Home  »  The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse  »  98. From ‘The Ancient Sage’

Nicholson & Lee, eds. The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. 1917.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)

98. From ‘The Ancient Sage’

IF thou would’st hear the Nameless, and wilt dive

Into the Temple-cave of thine own self,

There, brooding by the central altar, thou

May’st haply learn the Nameless hath a voice,

By which thou wilt abide, if thou be wise,

As if thou knewest, tho’ thou canst not know;

For Knowledge is the swallow on the lake

That sees and stirs the surface-shadow there

But never yet hath dipt into the abysm,

The Abysm of all Abysms, beneath, within

The blue of sky and sea, the green of earth,

And in the million-millionth of a grain

Which cleft and cleft again for evermore,

And ever vanishing, never vanishes,

To me, my son, more mystic than myself,

Or even than the Nameless is to me.

And when thou sendest thy free soul thro’ heaven,

Nor understandest bound nor boundlessness,

Thou seest the Nameless of the hundred names.

And if the Nameless should withdraw from all

Thy frailty counts most real, all thy world

Might vanish like thy shadow in the dark.

‘And since—from when this earth began—

The Nameless never came

Among us, never spake with man,

And never named the Name’—

Thou canst not prove the Nameless, O my son,

Nor canst thou prove the world thou movest in,

Thou canst not prove that thou art body alone,

Nor canst thou prove that thou art spirit alone,

Nor canst thou prove that thou art both in one:

Thou canst not prove thou art immortal, no

Nor yet that thou art mortal—nay my son,

Thou canst not prove that I, who speak with thee,

Am not thyself in converse with thyself,

For nothing worthy proving can be proven,

Nor yet disproven: wherefore thou be wise,

Cleave ever to the sunnier side of doubt,

And cling to Faith beyond the forms of Faith

She reels not in the storm of warring words,

She brightens at the clash of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’,

She sees the Best that glimmers thro’ the Worst,

She feels the Sun is hid but for a night,

She spies the summer thro’ the winter bud,

She tastes the fruit before the blossom falls,

She hears the lark within the songless egg,

She finds the fountain where they wail’d ‘Mirage’!