Sunday, 20 May 2012

'Twere joy, not fear, clasped hand in hand with thee

O, were I loved as I desire to be!
What is there in the great sphere of the earth,
Or range of evil between death and birth,
That I should fear, - if I were loved by thee!
All the inner, all the outer world of pain,
Clear love would pierce and cleave, if thou wert mine;
As I have heard that somewhere in the main
Fresh water springs come up through bitter brine.
'Twere joy, not fear, clasped hand in hand with thee,
To wait for death - mute - careless of all ills,
Apart upon a mountain, though the surge
Of some new deluge from a thousand hills
Flung leagues of roaring foam into the gorge
Below us, as far on as eye could see.

I'm always surprised when I run across a Tennyson poem I don't know, but this one was new to me today. It's an early poem, published when he was 24 years old (!) in his second collection of poems, in 1833, the same year that Arthur Hallam's death was to change his life. The poem looks straightforward but there are some interesting things about it: the distinction between inner and outer worlds of pain; 'clear love' (what does that mean?); that wonderful image of fresh water springing up through brine.

Since visiting Tennyson's haunts on the Isle of Wight a little while ago, I can no longer think of him without thinking of Julia Margaret Cameron, who lived nearby and illustrated some of Tennyson's poems with her photographs (and it occurs to me now that the village they lived in is called Freshwater; what an odd coincidence). So the picture is her portrait of Ellen Terry, called 'Sadness'.

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