(Poem #31) Break, break, break
Break, break, break, On thy cold gray stones, O sea! And I would that my tongue could utter The thoughts that arise in me. O, well for the fisherman's boy, That he shouts with his sister at play! O, well for the sailor lad, That he sings in his boat on the bay! And the stately ships go on To their haven under the hill; But O for the touch of a vanished hand, And the sound of a voice that is still! Break, break, break, At the foot of thy crags, O sea! But the tender grace of a day that is dead Will never come back to me.
Another nice poem by Tennyson, in which the moods, images and rhythms blend perfectly. Note the heavy, melancholy feel of 'break, break, break', contrasted with the lighter 'that he sings in his boat on the bay', and in general the way the various moods of the sea are evoked, from dancing, rippling waves and gentle swells, to the mealncholy, insistent breaking upon a cold and lonely shore. Criticism: Great ages are fortunate which find the one voice that can turn to music their otherwise mute beliefs and endeavors, their joy and pain. Such was Chaucer for his time; such were Shakespeare and Spenser for theirs, Pope for his, and preeminently Alfred, Lord Tennyson, for the time of Victoria. Our present disparagement of Tennyson is only our impatience with everything Victorian; for his poetry peculiarly expresses the ideas and the enthusiasms of the vast reading middle class of his day. He reasons like the middle- -class liberal who keeps to the Christian faith and forms, at least in the via media or middle course, with a mind open to the new difficulties rising from the new science, and the prevailing evolutionary enthusiasm for progress and some good time coming. [..] His poetry sings the virtues and enthusiasms of his day, domestic and social, the patriotism, the humanitarian impulses, the utilitarian prosperity, the fascination of death, the sombre religion or scepticism, and the New Empire. At the same time he is nourishing and refining his age with the beauty which it had lost, and which he shapes for its needs out of many a corner of "the antique world." If he seems at times to be an aristocrat, he is such with the middle-class conservatism and faith in the old English order. He has as much of the body and fibre of English life in him as Dickens--perhaps more--not its lusty humors so much as its peculiar and irresistible charm mellowed by time. [..] He was first of all a careful, patient workman, and no man ever toiled harder or more soberly to perfect himself in his craft. He kept it up all his long life, revising and editing early poems, reading, observing, travelling, scrutinizing the work of his many masters, inventing short snatches and cadences which he saved for later use. With his minute care he joined extraordinary range and variety--of metre, subject and material, and final effect. [..] Like that otber great Alexandrian, Theocritus, Tennyson was essentially an idyllist, a fashioner of small and highly finished pictures. Hundreds of them are strewn from end to end of his work, from his Lady of Shalott, one of the most idyllic, through his classical poems, his pageants of the Palace of Art, and The Dream of Fair Women, his poems of English life, his Princess, Maud, In Memoriam. Of this he seems to have been aware in his very fondness for the word, "idyll"--"a small, sweet idyll," "English Idylls," and Idylls of the King. [..] But he has far greater gifts than fine minute craftsmanship. One is the poet's supreme gift of making the language sing a new song, verse set to its own indigenous tune, the gift of Burns, or Byron, and the Elizabethans. And though it is usually peculiar to the youthful poet, it never wholly left Tennyson from "Break, break, break" to Crossing the Bar. -- Excerpts from Charles Grosvenor Osgood, 'The Voice of England', read the whole essay at <http://www.britishliterature.com/era/victoria-tennyson.html> m.