“One equal temper of heroic hearts”

Born on this date: Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Tennyson has been my favorite poet–or second favorite, after Shakespeare–well, he might share that ranking with Poe–for as long as I’ve been aware of Tennyson’s work to any great degree. I’m guessing that was either my last year or two of high school, or sometime in college. More likely college. I love his lyricism, the rhythm of his verse, and his skill at evoking a scene that feels somehow present and distant. Tennyson is for the voice of things long ago, beautiful ancient cathedrals now partially fallen and shrouded in moss and mists. He’s the voice of the waves lapping cold and sometimes lonely shores, and of maidens in their bowers on an island in a river. He’s the voice of old captains taking to their ships for a final voyage into lands beyond the sunset.

That’s who Tennyson is to me. He’s the poet to whom I turn when I need to re-ground my sense of language.

I own several collections of Tennyson, a few of which are good, modern reading copies…but Tennyson is the type of poet who is, I think, best appreciated in antique volumes with paper that’s slightly yellowed, set in a typeface that hasn’t been used in a hundred years, and illustrated with engraved pictures captioned with lines from the poems. I own several of these, too…and while I am always loath to say that “Your library just isn’t complete without [item],” well…I think your poetry library isn’t complete without an antique, vintage copy of Tennyson.

See Sheila O’Malley for a typically great post on Tennyson–I agree with nearly every word she writes, even that Tennyson does at times “go on and on”, but frankly I tend to fall under his spell anyway–and his best work cries out for music.

Sunset and evening star,
      And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
      When I put out to sea,
   But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
      Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
      Turns again home.
   Twilight and evening bell,
      And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
      When I embark;
   For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
      The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
      When I have crost the bar.

The splendor falls on castle walls
    And snowy summits old in story;
The long light shakes across the lakes,
    And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

O, hark, O, hear! how thin and clear,
    And thinner, clearer, farther going!
O, sweet and far from cliff and scar
    The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying,
Blow, bugles; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

O love, they die in yon rich sky,
    They faint on hill or field or river;
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
    And grow forever and forever.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.

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