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Sit with their wives by fires, eat wholesome food,
And wear warm clothes, and even beasts have stalls,
I, 'tween the spring and downfall of the light,
Bow down one thousand and two hundred times
To Christ, the Virgin Mother, and the saints;
Or in the night, after a little sleep,
I wake: the chill stars sparkle; I am wet
With drenching dews, or stiff with crackling frost .
I wear an undress'd goat-skin on my back;
A grazing iron collar grinds my neck;
And in my weak, lean arms I lift the cross,
And strive and wrestle with Thee till I die;
0 mercy, mercy! wash away my sin.
After every paroxysm of self-accusation, the sweet and subtle strain of self-laudation is heard.
I, Simeon of the pillar, by surname
That time is at the doors
It may seem unreasonable, when we consider how much Tennyson has given us in this poem, to suggest that he might have achieved still more if he had endeavored to realize for us ST. SIMEON STYLITES. 313
Simeon's connection with the life of his time—to enable us to comprehend a state of society in which the Emperor Thcodosius could come to consult this religious maniac on the concerns of Church and State. It was religion of Simeon's kind that brought destruction upon Eastern Christendom. A strong superstition is safer for nations than an infantile religion, and the warrior saints that issued from the Arabian desert trampled into the dust those babyish idolaters that knelt round shrines like Simeon's. Of no creed ever known among men is it so imperiously necessary as it is of Christianity to ask, Of what sort is your Christianity? Simeon of the pillar, Oliver Cromwell, John Howard, Dominic the Inquisitor, were all sincere Christians. But a babyish Christianity is the most dangerous of all, and the sturdy atheists that now jostle us on the streets of every city will do to us as Mohammed and his friends did to the worshippers of Simeon Stylites, if the God we reverence is one who sets great store by our genuflections, and is immensely interested in what we have for dinner on Friday.
T HAVE just glanced over something I wrote about In Memoriam in 1856, which, as it has been long out of print, as I agree with every word of it, and it strikes me as prettier than what I write now, I shall take the liberty to insert here, if only by way of introduction to further remarks: M^Thc greatest poem, all things considered, that Tennyson ever wrote is In Memoriam. In it the purely aesthetic enthusiasm of the London School has given place to, or rather has obtained a new and grander vitality in, the enthusiasm of life and action. The name of the poem indicates one of the most difficult efforts which can be made in literature. It aims at embalming a private sorrow for everlasting remembrance, at rendering a personal grief generally and immortally interesting. The set eye and marble brow of stoicism would cast back human sympathy; the broken accents and convulsive weeping of individual affliction would awaken no nobler emotion than mere pity; it was sorrow in a calm and stately attitude, sorrow robed in angellike beauty, though retaining a look of earnest, endless sadness, that would draw generation after generation to the house of mourning. No poet, save one possessed not only of commanding genius, but of peculiar qualifications for the task, could have attempted to delineate a sorrow like this. The genius of Tennyson found in the work its precise and most congenial employment; and the result is surely the finest elegiac poem in the world.
"In whatever aspect we view it, by whatever test we try it,
this poem is great, is wonderful. Very absurdly did those crities talk, who spoke of the grief it contained as not very strong, perhaps not quite sincere, because it was so elaborately sung, and dwelt upon so long. They utterly misconceived the nature of that grief. They applied a general and commonplace rule to an altogether exceptional instance; an instance which might give new canons to criticism, but which might well perplex the old crities. The shadow of death had fallen between two spirits, knit together in close and noble friendship. That friendship had depended for its endurance on the community of lofty and immortal sympathies, of great thoughts, of pure and earnest affections. It was beyond the power of death to bring it to a termination. Death could only cast a veil of shadow between the two friends, and leave the one still on the earthward side to endeavor to pierce its obscurity, to hope for the day of its removal. It was rather a solemnity, a stillness, a composed and majestic mournfulness, that was cast over the life of Tennyson, than a darkening, overpowering distress. It was the silence and sadness of autumn enveloping the glories of summer; it was the melancholy of that aspect of nature, perhaps the loveliest of all, when the year first knows the approach of winter, and weleomes it with a resigned yet mournful smile. The shadow fell everywhere. Amidst the groups of living men, amidst the forms of external nature, there was still its presence, and into all the regions of thought and feeling it came. Everywhere it brought its solemn sadness; only, on the skies of the future, like the shadow of the earth cast up toward immensity, it seemed to kindle brighter lights as it were stars. The maiden combing her golden hair, in expectation of her lover, whose step will not be heard that evening, or at all again, at the door—the bride leaving her father's house—the wife whose husband lives apart from her sympathy, in high and remote regions of thought—the boy-friends of the village green whose paths in after-life lie far asunder—these all move in tho procession of the poem, passing through the shadow of its sorrow. Nature, too, must mourn with the poet, as Shelley saw her mourning by the bier of Adonais. The ocean must sink into calm around the coming corpse; the gorgeous gloom of evening must shroud it; and all the tears of morning must fall over it. Into the world of thought and meditation the same solemn influence comes. The greatest questions on which the human mind can be engaged, questions relating to the being of God, to the immortality of the soul, to the limits of knowledge, to the nature and conditions of future existence, all of which arise naturally before a mind ever looking beyond the bourne for the face of a friend, present themselves to the mourner, if, perchance, he may find any solace or enlightenment in them. From the simplest scenes of domestic life Tennyson has ascended into the rare atmosphere of metaphysies, and from those heights of contemplation where he so well can tread, sees the shadow of his sorrow falling over the filmy clouds. Nor is this all. The shadow of that sorrow fell everywhere, but, as the poet himself tells us, it was a shadow glory-crowned. Death at times takes up the harp of life, as love did in one of Tennyson's earlier poems, and draws from it inspiring music. The mighty hopes that make us men, the future glories of humanity, the social joy and tenderness which even on earth shed a softening radiance over settled sorrow, the encouragement which a noble heart finds in dwelling on a life honorably finished, in listening to the earnest voices of the dead, all mingle in the lofty strain. So perfect is the unity, so mighty the sweep, of this poem: what more could elegiac poetry be?"
The distinctive character of In Memoriam is determined by its having been composed, not within the compass of a few days or weeks, expressly in honor of a deceased friend, like Milton's Lycidas and Shelley's Adonais, but during a number of years, and apparently without being designed as a single poem. Poets always write about themselves, and about their time.