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Hcrc, as everywhere, Tennyson refuses to throw any hues of softening optimism over the world; here, as everywhere, he refuses to accept the devil's creed of pessimism, or to quench the light of hope on the far horizon. The same combination of ideas is presented in the Vision of Sin. Of this poem he has vouchsafed no word of explanation, though it might be thought that a hint with reference, at least, to its central intention was more requisite than in connection with the Palace of Art, where just so much of defining light is granted in the prefatory lines as suffices to bar the reader from random speculation. I see no reason to doubt, however, that the interpretation commonly given of the Vision of Sin is correct.
The hero is first seen as a youth riding a horse with wings, "that would have flown, but that his heavy rider kept him down." That is to say, the earth-ward and death-ward cleaving gravitation of the lower nature—selfishness, sensuality— prevents the celestial particle in him from asserting its power. "A child of sin," therefore, emerging from a palace-gate, leads him by the curls, an easy victim, into the interior, where a company, " with heated eyes," lie between paroxysms of dissipation, "languid shapes, by heaps of gourds, and skins of wine, and piles of grapes." De Quincey-s Confessions of an Opium-eater might throw some light upon the experiences of these revellers. The excitement that inthralls them begins in "low voluptuous music," which passes through various changes, and acts by its sound upon a mysterious fountain showering "sleet of diamond-drift and pearly hail."
Then the music touch'd the gates and died;
Rose again from where it seem'd to fail,
Storm'd in orbs of song, a growing gale;
Till thronging in and in, to where they waited,
As 'twere a hundred-throated nightingale,
The strong tempestuous treble throbb'd and palpitated;
Kan into its giddiest whirl of sound,
Caught the sparkles, and in circles,
There can be no question that the preceding passage describes the frenzied revelry of godless passion. But God's curse—the curse of old age, and expiring strength, and deadly ennui — in form of "a vapor heavy, hueless, formless, cold," steals ever nearer to the frantic crew. They do not heed it, and the poet in his dream "would have spoken " and " warned that madman," the youth who had been enticed by the child of sin, "ere it grew too late;" but, "as in dreams," he could not. The creeping vapor reached the palace-gate, and then his dream was broken; and though, in the next line, it "linked again," a considerable number of years must have gone by in the interval. For now the youth has become
A gray and gap-toothed man, as lean as death,
The ruined inn—the "Dragon on the heath"—is all that remains of the palace of pleasure of his early days. There is now no music in its courts, no enchanting daughters and sons of Belial to dance with. The hostler is wrinkled, grim, and thin; the bar-maid "bitter" and "waning fast;" the waiter slipshod, lank, and sour. These are fit companions for the gap-toothed skeleton who has just life enough to remember that his youth, in its madness of passion, was "half-divine." Having chosen ignobleness, he has lost the capacity to believe in nobleness, and, like every cynic, takes refuge from his selfcontempt in fiercely asserting that all men are contemptible. His mirth is the joyless mirth that is forced into dreary uproariousness by wine.
Fill the cup, and fill the can:
Have a rouse before the morn:
Every moment one is born.
We are men of ruin'd blood;
Therefore comes it we are wise.
Rising to no fancy-flies.
Name and fame! to fly sublime
Through the courts, the camps, the schools,
Is to be the ball of Time,
Bandied by the hands of fools.
Friendship!—to be two in one—
Let the canting liar pack!
How she mouths behind my back.
Virtue!—to be good and just—
Every heart, when sifted well,
Hix'd with cunning sparks of hell.
TIis contempt, except for himself, is partly affected; his hatred for his fellow-men is genuine. No more intense or relentless hatred dwells in the human breast than that of the thoroughly bad man for every one who, tacitly or expressly, claims to be better than himself. As our cynic scorns friendship, love, religion, so he has no trust in freedom or in patriotism.
Drink, and let the parties rave:
They are fill'd with idle spleen;
For they know not what they mean.
He that roars for liberty
Faster binds a tyrant's power;
Forces on the freer hour.
He calls on the dead to arise and dance with him, and welcomes, as they come "trooping from their mouldy dens," the flcshless spectres.
Drink to Fortune, drink to Chance,
While we keep a little breath!
Hob-and-nob with brother Death!
He does not believe even in his own scoffing.
Youthful hopes, by scores to all,
When the locks arc crisp and curl'd;
Unto me my maudlin gall
The last line of this ghastly chant, "Yet we will not dio forlorn," seems to show that the light of his spirit is not wholly extinguished. Another break now occurs in the dream, long years again elapse, and the scene, when it reappears in the vision, has undergone further change.
Below were men and horses pierced with worms,
A few lines now follow, in which, I suppose, could we but be sure of their interpretation, the riddle of the poem may be read.
Then some one spake: "Behold! it was a crime
Mr. Shepherd tells me that, in a volume of Selections from Tennyson, published in 1865, there were inserted, at this point, these two lines—
Another answer'd: "But a crime of sense?
These arc excluded from the collected edition of 18/8, but they are suggestive, and will interest our physiological school of moralists. With them, wo have four; without them, three, opinions from Tennyson upon the case of the sinner. The last of the four, and a few lines which must be taken as the poet's declinature to pronounce decisively upon his hero's fate, while refusing to say that there was no hope, conclude the poem.
And one: "He had not wholly quench'd his power;
A little grain of conscience made him sour."
At last I heard a voice upon the slope
Cry to the summit, " Is there any hope?"
To which an answer peal'd from that high land,
But in a tongue no man could understand;
And on the glimmering limit far withdrawn
God made Himself an awful rose of dawn.
Still more difficult than the Vision of Sin is the short poem, of which even the name is mysterious, The Voice and the Peak. If it is a reasonable objection to a poem that, read with the utmost deliberation to an educated audience, it would certainly fail to convey to them a definite and distinct mean- * ing, or even to make them sure that they had followed the