To E. Fitzgerald: Tiresias by Lord Alfred Tennyson
OLD FITZ, who from your suburb grange, Where once I tarried for a while, Glance at the wheeling orb of change, And greet it with a kindly smile; Whom yet I see as there you sit Beneath your sheltering garden-tree, And watch your doves about you flit, And plant on shoulder, hand, and knee, Or on your head their rosy feet, As if they knew your diet spares Whatever moved in that full sheet Let down to Peter at his prayers; Who live on milk and meal and grass; And once for ten long weeks I tried Your table of Pythagoras, - And seem'd at first "a thing enskied," As Shakespeare has it, airy-light To float above the ways of men, Then fell from that half-spiritual height Chill'd, till I tasted flesh again One night when earth was winter-b]ack, And all the heavens flash'd in frost; And on me, half-asleep, came back That wholesome heat the blood had lost, And set me climbing icy capes And glaciers, over which there roll'd To meet me long-arm'd vines with grapes Of Eshcol hugeness- for the cold Without, and warmth within me, wrought To mould the dream; but none can say That Lenten fare makes Lenten thought Who reads your golden Eastern lay, Than which I know no version done In English more divinely well; A planet equal to the sun Which cast it, that large infidel Your Omar, and your Omar drew Full-handed plaudits from our best In modern letters, and from two, Old friends outvaluing all the rest, Two voices heard on earth no more; But we old friends are still alive, And I am nearing seventy-four, While you have touch'd at seventy-five, And so I send a birthday line Of greeting; and my son, who dipt In some forgotten book of mine With sallow scraps of manuscript, And dating many a year ago, Has hit on this, which you will take, My Fitz, and welcome, as I know, Less for its own than for the sake Of one recalling gracious times, When, in our younger London days, You found some merit in my rhymes, And I more pleasure in your praise.
I WISH I were as in the years of old While yet the blessed daylight made itself Ruddy thro' both the roofs of sight, and woke These eyes, now dull, but then so keen to seek The meanings ambush'd under all they saw, The flight of birds, the flame of sacrifice, What omens may foreshadow fate to man And woman, and the secret of the Gods. My son, the Gods, despite of human prayer, Are slower to forgive than human kings. The great God Ares burns in anger still
Against the guiltless heirs of him from Tyre Our Cadmus, out of whom thou art, who found Beside the springs of Dirce, smote, and still'd Thro' all its folds the multitudinous beast The dragon, which our trembling fathers call'd The God's own son. A tale, that told to me, When but thine age, by age as winter-white As mine is now, amazed, but made me yearn For larger glimpses of that more than man Which rolls the heavens, and lifts and lays the deep, Yet loves and hates with mortal hates and loves, And moves unseen among the ways of men. Then, in my wanderings all the lands that lie Subjected to the Heliconian ridge Have heard this footstep fall, altho' my wont Was more to scale the highest of the heights With some strange hope to see the nearer God. One naked peak‹the sister of the Sun Would climb from out the dark, and linger there
To silver all the valleys with her shafts‹ There once, but long ago, five-fold thy term Of years, I lay; the winds were dead for heat- The noonday crag made the hand burn; and sick For shadow‹not one bush was near‹I rose Following a torrent till its myriad falls Found silence in the hollows underneath. There in a secret olive-glade I saw Pallas Athene climbing from the bath In anger; yet one glittering foot disturb'd The lucid well; one snowy knee was prest Against the margin flowers; a dreadful light Came from her golden hair, her golden helm And all her golden armor on the grass, And from her virgin breast, and virgin eyes Remaining fixt on mine, till mine grew dark For ever, and I heard a voice that said "Henceforth be blind, for thou hast seen too much, And speak the truth that no man may believe." Son, in the hidden world of sight that lives Behind this darkness, I behold her still Beyond all work of those who carve the stone Beyond all dreams of Godlike womanhood, Ineffable beauty, out of whom, at a glance And as it were, perforce, upon me flash'd The power of prophesying‹but to me No power so chain'd and coupled with the curse Of blindness and their unbelief who heard And heard not, when I spake of famine, plague Shrine-shattering earthquake, fire, flood, thunderbolt, And angers of the Gods for evil done And expiation lack'd‹no power on Fate Theirs, or mine own! for when the crowd would roar For blood, for war, whose issue was their doom, To cast wise words among the multitude Was fiinging fruit to lions; nor, in hours Of civil outbreak, when I knew the twain Would each waste each, and bring on both the yoke Of stronger states, was mine the voice to curb The madness of our cities and their kings. Who ever turn'd upon his heel to hear My warning that the tyranny of one Was prelude to the tyranny of all? My counsel that the tyranny of all Led backward to the tyranny of one? This power hath work'd no good to aught that lives And these blind hands were useless in their wars. O. therefore, that the unfulfill'd desire, The grief for ever born from griefs to be The boundless yearning of the prophet's heart‹ Could that stand forth, and like a statue, rear'd To some great citizen, wim all praise from all Who past it, saying, "That was he!" In vain! Virtue must shape itself im deed, and those Whom weakness or necessity have cramp'd Withm themselves, immerging, each, his urn In his own well, draws solace as he may. Menceceus, thou hast eyes, and I can hear Too plainly what full tides of onset sap Our seven high gates, and what a weight of war Rides on those ringing axlesl jingle of bits, Shouts, arrows, tramp of the horn-footed horse That grind the glebe to powder! Stony showers Of that ear-stunning hail of Ares crash Along the sounding walls. Above, below Shock after shock, the song-built towers and gates Reel, bruised and butted with the shuddering War-thunder of iron rams; and from within The city comes a murmur void of joy, Lest she be taken captive‹maidens, wives, And mothers with their babblers of the dawn, And oldest age in shadow from the night, Falling about their shrines before their Gods, And wailing, "Save us."
And they wail to thee! These eyeless eyes, that cannot see thine own, See this, that only in thy virtue lies The saving of our Thebes; for, yesternight, To me, the great God Ares, whose one bliss Is war and human sacrifice‹himself Blood-red from battle, spear and helmet tipt With stormy light as on a mast at sea, Stood out before a darkness, crying, "Thebes, Thy Thebes shall fall and perish, for I loathe The seed of Cadmus‹yet if one of these By his own hand‹if one of these‹" My son, No sound is breathed so potent to coerce, And to conciliate, as their names who dare For that sweet mother land which gave them birth Nobly to do, nobly to die. Their names, Graven on memorial columns, are a song Heard in the future; few, but more than wall And rampart, their examples reach a hand Far thro' all years, and everywhere they meet And kindle generous purpose, and the strength To mould it into action pure as theirs. Fairer thy fate than mine, if life's best end Be to end well! and thou refusing this, Unvenerable will thy memory be While men shall move the lips; but if thou dare‹ Thou, one of these, the race of Cadmus‹then No stone is fitted in yon marble girth Whose echo shall not tongue thy glorious doom, Nor in this pavement but shall ring thy name To every hoof that clangs it, and the springs Of Dirce laving yonder battle-plain, Heard from the roofs by night, will murmur thee To thine own Thebes, while Thebes thro' thee shall stand Firm-based with all her Gods. The Dragon's cave Half hid, they tell me, now in flowing vines‹ Where once he dwelt and whence he roll'd himself At dead of night‹thou knowest, and that smooth rock Before it, altar-fashion'd, where of late The woman-breasted Sphinx, with wings drawn back Folded her lion paws, and look'd to Thebes. There blanch the bones of whom she slew, and these Mixt with her own, because the fierce beast found A wiser than herself, and dash'd herself Dead in her rage; but thou art wise enough Tho' young, to love thy wiser, blunt the curse Of Pallas, bear, and tho' I speak the truth Believe I speak it, let thine own hand strike Thy youthful pulses into rest and quench The red God's anger, fearing not to plunge Thy torch of life in darkness, rather thou Rejoicing that the sun, the moon, the stars Send no such light upon the ways of men As one great deed. Thither, my son, and there Thou, that hast never known the embrace of love Offer thy maiden life. This useless hand! I felt one warm tear fall upon it. Gone! He will achieve his greatness. But for me I would that I were gather'd to my rest, And mingled with the famous kings of old On whom about their ocean-islets flash The faces of the Gods‹the wise man's word Here trampled by the populace underfoot There crown'd with worship and these eyes will find The men I knew, and watch the chariot whirl About the goal again, and hunters race The shadowy lion, and the warrior-kings In height and prowess more than human, strive Again for glory, while the golden lyre Is ever sounding in heroic ears Heroic hymns, and every way the vales Wind, clouded with the grateful incense-fume Of those who mix all odor to the Gods On one far height in one far-shining fire.
"One height and one far-shining fire!" And while I fancied that my friend For this brief idyll would require A less diffuse and opulent end, And would defend his judgment well, If I should deem it over nice‹ The tolling of his funeral bell Broke on my Pagan Paradise, And mixt the dream of classic times, And all the phantoms of the dream, With present grief, and made the rhymes, That miss'd his living welcome, seem Like would-be guests an hour too late, Who down the highway moving on With easy laughter find the gate Is bolted, and the master gone. Gone onto darkness, that full light Of friendship! past, in sleep, away By night, into the deeper night! The deeper night? A clearer day Than our poor twilight dawn on earth‹ If night, what barren toil to be! What life, so maim'd by night, were worth Our living out? Not mine to me Remembering all the golden hours Now silent, and so many dead, And him the last; and laying flowers, This wreath, above his honor'd head, And praying that, when I from hence Shall fade with him into the unknown, My close of earth's experience May prove as peaceful as his own.