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Short poem

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)


              1The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
              2The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
              3Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
              4And after many a summer dies the swan.
              5Me only cruel immortality
              6Consumes; I wither slowly in thine arms,
              7Here at the quiet limit of the world,
              8A white-hair'd shadow roaming like a dream
              9The ever-silent spaces of the East,
            10Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn.

            11      Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man--
            12So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,
            13Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem'd
            14To his great heart none other than a God!
            15I ask'd thee, "Give me immortality."
            16Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile,
            17Like wealthy men who care not how they give.
            18But thy strong Hours indignant work'd their wills,
            19And beat me down and marr'd and wasted me,
            20And tho' they could not end me, left me maim'd
            21To dwell in presence of immortal youth,
            22Immortal age beside immortal youth,
            23And all I was, in ashes. Can thy love,
            24Thy beauty, make amends, tho' even now,
            25Close over us, the silver star, thy guide,
            26Shines in those tremulous eyes that fill with tears
            27To hear me? Let me go: take back thy gift:
            28Why should a man desire in any way
            29To vary from the kindly race of men,
            30Or pass beyond the goal of ordinance
            31Where all should pause, as is most meet for all?

            32      A soft air fans the cloud apart; there comes
            33A glimpse of that dark world where I was born.
            34Once more the old mysterious glimmer steals
            35From any pure brows, and from thy shoulders pure,
            36And bosom beating with a heart renew'd.
            37Thy cheek begins to redden thro' the gloom,
            38Thy sweet eyes brighten slowly close to mine,
            39Ere yet they blind the stars, and the wild team
            40Which love thee, yearning for thy yoke, arise,
            41And shake the darkness from their loosen'd manes,
            42And beat the twilight into flakes of fire.

            43      Lo! ever thus thou growest beautiful
            44In silence, then before thine answer given
            45Departest, and thy tears are on my cheek.

            46      Why wilt thou ever scare me with thy tears,
            47And make me tremble lest a saying learnt,
            48In days far-off, on that dark earth, be true?
            49"The Gods themselves cannot recall their gifts."

            50      Ay me! ay me! with what another heart
            51In days far-off, and with what other eyes
            52I used to watch--if I be he that watch'd--
            53The lucid outline forming round thee; saw
            54The dim curls kindle into sunny rings;
            55Changed with thy mystic change, and felt my blood
            56Glow with the glow that slowly crimson'd all
            57Thy presence and thy portals, while I lay,
            58Mouth, forehead, eyelids, growing dewy-warm
            59With kisses balmier than half-opening buds
            60Of April, and could hear the lips that kiss'd
            61Whispering I knew not what of wild and sweet,
            62Like that strange song I heard Apollo sing,
            63While Ilion like a mist rose into towers.

            64      Yet hold me not for ever in thine East;
            65How can my nature longer mix with thine?
            66Coldly thy rosy shadows bathe me, cold
            67Are all thy lights, and cold my wrinkled feet
            68Upon thy glimmering thresholds, when the steam
            69Floats up from those dim fields about the homes
            70Of happy men that have the power to die,
            71And grassy barrows of the happier dead.
            72Release me, and restore me to the ground;
            73Thou se{:e}st all things, thou wilt see my grave:
            74Thou wilt renew thy beauty morn by morn;
            75I earth in earth forget these empty courts,
            76And thee returning on thy silver wheels.


1] Begun at the same time as Ulysses, the finishing touches were added in November 1859, and it was first published in the Cornhill Magazine in February 1860. The poem, a complement to Ulysses, was translated into Greek hexameters by Professor Jebb. The inspiration for the poem is said to have arisen from the grief of Tennyson's sister Emily, Hallam's fiancée. She said, "None of the Tennysons ever die." The poem is based on a Greek myth of Tithonus, a beautiful youth, son or brother of Laomedon, beloved of Eos, the Dawn, whom the Romans called Aurora. At her request, the gods granted him immortality, but as he had failed to ask for eternal youth, he ever grew older.

18] Hours: the Hours, goddesses who accompany Aurora, angry because their normal course has been altered by the gift of immortality to Tithonus.

30] goal of ordinance: the limit ordained.

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: Cornhill Magazine (Feb. 1860). Alfred lord Tennyson, Works (London: Macmillan, 1891). tenn T366 A1 1891a Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
First publication date: 1860
RPO poem editor: H. M. McLuhan
RP edition: 3RP 3.47.
Recent editing: 2:2002/1/17

Composition date: 1835
Composition date note: or earlier
Rhyme: unrhyming

Other poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson