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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron 1809–92

The Shell


SEE what a lovely shell,

Small and pure as a pearl,

Lying close to my foot,

Frail, but a work divine,

Made so fairily well

With delicate spire and whorl,

How exquisitely minute,

A miracle of design!

What is it? a learned man

Could give it a clumsy name.

Let him name it who can,

The beauty would be the same.

The tiny cell is forlorn,

Void of the little living will

That made it stir on the shore.

Did he stand at the diamond door

Of his house in a rainbow frill?

Did he push, when he was uncurl’d,

A golden foot or a fairy horn

Thro’ his dim water-world?

Slight, to be crush’d with a tap

Of my finger-nail on the sand,

Small, but a work divine,

Frail, but of force to withstand,

Year upon year, the shock

Of cataract seas that snap

The three-decker’s oaken spine

Athwart the ledges of rock,

Here on the Breton strand!