The Epic

A poem by Alfred Tennyson

At Francis Allen’s on the Christmas-eve,—
The game of forfeits done—the girls all kiss’d
Beneath the sacred bush and past away—
The parson Holmes, the poet Everard Hall,
The host, and I sat round the wassail-bowl,
Then half-way ebb’d: and there we held a talk,
How all the old honour had from Christmas gone,
Or gone, or dwindled down to some odd games
In some odd nooks like this; till I, tired out
With cutting eights that day upon the pond,
Where, three times slipping from the outer edge,
I bump’d the ice into three several stars,
Fell in a doze; and half-awake I heard
The parson taking wide and wider sweeps,
Now harping on the church-commissionners,
Now hawking at Geology and schism;
Until I woke, and found him settled down
Upon the general decay of faith
Right thro’ the world, ‘at home was little left,
And none abroad: there was no anchor none,
To hold by.’ Francis, laughing, clapt his hand
On Everard’s shoulder, with ‘I hold by him.’
‘And I,’ quoth Everard, ‘by the wassail-bowl.’
‘Why yes,’ I said, ‘we knew your gift that way
At college: but another which you had,
I mean of verse (for so we held it then),
What came of that ?’ ‘You know,’ said Frank, ‘he burnt
His epic, his King Arthur, some twelve books’—
And then to me demanding why? ‘Oh, sir,
He thought that nothing new was said, or else
Something so said ’twas nothing—that a truth
Looks freshest in the fashion of the clay
God knows: he has a mint of reasons: ask.
It pleased me well enough.’ ‘Nay, nay,’ said Hall,
‘Why take the style of those heroic times?
For nature brings not back the Mastodon,
Nor we those times; and why should any man
Remodel models? these twelve books of mine
Were faint Homeric echoes, nothing-worth.
Mere chaff and draft, much better burnt.’ ‘But I,’
Said Francis, ‘pick’d the eleventh from this hearth
And have it: keep a thing, its use will come.
I hoard it as a sugar-plum for Holmes.’
He laugh’d, and I, tho’ sleepy, like a horse
That hears the corn-bin open, prick’d my ears;
For I remember’d Everard’s college fame
When we were Freshmen: then at my request
He brought it ; and the poet little urged,
But with some prelude of disparagement,
Read, mouthing out his hollow oes and aes,
Deep-chested music, and to this result.

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