The ‘How’ And The ‘Why’

A poem by Alfred Tennyson


I am any man’s suitor,
If any will be my tutor:
Some say this life is pleasant,
Some think it speedeth fast,
In time there is no present,
In eternity no future,
In eternity no past.
We laugh, we cry, we are born, we die,
Who will riddle me the how and the why?

The bulrush nods unto its brother,
The wheatears whisper to each other:
What is it they say? what do they there?
Why two and two make four? why round is not square?
Why the rock stands still, and the light clouds fly?
Why the heavy oak groans, and the white willows sigh?
Why deep is not high, and high is not deep?
Whether we wake, or whether we sleep?
Whether we sleep, or whether we die?
How you are you? why I am I?
Who will riddle me the how and the why?

The world is somewhat; it goes on somehow:
But what is the meaning of then and now?
I feel there is something; but how and what?
I know there is somewhat: but what and why?
I cannot tell if that somewhat be I.
The little bird pipeth–‘why? why?’
In the summer woods when the sun falls low,
And the great bird sits on the opposite bough,
And stares in his face, and shouts ‘how? how?’
And the black owl sends down the mellow twilight,
And chants ‘how? how?’ the whole of the night.

Why the life goes when the blood is spilt?
What the life is? where the soul may lie?
Why a church is with a steeple built:
And a house with a chimney-pot?
Who will riddle me the how and the what?
Who will riddle me the what and the why?

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