Verse > Anthologies > Harvard Classics > English Poetry III: From Tennyson to Whitman
   English Poetry III: From Tennyson to Whitman.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
649. Maud
Part II
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)

MY life has crept so long on a broken wing

“THE FAULT was mine, the fault was mine”—
Why am I sitting here so stunn’d and still,
Plucking the harmless wild-flower on the hill?—
It is this guilty hand!—
And there rises ever a passionate cry        5
From underneath in the darkening land—
What is it, that has been done?
O dawn of Eden bright over earth and sky,
The fires of Hell brake out of thy rising sun,
The fires of Hell and of Hate;        10
For she, sweet soul, had hardly spoken a word,
When her brother ran in his rage to the gate;
He came with the babe-faced lord;
Heap’d on her terms of disgrace,
And while she wept, and I strove to be cool,        15
He fiercely gave me the lie,
Till I with as fierce an anger spoke,
And he struck me, madman, over the face,
Struck me before the languid fool,
Who was gaping and grinning by:        20
Struck for himself an evil stroke;
Wrought for his house an irredeemable woe
For front to front in an hour we stood,
And a million horrible bellowing echoes broke
From the red-ribb’d hollow behind the wood,        25
And thunder’d up into Heaven the Christless code,
That must have life for a blow.
Ever and ever afresh they seem’d to grow.
Was it he lay there with a fading eye?
“The fault was mine,” he whisper’d, “fly!”        30
Then glided out of the joyous wood
The ghastly Wraith of one that I know;
And there rang on a sudden a passionate cry,
A cry for a brother’s blood:
It will ring in my heart and my ears, till I die, till I die.        35

Is it gone? my pulses beat—
What was it? a lying trick of the brain?
Yet I thought I saw her stand,
A shadow there at my feet,
High over the shadowy land.        40
It is gone; and the heavens fall in a gentle rain,
When they should burst and drown with deluging storms
The feeble vassals of wine and anger and lust,
The little hearts that know not how to forgive:
Arise, my God, and strike, for we hold Thee just,        45
Strike dead the whole weak race of venomous worms,
That sting each other here in the dust;
We are not worthy to live.

SEE what a lovely shell,
Small and pure as a pearl,        50
Lying close to my foot,
Frail, but a work divine,
Made so fairily well
With delicate spire and whorl,
How exquisitely minute,        55
A miracle of design!

What is it? a learned man
Could give it a clumsy name.
Let him name it who can,
The beauty would be the same.        60

The tiny cell is forlorn,
Void of the little living will
That made it stir on the shore.
Did he stand at the diamond door
Of his house in a rainbow frill?        65
Did he push, when he was uncurl’d,
A golden foot or a fairy horn
Thro’ his dim water-world?

Slight, to be crush’d with a tap
Of my finger-nail on the sand,        70
Small, but a work divine,
Frail, but of force to withstand,
Year upon year, the shock
Of cataract seas that snap
The three-decker’s oaken spine        75
Athwart the ledges of rock,
Here on the Breton strand!

Breton, not Briton; here
Like a shipwreck’d man on a coast
Of ancient fable and fear—        80
Plagued with a flitting to and fro,
A disease, a hard mechanic ghost
That never came from on high
Nor ever arose from below,
But only moves with the moving eye,        85
Flying along the land and the main—
Why should it look like Maud?
Am I to be overawed
By what I cannot but know
Is a juggle born of the brain?        90

Back from the Breton coast,
Sick of a nameless fear,
Back to the dark sea-line
Looking, thinking of all I have lost;
An old song vexes my ear;        95
But that of Lamech is mine.

For years, a measureless ill,
For years, for ever, to part—
But she, she would love me still;
And as long, O God, as she        100
Have a grain of love for me,
So long, no doubt, no doubt,
Shall I nurse in my dark heart,
However weary, a spark of will
Not to be trampled out.        105

Strange, that the mind, when fraught
With a passion so intense
One would think that it well
Might drown all life in the eye,—
That it should, by being so over-wrought,        110
Suddenly strike on a sharper sense
For a shell, or a flower, little things
Which else would have been past by!
And now I remember, I,
When he lay dying there,        115
I noticed one of his many rings
(For he had many, poor worm) and thought
It is his mother’s hair.

Who knows if he be dead?
Whether I need have fled?        120
Am I guilty of blood?
However this may be,
Comfort her, comfort her, all things good,
While I am over the sea!
Let me and my passionate love go by,        125
But speak to her all things holy and high,
Whatever happens to me!
Me and my harmful love go by;
But come to her waking, find her asleep,
Powers of the height, Powers of the deep,        130
And comfort her tho’ I die.

COURAGE, poor heart of stone!
I will not ask thee why
Thou canst not understand
That thou art left for ever alone:        135
Courage, poor stupid heart of stone.—
Or if I ask thee why,
Care not thou to reply:
She is but dead, and the time is at hand
When thou shalt more than die.        140

O THAT ’twere possible
After long grief and pain
To find the arms of my true love
Round me once again!

When I was wont to meet her
In the silent woody places
By the home that gave me birth,
We stood tranced in long embraces
Mixt with kisses sweeter sweeter
Than anything on earth.        150

A shadow flits before me,
Not thou, but like to thee;
Ah Christ, that it were possible
For one short hour to see
The souls we loved, that they might tell us        155
What and where they be.

It leads me forth at evening,
It lightly winds and steals
In a cold white robe before me,
When all my spirit reels        160
At the shouts, the leagues of lights,
And the roaring of the wheels.

Half the night I waste in sighs,
Half in dreams I sorrow after
The delight of early skies;        165
In a wakeful doze I sorrow
For the hand, the lips, the eyes,
For the meeting of the morrow
The delight of happy laughter,
The delight of low replies.        170

’Tis a morning pure and sweet
And a dewy splendour falls
On the little flower that clings
To the turrets and the walls;
’Tis a morning pure and sweet,        175
And the light and shadow fleet;
She is walking in the meadow,
And the woodland echo rings;
In a moment we shall meet;
She is singing in the meadow,        180
And the rivulet at her feet
Ripples on in light and shadow
To the ballad that she sings.

Do I hear her sing as of old,
My bird with the shining head,        185
My own dove with the tender eye?
But there rings on a sudden a passionate cry,
There is some one dying or dead,
And a sullen thunder is roll’d;
For a tumult shakes the city,        190
And I wake, my dream is fled;
In the shuddering dawn, behold,
Without knowledge, without pity,
By the curtains of my bed
That abiding phantom cold.        195

Get thee hence, nor come again,
Mix not memory with doubt,
Pass, thou deathlike type of pain,
Pass and cease to move about,
’Tis the blot upon the brain        200
That will show itself without.

Then I rise, the eavedrops fall,
And the yellow vapours choke
The great city sounding wide;
The day comes, a dull red ball        205
Wrapt in drifts of lurid smoke
On the misty river-tide.

Thro’ the hubbub of the market
I steal, a wasted frame,
It crosses here, it crosses there,        210
Thro’ all that crowd confused and loud
The shadow still the same;
And on my heavy eyelids
My anguish hangs like shame.

Alas for her that met me,
That heard me softly call,
Came glimmering thro’s the laurels
At the quiet evenfall,
In the garden by the turrets
Of the old manorial hall.        220

Would the happy spirit descend,
From the realms of light and song,
In the chamber or the street,
As she looks among the blest,
Should I fear to greet my friend        225
Or to say “Forgive the wrong,”
Or to ask her, “Take me, sweet,
To the regions of thy rest”?

But the broad light glares and beats,
And the shadow flits and fleets        230
And will not let me be;
And I loathe the squares and streets,
And the faces that one meets,
Hearts with no love for me:
Always I long to creep        235
Into some still cavern deep,
There to weep, and weep, and weep
My whole soul out to thee.

DEAD, long dead,
Long dead!        240
And my heart is a handful of dust,
And the wheels go over my head,
And my bones are shaken with pain,
For into a shallow grave they are thrust,
Only a yard beneath the street,        245
And the hoofs of the horses beat, beat,
The hoofs of the horses beat,
Beat into my scalp and my brain,
With never an end to the stream of passing feet,
Driving, hurrying, marrying, burying,        250
Clamor and rumble, and ringing and clatter,
And here beneath it is all as bad
For I thought the dead had peace, but it is not so;
To have no peace in the grave, is that not sad?
But up and down and to and fro,        255
Ever about me the dead men go;
And then to hear a dead man chatter
Is enough to drive one mad.

Wretchedest age, since Time began,
They cannot even bury a man;        260
And tho’ we paid our tithes in the days that are gone,
Not a bell was rung, not a prayer was read;
It is that which makes us loud in the world of the dead;
There is none that does his work, not one;
A touch of their office might have sufficed,        265
But the churchmen fain would kill their church,
As the churches have kill’d their Christ.

See, there is one of us sobbing,
No limit to his distress;
And another, a lord of all things, praying        270
To his own great self, as I guess;
And another, a statesman there, betraying
His party-secret, fool, to the press;
And yonder a vile physician, blabbing
The case of his patient—all for what?        275
To tickle the maggot born in an empty head,
And wheedle a world that loves him not,
For it is but a world of the dead.

Nothing but idiot gabble!
For the prophecy given of old        280
And then not understood,
Has come to pass as foretold;
Not let any man think for the public good,
But babble, merely for babble.
For I never whisper’d a private affair        285
Within the hearing of cat or mouse,
No, not to myself in the closet alone,
But I heard it shouted at once from the top of the house;
Everything came to be known:
Who told him we were there?        290

Not that gray old wolf, for he came not back
From the wilderness, full of wolves, where he used to lie;
He has gather’d the bones for his o’ergrown whelp to crack;
Crack them now for yourself, and howl, and die.

Prophet, curse me the blabbing lip,
And curse me the British vermin, the rat;
I know not whether he came in the Hanover ship,
But I knows that he lies and listens mute
In an ancient mansion’s crannies and holes:
Arsenic, arsenic, sure, would do it,        300
Except that now we poison our babes, poor souls!
It is all used up for that.

Tell him now; she is standing here at my head;
Not beautiful now, not even kind;
He may take her now; for she never speaks her mind,        305
But is ever the one thing silent here.
She is not of us, as I divine;
She comes from another stiller world of the dead,
Stiller, not fairer than mine.

But I know where a garden grows,
Fairer than aught in the world beside,
All made up of the lily and rose
That blow by night, when the season is good,
To the sound of dancing music and flutes:
It is only flowers, they had no fruits,        315
And I almost fear they are not roses, but blood;
For the keeper was one, so full of pride,
He linkt a dead man there to a spectral bride;
For he, if he had not been a Sultan of brutes,
Would he have had that hole in his side?        320

But what will the old man say?
He laid a cruel snare in a pit
To catch a friend of mine one stormy day;
Yet now I could even weep to think of it;
For what will the old man say        325
When he comes to the second corpse in the pit?

Friend, to be struck by the public foe,
Then to strike him and lay him low,
That were a public merit, far,
Whatever the Quaker holds, from sin;        330
But the red life spilt for a private blow—
I swear to you, lawful and lawless war
Are scarcely even akin.

O me, why have they not buried me deep enough?
Is it kind to have made me a grave so rough,        335
Me, that was never a quiet sleeper?
Maybe still I am but half-dead;
Then I cannot be wholly dumb:
I will cry to the steps above my head,
And somebody, surely, some kind heart will come        340
To bury me, bury me
Deeper, ever so little deeper.
Thro’ cells of madness, haunts of horror and fear,
That I come to be grateful at last for a little thing:        345
My mood is changed, for it fell at a time of year
When the face of night is fair on the dewy downs,
And the shining daffodil dies, and the Charioteer
And starry Gemini hang like glorious crowns
Over Orion’s grave low down in the west,        350
That like a silent lightning under the stars
She seem’d to divide in a dream from a band of the blest,
And spoke of a hope for the world in the coming wars—
“And in that hope, dear soul, let trouble have rest,
Knowing I tarry for thee,” and pointed to Mars,        355
As he glow’d like a ruddy shield on the Lion’s breast.

And it was but a dream, yet it yielded a dear delight
To have look’d, tho’ but in a dream, upon eyes so fair,
That had been in a weary world my one thing bright;
And it was but a dream, yet it lighten’d my despair        360
When I thought that a war would arise in defence of the right,
That an iron tyranny now should bend or cease,
The glory of manhood stand on his ancient height,
Nor Britain’s one sole God be the millionaire:
No more shall commerce be all in all, and Peace        365
Pipe on her pastoral hillock a languid note,
And watch her harvest ripen, her herd increase,
Nor the cannon-bullet rust on a slothful shore,
And the cobweb woven across the cannon’s throat
Shall shake its threaded tears in the wind no more.        370

And as months ran on and rumour of battle grew,
“It is time, it is time, O passionate heart,” said I
(For I cleaved to a cause that I felt to be pure and true),
“It is time, O passionate heart and morbid eye,
That old hysterical mock-disease should die.”        375
And I stood on a giant deck and mix’d my breath
With a loyal people shouting a battle-cry,
Till I saw the dreary phantom arise and fly
Far into the North, and battle, and seas of death.

Let it go or stay, so I wake to the higher aims
Of a land that has lost for a little her lust of gold,
And love of a peace that was full of wrongs and shames,
Horrible, hateful, monstrous, not to be told;
And hail once more to the banner of battle unroll’d!
Tho’ many a light shall darken, and many shall weep        385
For those that are crush’d in the clash of jarring claims,
Yet God’s just wrath shall be wreak’d on a giant liar;
And many a darkness into the light shall leap,
And shine in the sudden making of splendid names,
And noble thought be freer under the sun,        390
And the heart of a people beat with one desire;
For the peace, that I deem’d no peace, is over and done,
And now by the side of the Black and the Baltic deep,
And deathful-grinning mouths of the fortress, flames
The blood-red blossom of war with a heart of fire.        395

Let it flame or fade, and the war roll down like a wind,
We have proved we have hearts in a cause, we are noble still
And myself have awaked, as it seems, to the better mind
It is better to fight for the good, than to rail at the ill;
I have felt with my native land, I am one with my kind,        400
I embrace the purpose of God, and the doom assign’d.


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