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Henry Charles Beeching, ed. (1859–1919). Lyra Sacra: A Book of Religious Verse. 1903.

By Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)


MY own dim life should teach me this,
  That life shall live for evermore,
  Else earth is darkness at the core,
And dust and ashes all that is;
This round of green, this orb of flame,        5
  Fantastic beauty; such as lurks
  In some wild Poet, when he works
Without a conscience or an aim.
What then were God to such as I?
  ’Twere hardly worth my while to choose        10
  Of things all mortal, or to use
A little patience ere I die;
’Twere best at once to sink to peace
  Like birds the charming serpent draws,
  To drop head-foremost in the jaws        15
Of vacant darkness and to cease.
Yet if some voice that man could trust
  Should murmur from the narrow house,
  “The cheeks drop in; the body bows;
Man dies: nor is there hope in dust:”        20
Might I not say? “Yet even here,
  But for one hour, O Love, I strive
  To keep so sweet a thing alive:”
But I shall turn mine ears and hear
The moanings of the homeless sea,        25
  The sound of streams that swift or slow
  Draw down Æonian hills, and sow
The dust of continents to be;
And Love would answer with a sigh,
  “The sound of that forgetful shore        30
  Will change my sweetness more and more,
Half-dead to know that I shall die.”
O me, what profits it to put
  An idle case? If Death were seen
  At first as Death, Love had not been        35
Or been in narrowest working shut,
Mere fellowship of sluggish moods,
  Or in his coarsest Satyr-shape
  Had bruised the herb and crush’d the grape,
And bask’d and batten’d in the woods.        40
Oh yet we trust that somehow good
  Will be the final goal of ill
  To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;
That nothing walks with aimless feet;        45
  That not one life shall be destroyed,
  Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;
That not a worm is cloven in vain;
  That not a moth with vain desire        50
  Is shrivell’d in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another’s gain.
Behold, we know not anything;
  I can but trust that good shall fall
  At last—far off—at last, to all,        55
And every winter change to spring.
So runs my dream: but what am I?
  An infant crying in the night:
  An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.        60
The wish that of the living whole
  No life may fail beyond the grave,
  Derives it not from what we have
The likest God within the soul?
Are God and Nature then at strife,        65
  That Nature lends such evil dreams?
  So careful of the type she seems
So careless of the single life;
That I, considering everywhere
  Her secret meaning in her deeds,        70
  And finding that of fifty seeds
She often brings but one to bear,
I falter where I firmly trod,
  And falling with my weight of cares
  Upon the great world’s altar-stairs        75
That slope thro’ darkness up to God,
I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
  And gather dust and chaff, and call
  To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.        80
“So careful of the type”? but no
  From scarped cliff and quarried stone
  She cries, “A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go.
“Thou makest thine appeal to me:        85
  I bring to life, I bring to death:
  The spirit does but mean the breath:
I know no more.” And he, shall he,
Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,
  Such splendid purpose in his eyes,        90
  Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,
Who trusted God was love indeed
  And love Creation’s final law—
  Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw        95
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed—
Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills,
  Who battled for the True, the Just,
  Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal’d within the iron hills?        100
No more? A monster then, a dream,
  A discord. Dragons of the prime,
  That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music match’d with him.
O life as futile, then, as frail!        105
  O for thy voice to soothe and bless!
  What hope of answer, or redress?
Behind the veil, behind the veil.
That which we dare invoke to bless;
  Our dearest faith; our ghastliest doubt;        110
  He, They, One, All; within, without;
The Power in darkness, whom we guess;
I found Him not in world or sun,
  Or eagle’s wing, or insect’s eye;
  Nor thro’ the questions men may try,        115
The petty cobwebs we have spun:
If e’er when faith had fall’n asleep,
  I heard a voice, “believe no more,”
  And heard an ever-breaking shore
That tumbled in the godless deep;        120
A warmth within the breast would melt,
  The freezing reason’s colder part,
  And like a man in wrath the heart
Stood up and answer’d “I have felt.”
No, like a child in doubt and fear:        125
  But that blind clamour made me wise;
  Then was I as a child that cries,
But, crying, knows his father near;
And what I am beheld again
  What is, and no man understands;        130
  And out of darkness came the hands
That reach thro’ nature, moulding men.