Thursday, March 01, 2018

`The Moan of Doves in Immemorial Elms'

From a note a friend sent me on Wednesday:

“This morning I read in Tennyson’s songs from `The Princess.’ I don’t know that any poet writing in English ever had a better ear than Tennyson. He is best taken in small doses. Too much Tennyson and the costive imagination needs the purgative of Larkin.”

Better ear? Aim high. Milton, Keats, Richard Wilbur (who would have turned ninety-seven today)? At that level of accomplishment, ranking is an act of ingratitude. My friend is right about small doses of Tennyson. His caloric content can be dangerously high. I love this from Part I of “The Princess”:

“And quoted odes, and jewels five-words-long
That on the stretch’d forefinger of all Time
Sparkle for ever.”

And this from a song in Part IV:

“The splendour falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story:
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.”

And Part VII:

“Sweet is every sound,
Sweeter thy voice, but every sound is sweet;
Myriads of rivulets hurrying thro’ the lawn,
The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees.”

Memorize those final two lines (it won’t take long). In the shower this morning or on the drive to work, sing them to yourself. Let the m’s hum in your mouth like a hive of bees.


terryteachout said...

Also, listen to this:

Nige said...

Tennyson (a propos previous post) died with Cymbeline on his deathbed (along with Lear and Troilus & Cressida, his three favourites). And, a propos this post, I agree that it's generally true about small doses when it comes to Tennyson, but isn't In Memoriam an exception, an eminently readable long poem?

PS Remember Johnson on Cymbeline? 'To remark the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct, the confusion of the names and manners of different times, and the impossibility of the events in any system of life, were to waste criticism upon unresisting imbecility, upon faults too evident for detection, and too gross for aggravation.'