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Tithonus -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Guest poem submitted by Hilary Caws-Elwitt:
(Poem #1697) Tithonus
     The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
 The vapors weep their burthen to the ground,
 Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
 And after many a summer dies the swan.
 Me only cruel immortality
 Consumes; I wither slowly in thine arms.
 Here at the quiet limit of the world,
 A white-haired shadow roaming like a dream
 The ever-silent spaces of the East,
 Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn.
     Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man--
 So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,
 Who madest him thy chosen, that he seemed
 To his great heart none other than a God!
 I asked thee, "Give me immortality."
 Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile,
 Like wealthy men who care not how they give.
 But thy strong Hours indignant worked their wills,
 And beat me down and marred and wasted me,
 And though they could not end me, left me maimed
 To dwell in presence of immortal youth,
 And all I was ashes.  Can thy love,
 Thy beauty, make amends, though even now,
 Close over us, the silver star, thy guide,
 Shines in those tremulous eyes that fill with tears,
 To hear me?  Let me go; take back thy gift.
 Why should a man desire in any way
 To vary from the kindly race of men,
 Or pass beyond the goal of ordinance
 Where all should pause, as is most meet for all?
     A soft air fans the cloud apart; there comes
 A glimpse of that dark world where I was born.
 Once more the old mysterious glimmer steals
 From thy pure brows, and from thy shoulders pure,
 And bosom beating with a heart renewed.
 Thy cheek begins to redden through the gloom,
 Thy sweet eyes brighten slowly close to mine,
 Ere yet they blind the stars, and the wild team
 Which love thee, yearning for thy yoke, arise,
 And shake the darkness from their loosened manes,
 And beat the twilight into flakes of fire.
     Lo! ever thus thou growest beautiful
 In silence, then before thine answer given
 Departest, and thy tears are on my cheek.
     Why wilt thou ever scare me with thy tears,
 And make me tremble lest a saying learnt,
 In days far-off, on that dark earth be true?
 "The Gods themselves cannot recall their gifts."
     Ay me! ay me! with what another heart
 In days far-off, and with what other eyes
 I used to watch--if I be he that watched--
 The lucid outline forming round thee; saw
 The dim curls kindle into sunny rings;
 Changed with thy mystic change, and felt my blood
 Glow with the glow that slowly crimsoned all
 Thy presence and thy portals, while I lay,
 Mouth, forehead, eyelids, growing dewy-warm
 With kisses balmier than half-opening buds
 Of April, and could hear the lips that kissed
 Whispering I knew not what of wild and sweet,
 Like that strange song I heard Apollo sing,
 While Ilion like a mist rose into towers.
     Yet hold me not forever in thine East;
 How can my nature longer mix with thine?
 Coldly thy rose shadows bathe me, cold
 Are all thy lights, and cold my wrinkled feet
 Upon thy glimmering thresholds, when the steam
 Floats up from those dim fields about the homes
 Of happy men that have the power to die,
 And grassy barrows of the happier dead.
 Release me, and restore me to the ground.
 Thou seest all things, thou wilt see my grave;
 Thou wilt renew thy beauty morn by morn,
 I earth in earth forget these empty courts,
 And thee returning on thy silver wheels.
-- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
[My first submission to Minstrels, which I've been enjoying for several
years now!]

Continuing on the "memorized" theme, this is one of my all-time favorite
poems, which I memorized about ten years ago. I still remember chunks but
need to brush up to be able to recite the whole thing again (the longer the
poem, the more maintenance it needs in my mind!).

_Tithonus_ still gives me shivers to read, and even more so to say aloud.
It's the "after" of the myth in which Eos, goddes of dawn, falling in love
with a young man who asks her for the gift of immortality. He gets eternal
life but not eternal youth.

Tennyson's personalization of Dawn captures the perfectly silent, slow,
spectacular changes of sunrise; to me it evokes both its beauty and its
chill loneliness, the sublime aspect of this enormous dramatic change that
happens every morning yet which we often barely notice. The contrast between
the glamour of the immortals and the small human scale is so clear yet
subtle ("cold my wrinkled feet!"). But what I love most about this poem is
its depiction of death as a natural end, a part of life, rejoining the earth
like the woods that decay and fall.

Hilary Caws-Elwitt.

28 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Anonymous said...

sucks ass. (:

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