many a tract of palm and rice,
          115The throne of Indian Cama slowly sail'd
          116      A summer fann'd with spice.

          117  Or sweet Europa's mantle blew unclasp'd,
          118    From off her shoulder backward borne:
          119From one hand droop'd a crocus: one hand grasp'd
          120      The mild bull's golden horn.

          121  Or else flush'd Ganymede, his rosy thigh
          122    Half-buried in the Eagle's down,
          123Sole as a flying star shot thro' the sky
          124      Above the pillar'd town.

          125  Nor these alone; but every legend fair
          126    Which the supreme Caucasian mind
          127Carved out of Nature for itself, was there,
          128      Not less than life, design'd.

* * * * *

          129  Then in the towers I placed great bells that swung,
          130    Moved of themselves, with silver sound;
          131And with choice paintings of wise men I hung
          132      The royal dais round.

          133  For there was Milton like a seraph strong,
          134    Beside him Shakespeare bland and mild;
          135And there the world-worn Dante grasp'd his song,
          136      And somewhat grimly smiled.

          137  And there the Ionian father of the rest;
          138    A million wrinkles carved his skin;
          139A hundred winters snow'd upon his breast,
          140      From cheek and throat and chin.

          141  Above, the fair hall-ceiling stately-set
          142    Many an arch high up did lift,
          143And angels rising and descending met
          144      With interchange of gift.

          145  Below was all mosaic choicely plann'd
          146    With cycles of the human tale
          147Of this wide world, the times of every land
          148      So wrought, they will not fail.

          149  The people here, a beast of burden slow,
          150    Toil'd onward, prick'd with goads and stings;
          151Here play'd, a tiger, rolling to and fro
          152      The heads and crowns of kings;

          153  Here rose, an athlete, strong to break or bind
          154    All force in bonds that might endure,
          155And here once more like some sick man declined,
          156      And trusted any cure.

          157  But over these she trod: and those great bells
          158    Began to chime. She took her throne:
          159She sat betwixt the shining Oriels,
          160      To sing her songs alone.

          161  And thro' the topmost Oriels' coloured flame
          162    Two godlike faces gazed below;
          163Plato the wise, and large brow'd Verulam,
          164      The first of those who know.

          165  And all those names, that in their motion were
          166    Full-welling fountain-heads of change,
          167Betwixt the slender shafts were blazon'd fair
          168      In diverse raiment strange:

          169  Thro' which the lights, rose, amber, emerald, blue,
          170    Flush'd in her temples and her eyes,
          171And from her lips, as morn from Memnon, drew
          172      Rivers of melodies.

          173  No nightingale delighteth to prolong
          174    Her low preamble all alone,
          175More than my soul to hear her echo'd song
          176      Throb thro' the ribbed stone;

          177  Singing and murmuring in her feastful mirth,
          178    Joying to feel herself alive,
          179Lord over Nature, Lord of the visible earth,
          180      Lord of the senses five;

          181  Communing with herself: "All these are mine,
          182    And let the world have peace or wars,
          183'T is one to me." She--when young night divine
          184      Crown'd dying day with stars,

          185  Making sweet close of his delicious toils--
          186    Lit light in wreaths and anadems,
          187And pure quintessences of precious oils
          188      In hollow'd moons of gems,

          189  To mimic heaven; and clapt her hands and cried,
          190    "I marvel if my still delight
          191In this great house so royal-rich, and wide,
          192      Be flatter'd to the height.

          193  "O all things fair to sate my various eyes!
          194    O shapes and hues that please me well!
          195O silent faces of the Great and Wise,
          196      My Gods, with whom I dwell!

          197  "O God-like isolation which art mine,
          198    I can but count thee perfect gain,
          199What time I watch the darkening droves of swine
          200      That range on yonder plain.

          201  "In filthy sloughs they roll a prurient skin,
          202    They graze and wallow, breed and sleep;
          203And oft some brainless devil enters in,
          204      And drives them to the deep."

          205  Then of the moral instinct would she prate
          206    And of the rising from the dead,
          207As hers by right of full accomplish'd Fate;
          208      And at the last she said:

          209  "I take possession of man's mind and deed.
          210    I care not what the sects may brawl.
          211I sit as God holding no form of creed,
          212      But contemplating all."

* * * * *

          213  Full oft the riddle of the painful earth
          214    Flash'd thro' her as she sat alone,
          215Yet not the less held she her solemn mirth,
          216      And intellectual throne.

          217  And so she throve and prosper'd; so three years
          218    She prosper'd: on the fourth she fell,
          219Like Herod, when the shout was in his ears,
          220      Struck thro' with pangs of hell.

          221  Lest she should fail and perish utterly,
          222    God, before whom ever lie bare
          223The abysmal deeps of Personality,
          224      Plagued her with sore despair.

          225  When she would think, where'er she turn'd her sight
          226    The airy hand confusion wrought,
          227Wrote, "Mene, mene," and divided quite
          228      The kingdom of her thought.

          229  Deep dread and loathing of her solitude
          230    Fell on her, from which mood was born
          231Scorn of herself; again, from out that mood
          232      Laughter at her self-scorn.

          233  "What! is not this my place of strength," she said,
          234    "My spacious mansion built for me,
          235Whereof the strong foundation-stones were laid
          236      Since my first memory?"

          237  But in dark corners of her palace stood
          238    Uncertain shapes; and unawares
          239On white-eyed phantasms weeping tears of blood,
          240      And horrible nightmares,

          241  And hollow shades enclosing hearts of flame,
          242    And, with dim fretted foreheads all,
          243On corpses three-months-old at noon she came,
          244      That stood against the wall.

          245  A spot of dull stagnation, without light
          246    Or power of movement, seem'd my soul,
          247'Mid onward-sloping motions infinite
          248      Making for one sure goal.

          249  A still salt pool, lock'd in with bars of sand,
          250    Left on the shore, that hears all night
          251The plunging seas draw backward from the land
          252      Their moon-led waters white.

          253  A star that with the choral starry dance
          254    Join'd not, but stood, and standing saw
          255The hollow orb of moving Circumstance
          256      Roll'd round by one fix'd law.

          257  Back on herself her serpent pride had curl'd.
          258    "No voice," she shriek'd in that lone hall,
          259"No voice breaks thro' the stillness of this world:
          260      One deep, deep silence all!"

          261  She, mouldering with the dull earth's mouldering sod,
          262    Inwrapt tenfold in slothful shame,
          263Lay there exiled from eternal God,
          264      Lost to her place and name;

          265  And death and life she hated equally,
          266    And nothing saw, for her despair,
          267But dreadful time, dreadful eternity,
          268      No comfort anywhere;

          269  Remaining utterly confused with fears,
          270    And ever worse with growing time,
          271And ever unrelieved by dismal tears,
          272      And all alone in crime:

          273  Shut up as in a crumbling tomb, girt round
          274    With blackness as a solid wall,
          275Far off she seem'd to hear the dully sound
          276      Of human footsteps fall.

          277  As in strange lands a traveller walking slow,
          278    In doubt and great perplexity,
          279A little before moon-rise hears the low
          280      Moan of an unknown sea;

          281  And knows not if it be thunder, or a sound
          282    Of rocks thrown down, or one deep cry
          283Of great wild beasts; then thinketh, "I have found
          284      A new land, but I die."

          285  She howl'd aloud, "I am on fire within.
          286    There comes no murmur of reply.
          287What is it that will take away my sin,
          288      And save me lest I die?"

          289  So when four years were wholly finished,
          290    She threw her royal robes away.
          291"Make me a cottage in the vale," she said,
          292      "Where I may mourn and pray.

          293  "Yet pull not down my palace towers, that are
          294    So lightly, beautifully built:
          295Perchance I may return with others there
          296      When I have purged my guilt."


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Alfred lord Tennyson, Works (London: Macmillan, 1891). tenn T366 A1 1891a Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
First publication date: 1832
RPO poem editor: J. D. Robins
RP edition: 2RP 2.364.
Recent editing: 2:2002/3/13

Rhyme: abab


Other poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson