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:
RPO poem editor: J. D. Robins
RP edition: 2RP 2.364.
Recent editing: 2:2002/3/13
Other poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson