The Golden Year

A poem by Alfred Tennyson

Well, you shall have that song which Leonard wrote:
It was last summer on a tour in Wales:
Old James was with me: we that day had been
Up Snowdon; and I wish’d for Leonard there,
And found him in Llanberis: then we crost
Between the lakes, and clamber’d half way up
The counter side; and that same song of his
He told me; for I banter’d him, and swore
They said he lived shut up within himself,
A tongue-tied Poet in the feverous days,
That, setting the how much before the how,
Cry, like the daughters of the horseleech, ‘Give,
Cram us with all,’ but count not me the herd!

To which ‘They call me what they will,’ he said:
‘But I was born too late: the fair new forms,
That float about the threshold of an age,
Like truths of Science waiting to be caught–
Catch me who can, and make the catcher crown’d–
Are taken by the forelock. Let it be.
But if you care indeed to listen, hear
These measured words, my work of yestermorn.

‘We sleep and wake and sleep, but all things move;
The Sun flies forward to his brother Sun;
The dark Earth follows wheel’d in her ellipse;
And human things returning on themselves
Move onward, leading up the golden year.
‘Ah, tho’ the times, when some new thought can bud,
Are but as poets’ seasons when they flower,
Yet oceans daily gaining on the land,
Have ebb and flow conditioning their march,
And slow and sure comes up the golden year.
‘When wealth no more shall rest in mounded heaps,
But smit with freër light shall slowly melt
In many streams to fatten lower lands,
And light shall spread, and man he liker man
Thro’ all the season of the golden year.
‘Shall eagles not be eagles? wrens be wrens?
If all the world were falcons, what of that?
The wonder of the eagle were the less,
But he not less the eagle. Happy days
Roll onward, leading up the golden year.
‘Fly, happy happy sails, and bear the Press;
Fly happy with the mission of the Cross;
Knit land to land, and blowing havenward
With silks, and fruits, and spices, clear of toll,
Enrich the markets of the golden year.
‘But we grow old. Ah! when shall all men’s good
Be each man’s rule, and universal Peace
Lie like a shaft of light across the land,
And like a lane of beams athwart the sea,
Thro’ all the circle of the golden year?’

Thus far he fiow’d, and ended; whereupon
‘Ah, folly!’ in mimic cadence answer’d James–
‘Ah, folly! for it lies so far away,
Not in our time, nor in our children’s time,
’Tis like the second world to us that live;
’Twere all as one to fix our hopes on Heaven
As on this vision of the golden year.

With that he struck his staff against the rocks
And broke it,–James,–you know him,–old, but full
Of force and choler, and firm upon his feet,
And like an oaken stock in winter woods,
O’erflourish’d with the hoary clematis:
Then added, all in heat:

‘What stuff is this!

Old writers push’d the happy season back,–
The more fools they,–we forward: dreamers both:
You most, that in an age, when every hour
Must sweat her sixty minutes to the death,
Live on, God love us, as if the seedsman, rapt
Upon the teeming harvest, should not plunge
His hand into the bag: but well I know
That unto him who works, and feels he works,
This same grand year is ever at the doors.’

He spoke; and, high above, I heard them blast
The steep slate-quarry, and the great echo flap
And buffet round the hills, from bluff to bluff.

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