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Alfred Lord Tennyson: The Lover's Tale

The Lover's Tale

Sometimes I thought Camilla was no more,
Some one had told me she was dead, and ask'd me
If I would see her burial: then I seem'd
To rise, and thro' the forest-shadow borne
With more than mortal swiftness, I ran down
The sleepy sea-bank, till I came upon
The rear of a procession, curving round
The silver-sheeted bay: in front of which
Six stately virgins, all in white, upbare
A broad earth-sweeping pall of whitest lawn,
Wreathed round the bier with garlands: in the distance,
From out the yellow woods, upon the hill,
Look'd forth the summit and the pinnacles
Of a grey steeple. All the pageantry,
Save those six virgins which upheld the bier,
Were stoled from head to foot in flowing black;
One walk'd abreast with me, and veiled his brow,
And he was loud in weeping and in praise
Of the departed: a strong sympathy
Shook all my soul: I flung myself upon him
In tears and cries: I told him all my love,
How I had loved her from the first; whereat
He shrunk and howl'd, and from his brow drew back
His hand to push me from him; and the face
The very face and form of Lionel,
Flash'd through my eyes into my innermost brain,
And at his feet I seemed to faint and fall,
To fall and die away. I could not rise,
Albeit I strove to follow. They pass'd on,
The lordly Phantasms; in their floating folds
They pass'd and were no more: but I had fall'n
Prone by the dashing runnel on the grass.
Always th' inaudible, invisible thought
Artificer and subject, lord and slave
Shaped by the audible and visible,
Moulded the audible and visible;
All crisped sounds of wave, and leaf and wind,
Flatter'd the fancy of my fading brain;
The storm-pavilion'd element, the wood,
The mountain, the three cypresses, the cave,
Were wrought into the tissue of my dream.
The moanings in the forest, the loud stream,
Awoke me not, but were a part of sleep;
And voices in the distance, calling to me,
And in my vision bidding me dream on,
Like sounds within the twilight realms of dreams,
Which wander round the bases of the hills,
And murmur in the low-dropt eaves of sleep,
But faint within the portals. Oftentimes
The vision had fair prelude, in the end
Opening on darkness, stately vestibules
To cares and shows of Death; whether the mind,
With a revenge even to itself unknown,
Made strange division of its suffering
With her, whom to have suffering view'd had been
Extremest pain; or that the clear-eyed Spirit,
Being blasted in the Present, grew at length
Prophetical and prescient of whate'er
The Future had in store; or that which most
Enchains belief, the sorrow of my spirit
Was of so wide a compass it took in
All I had loved, and my dull agony.
Ideally to her transferred, became
Anguish intolerable.
The day waned;
Alone I sat with her: about my brow
Her warm breath floated in the utterance
Of silver-chorded tones: her lips were sunder'd
With smiles of tranquil bliss, which broke in light
Like morning from her eyes—her eloquent eyes
(As I have seen them many hundred times),
Fill'd all with clear pure fire, thro' mine down rain'd
Their spirit-searching splendours. As a vision
Unto a haggard prisoner, iron-stay'd
In damp and dismal dungeons underground
Confined on points of faith, when strength is shock'd
With torment, and expectancy of worse
Upon the morrow, thro' the ragged walls,
All unawares before his half-shut eyes,
Comes in upon him in the dead of night,
And with th' excess of sweetness and of awe,
Makes the heart tremble, and the eyes run over
Upon his steely gyves; so those fair eyes
Shone on my darkness forms which ever stood
Within the magic cirque of memory,
Invisible but deathless, waiting still
The edict of the will to reassume
The semblance of those rare realities
Of which they were the mirrors. Now the light,
Which was their life, burst through the cloud of thought
Keen, irrepressible.
It was a room
Within the summer-house of which I spoke,
Hung round with paintings of the sea, and one
A vessel in mid-ocean, her heaved prow
Clambering, the mast bent, and the revin wind
In her sail roaring. From the outer day,
Betwixt the closest ivies came a broad
And solid beam of isolated light,
Crowded with driving atomies, and fell
Slanting upon that picture, from prime youth
Well-known, well-loved. She drew it long ago
Forth gazing on the waste and open sea,
One morning when the upblown billow ran
Shoreward beneath red clouds, and I had pour'd
Into the shadowing pencil's naked forms
Colour and life: it was a bond and seal
Of friendship, spoken of with tearful smiles;
A monument of childhood and of love,
The poesy of childhood; my lost love
Symbol'd in storm. We gazed on it together
In mute and glad remembrance, and each heart
Grew closer to the other, and the eye
Was riveted and charm-bound, gazing like
The Indian on a still-eyed snake, low crouch'd
A beauty which is death, when all at once
That painted vessel, as with inner life,
'Gan rock and heave upon that painted sea;
An earthquake, my loud heartbeats, made the ground
Roll under us, and all at once soul, life,
And breath, and motion, pass'd and flow'd away
To those unreal billows: round and round
A whirlwind caught and bore us; mighty gyves,
Rapid and vast, of hissing spray wind-driven
Far through the dizzy dark. Aloud she shriek'd—
My heart was cloven with pain. I wound my arms
About her: we whirl'd giddily: the wind
Sung: but I clasp'd her without fear: her weight
Shrank in my grasp, and over my dim eyes
And parted lips which drank her breath, down hung
The jaws of Death: I, screaming, from me flung
The empty phantom: all the sway and whirl
Of the storm dropt to windless calm, and I
Down welter'd thro' the dark ever and ever.
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