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Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
Her secret meaning in her deeds,
And finding that of fifty seeds She often brings but one to bear, I falter where I firmly trod,
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world's altar-stairs That slope thro' darkness up to God, I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all, And faintly trust the larger hope.
O living will that shall endure
When all that seems shall suffer shock,
Rise in the spiritual rock, Flow thro’ our deeds and make them pure, That we may lift from out of dust
A voice as unto him that hears,
A cry above the conquer'd years
With faith that comes of self-control,
The truths that never can be proved
Until we close with all we loved, And all we flow from, soul in soul.2 1 From In Memoriam, section lv.
2 Ibid. section cxxxi.
[The present Lord Tennyson, in his Memoir of his father, remarks: “When questions were written to him about Christ, he would say, ' Answer for me that I have given my belief in In Memoriam.”
Reference may, however, be made to certain utterances of the poet, on This Life and the Next, published in later volumes. Thus, in the poem called “Vastness," written in 1887, we have the following:
“What the philosophies, all the sciences, poesy, varying
voices of prayer ? All that is noblest, all that is basest, all that is filthy
with all that is fair?
What is it all, if we all of us end but in being our own
corpse-coffins at last, Swallow'd in Vastness, lost in Silence, drown'd in the
deeps of a meaningless Past?
What but a murmur of gnats in the gloom, or a
moment's anger of bees in their hive ?"
Again, in “An Evolutionist,” written in 1888, we read:
my body come from brutes, tho’ somewhat finer than
I am heir, and this my kingdom. Shall the royal
voice be mute ? No, but if the rebel subject seek to drag me from the
throne, Hold the sceptre, Human Soul, and rule thy Province
of the brute.
I have climb’d to the snows of Age, and I gaze
field in the Past, Where I sank with the body at times in the sloughs
of a low desire, But I hear no yelp of the beast, and the Man is quiet
at last As he stands on the heights of his life with a glimpse
of a height that is higher.”
It is not necessary to do more than allude to the familiar "Crossing the Bar" (written in October 1890) with its concluding declaration :
“ For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
When I have crost the bar.”
The poet died in October 1892. In the summer of that year (his son records in the Memoir) he said in the course of conversation :
“God is love, transcendent, all-pervading ! We do not get this faith from Nature or the world. If we look at Nature alone, full of perfection and imperfection, she tells us that God is disease, murder, and rapine. We get this faith from ourselves, from what is highest within us, which recognises that there is not one fruitless pang, just as there is not one lost good.”
A week before his death the poet said :
“ I should infinitely rather feel myself the most miserable wretch on the face of the earth with a God above than the highest type of man standing alone.”
At other times, Tennyson remarked :
I can hardly understand how any great, imaginative man, who has deeply lived, suffered, thought, and wrought, can doubt of the Soul's continuous progress in the after-life.
“ If you allow a God, and God allows this strong instinct and universal yearning for another life, surely that is in a measure a presumption of its truth. We cannot give up the mighty hopes that make us men.”l]
FRANCES ANNE KEMBLE
faint outlines of ideas that have at any time
visited my brain about this tremendous mystery of human life have all been sad and dreary, and most bitterly and oppressively unsatisfactory; and therefore I rejoice that no mental fascination rivets my thoughts to the brink of this dark and unfathomable abyss, but that it is on the contrary the tendency of my nature to rest in hope, or rather in faith in God's mercy and power, and, moreover, to think that the perception we have (or, as you would say, imagine we have) of duty, of right to be done and wrong to be avoided, gives significance enough to our existence to make it worth both love and honour, though it should consist of but one conscious day in which that noble perception might be sincerely followed, and though absolute annihilation were its termination. The whole value and meaning of life, to me, lies in the single sense of conscience-duty; and that is here, present, now,
1 Alfred Lord Tennyson : a Memoir by his Son (1897).
enough for the best of us—God knows how much too much for me.1
I believe in the progress of the human race, as I do in its immortality; and the barbarous conception of the Divinity, of the least advanced of that race, confirms me in this faith, as much as the purest Christianity of its foremost nations and individuals. ... I believe all God's creatures have known Him, in such proportion as He and they have chosen ; i.e. to none hath He left Himself utterly without witness; to some that witness has been the perfect life and doctrine of Jesus Christ, the most complete revelation of God that the world has known.
All have known Him, by His great grace, in some mode and measure; and therefore I believe all are immortal: none have known Him as He is, and but few in any age of the world have known Him as they might; and an eternity of progress holds forth, to my mind, the only hope large enough to compensate for the difference of advantages here, and to atone for the inadequate use of those advantages.2
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES
SHOULD prefer to say that I trust there will be
a righting of this world's evils for each and all of us in a future state, than say that I share the unquestioning certainty of many of those about me.
1 From letter written November 19, 1847.