The Dead Prophet

A poem by Alfred Tennyson


And the Muses cried with a stormy cry
‘Send them no more, for evermore.
Let the people die.’


‘Is it he then brought so low?’
And a careless people flock’d from the fields
With a purse to pay for the show.


Dead, who had served his time,
Was one of the people’s kings,
Had labour’d in lifting them out of slime,
And showing them, souls have wings!


Dumb on the winter heath he lay.
His friends had stript him bare,
And roll’d his nakedness everyway
That all the crowd might stare.


A storm-worn signpost not to be read,
And a tree with a moulder’d nest
On its barkless bones, stood stark by the dead;
And behind him, low in the West,


With shifting ladders of shadow and light,
And blurr’d in colour and form,
The sun hung over the gates of Night,
And glared at a coming storm.


Then glided a vulturous Beldam forth,
That on dumb death had thriven;
They call’d her ‘Reverence’ here upon earth,
And ‘The Curse of the Prophet’ in Heaven.


She knelt–‘We worship him’–all but wept–
‘So great so noble was he!’
She clear’d her sight, she arose, she swept
The dust of earth from her knee.


‘Great! for he spoke and the people heard,
And his eloquence caught like a flame
From zone to zone of the world, till his Word
Had won him a noble name.


Noble! he sung, and the sweet sound ran
Thro’ palace and cottage door,
For he touch’d on the whole sad planet of man,
The kings and the rich and the poor;


And he sung not alone of an old sun set,
But a sun coming up in his youth!
Great and noble–O yes–but yet–
For man is a lover of Truth,


And bound to follow, wherever she go
Stark-naked, and up or down,
Thro’ her high hill-passes of stainless snow,
Or the foulest sewer of the town–


Noble and great–O ay–but then,
Tho’ a prophet should have his due,
Was he noblier-fashion’d than other men?
Shall we see to it, I and you?


For since he would sit on a Prophet’s seat,
As a lord of the Human soul,
We needs must scan him from head to feet
Were it but for a wart or a mole?’


His wife and his child stood by him in tears,
But she–she push’d them aside.
‘Tho’ a name may last for a thousand years,
Yet a truth is a truth,’ she cried.


And she that had haunted his pathway still,
Had often truckled and cower’d
When he rose in his wrath, and had yielded her will
To the master, as overpower’d,


She tumbled his helpless corpse about.
‘Small blemish upon the skin!
But I think we know what is fair without
Is often as foul within.’


She crouch’d, she tore him part from part,
And out of his body she drew
The red ‘Blood-eagle’ of liver and heart;
She held them up to the view;


She gabbled, as she groped in the dead,
And all the people were pleased;
‘See, what a little heart,’ she said,
‘And the liver is half-diseased!’


She tore the Prophet after death,
And the people paid her well.
Lightnings flicker’d along the heath;
One shriek’d ‘The fires of Hell!’

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