To —— After Reading a Life & Letters (1849)

< Back to Tennyson’s poems.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson in his study

Alfred, Lord Tennyson in his study

You might have won the Poet’s name,
If such be worth the winning now,
And gained a laurel for your brow
Of sounder leaf than I can claim;

But you have made the wiser choice,
A life that moves to gracious ends
Through troops of unrecording friends,
A deedful life, a silent voice;

And you have missed the irreverent doom
Of those that wear the Poet’s crown;
Hereafter neither knave nor clown
Shall hold their orgies at your tomb.

For now the Poet cannot die,
Nor leave his music as of old,
But round him, ere he scarce be cold,
Begins the scandal and the cry:

“Proclaim the faults he would not show;
Break lock and seal; betray the trust;
Keep nothing sacred; ’tis but just
The many-headed beast should know.”

Ah, shameless! For he did but sing
A song that pleased us from its worth;
No public life was his on earth,
No blazoned statesman he, nor king.

He gave the people of his best;
His worst he kept, his best he gave.
My Shakespeare’s curse on clown and knave
Who will not let his ashes rest!

Who make it seem more sweet to be
The little life of bank and brier,
The bird that pipes his lone desire
And dies unheard within his tree,

That he that warbles long and loud
And drops at Glory’s temple-gates,
For whom the carrion vulture waits
To tear his heart before the crowd!