For the last few months I’ve been gradually reading my way through Idylls of the King by Lord Alfred Tennyson. This book is something of a forgotten gem: while Tennyson himself is part of the canon, his shorter lyrical works are all I ever recall reading in school, and it’s hard for me to recall ever even hearing about Idylls except as a biographical footnote.
Which is a shame, because the Idylls are wonderful: long narrative poems, expertly put together retelling episodes from the Arthurian mythos in an accesible form. Well, accessible to anyone who can handle long narrative poetry.
I’ve been reading them slowly, because these poems demand to be read out loud, and slowly enough that their cadence can be appreciated. This takes time and concentration, two things that are frequently in short supply, but they are tremendously rewarding to anyone that can get through them.
But enough about me. Here’s the Dedication, a short, lovely introduction to the rest of the poem.
These to His Memory—since he held them dear,
Perchance as finding there unconsciously
Some image of himself—I dedicate,
I dedicate, I consecrate with tears—
And indeed He seems to me
Scarce other than my king’s ideal knight,
‘Who reverenced his conscience as his king;
Whose glory was, redressing human wrong;
Who spake no slander, no, nor listened to it;
Who loved one only and who clave to her—’
Her—over all whose realms to their last isle,
Commingled with the gloom of imminent war,
The shadow of His loss drew like eclipse,
Darkening the world. We have lost him: he is gone:
We know him now: all narrow jealousies
Are silent; and we see him as he moved,
How modest, kindly, all-accomplished, wise,
With what sublime repression of himself,
And in what limits, and how tenderly;
Not swaying to this faction or to that;
Not making his high place the lawless perch
Of winged ambitions, nor a vantage-ground
For pleasure; but through all this tract of years
Wearing the white flower of a blameless life,
Before a thousand peering littlenesses,
In that fierce light which beats upon a throne,
And blackens every blot: for where is he,
Who dares foreshadow for an only son
A lovelier life, a more unstained, than his?
Or how should England dreaming of his sons
Hope more for these than some inheritance
Of such a life, a heart, a mind as thine,
Thou noble Father of her Kings to be,
Laborious for her people and her poor—
Voice in the rich dawn of an ampler day—
Far-sighted summoner of War and Waste
To fruitful strifes and rivalries of peace—
Sweet nature gilded by the gracious gleam
Of letters, dear to Science, dear to Art,
Dear to thy land and ours, a Prince indeed,
Beyond all titles, and a household name,
Hereafter, through all times, Albert the Good.
Break not, O woman’s-heart, but still endure;
Break not, for thou art Royal, but endure,
Remembering all the beauty of that star
Which shone so close beside Thee that ye made
One light together, but has past and leaves
The Crown a lonely splendour.
May all love,
His love, unseen but felt, o’ershadow Thee,
The love of all Thy sons encompass Thee,
The love of all Thy daughters cherish Thee,
The love of all Thy people comfort Thee,
Till God’s love set Thee at his side again!