Early Sonnets

A poem by Alfred Tennyson



As when with downcast eyes we muse and brood,
And ebb into a former life, or seem
To lapse far back in some confused dream
To states of mystical similitude,
If one but speaks or hems or stirs his chair,
Ever the wonder waxeth more and more,
So that we say, ‘All this hath been before,
All this hath been, I know not when or where;’
So, friend, when first I look’d upon your face,
Our thought gave answer each to each, so true–
Opposed mirrors each reflecting each–
That, tho’ I knew not in what time or place,
Methought that I had often met with you,
And either lived in either’s heart and speech.


To J.M.K.

My hope and heart is with thee–thou wilt be
A latter Luther, and a soldier-priest
To scare church-harpies from the master’s feast;
Our dusted velvets have much need of thee:
Thou art no Sabbath-drawler of old saws,
Distill’d from some worm-canker’d homily;
But spurr’d at heart with fieriest energy
To embattail and to wall about thy cause
With iron-worded proof, hating to hark
The humming of the drowsy pulpit-drone
Half God’s good Sabbath, while the worn-out clerk
Brow-beats his desk below. Thou from a throne
Mounted in heaven wilt shoot into the dark
Arrows of lightnings. I will stand and mark.


Mine be the strength of spirit, full and free,
Like some broad river rushing down alone,
With the selfsame impulse wherewith he was thrown
From his loud fount upon the echoing lea;–
Which with increasing might doth forward flee
By town, and tower, and hill, and cape, and isle,
And in the middle of the green salt sea
Keeps his blue waters fresh for many a mile.
Mine be the power which ever to its sway
Will win the wise at once, and by degrees
May into uncongenial spirits flow;
Even as the warm gulf-stream of Florida
Floats far away into the Northern seas
The lavish growths of southern Mexico.



Warrior of God, whose strong right arm debased
The throne of Persia, when her Satrap bled
At Issus by the Syrian gates, or fled
Beyond the Memmian naphtha-pits, disgraced
For ever–thee (thy pathway sand-erased)
Gliding with equal crowns two serpents led
Joyful to that palm-planted fountain-fed
Ammonian Oasis in the waste.
There in a silent shade of laurel brown
Apart the Chamian Oracle divine
Shelter’d his unapproached mysteries:
High things were spoken there, unhanded down;
Only they saw thee from the secret shrine
Returning with hot cheek and kindled eyes.



He thought to quell the stubborn hearts of oak,
Madman!–to chain with chains, and bind with bands
That island queen who sways the floods and lands
From Ind to Ind, but in fair daylight woke,
When from her wooden walls,–lit by sure hands,–
With thunders, and with lightnings, and with smoke,–
Peal after peal, the British battle broke,
Lulling the brine against the Coptic sands.
We taught him lowlier moods, when Elsinore
Heard the war moan along the distant sea,
Rocking with shatter’d spars, with sudden fires
Flamed over; at Trafalgar yet once more
We taught him; late he learned humility
Perforce, like those whom Gideon school’d with briers.



How long, O God, shall men be ridden down,
And trampled under by the last and least
Of men? The heart of Poland hath not ceased
To quiver, tho’ her sacred blood doth drown
The fields, and out of every smouldering town
Cries to Thee, lest brute Power be increased,
Till that o’ergrown Barbarian in the East
Transgress his ample bound to some new crown,–
Cries to Thee, ‘Lord, how long shall these things be?
How long this icy-hearted Muscovite
Oppress the region?’ Us, O Just and Good,
Forgive, who smiled when she was torn in three;
Us, who stand now, when we should aid the right–
A matter to be wept with tears of blood!


Caress’d or chidden by the slender hand,
And singing airy trifles this or that,
Light Hope at Beauty’s call would perch and stand,
And run thro’ every change of sharp and flat;
And Fancy came and at her pillow sat,
When Sleep had bound her in his rosy band,
And chased away the still-recurring gnat,
And woke her with a lay from fairy land.
But now they live with Beauty less and less,
For Hope is other Hope and wanders far,
Nor cares to lisp in love’s delicious creeds;
And Fancy watches in the wilderness,
Poor Fancy sadder than a single star,
That sets at twilight in a land of reeds.


The form, the form alone is eloquent!
A nobler yearning never broke her rest
Than but to dance and sing, be gaily drest,
And win all eyes with all accomplishment;
Yet in the whirling dances as we went,
My fancy made me for a moment blest
To find my heart so near the beauteous breast
That once had power to rob it of content.
A moment came the tenderness of tears,
The phantom of a wish that once could move,
A ghost of passion that no smiles restore–
For ah! the slight coquette, she cannot love,
And if you kiss’d her feet a thousand years,
She still would take the praise, and care no more.


Wan Sculptor, weepest thou to take the cast
Of those dead lineaments that near thee lie?
O, sorrowest thou, pale Painter, for the past,
In painting some dead friend from memory?
Weep on; beyond his object Love can last.
His object lives; more cause to weep have I:
My tears, no tears of love, are flowing fast,
No tears of love, but tears that Love can die.
I pledge her not in any cheerful cup,
Nor care to sit beside her where she sits–
Ah! pity–hint it not in human tones,
But breathe it into earth and close it up
With secret death for ever, in the pits
Which some green Christmas crams with weary bones.


If I were loved, as I desire to be,
What is there in the great sphere of the earth,
And range of evil between death and birth,
That I should fear,–if I were loved by thee?
All the inner, all the outer world of pain
Clear Love would pierce and cleave, if thou wert mine,
As I have heard that, somewhere in the main,
Fresh-water springs come up through bitter brine.
’Twere joy, not fear, claspt hand-in-hand with thee,
To wait for death–mute–careless of all ills,
Apart upon a mountain, tho’ the surge
Of some new deluge from a thousand hills
Flung leagues of roaring foam into the gorge
Below us, as far on as eye could see.



O bridesmaid, ere the happy knot was tied,
Thine eyes so wept that they could hardly see;
Thy sister smiled and said, ‘No tears for me!
A happy bridesmaid makes a happy bride.’
And then, the couple standing side by side,
Love lighted down between them full of glee,
And over his left shoulder laugh’d at thee,
‘O happy bridesmaid, make a happy bride.’
And all at once a pleasant truth I learn’d,
For while the tender service made thee weep,
I loved thee for the tear thou couldst not hide,
And prest thy hand, and knew the press return’d,
And thought, ‘My life is sick of single sleep:
O happy bridesmaid, make a happy bride!’

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