Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  Vastness

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

Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron 1809–92



MANY a hearth upon our dark globe sighs after many a vanish’d face,

Many a planet by many a sun may roll with a dust of a vanish’d race.

Raving politics, never at rest—as this poor earth’s pale history runs,—

What is it all but a trouble of ants in the gleam of a million million of suns?

Lies upon this side, lies upon that side, truthless violence mourn’d by the Wise,

Thousands of voices drowning his own in a popular torrent of lies upon lies;

Stately purposes, valor in battle, glorious annals of army and fleet,

Death for the right cause, death for the wrong cause, trumpets of victory, groans of defeat;

Innocence seeth’d in her mother’s milk, and Charity setting the martyr aflame;

Thraldom who walks with the banner of Freedom, and recks not to ruin a realm in her name;

Faith at her zenith, or all but lost in the gloom of doubts that darken the schools;

Craft with a bunch of all-heal in her hand, follow’d up by her vassal legion of fools;

Trade flying over a thousand seas with her spice and her vintage, her silk and her corn;

Desolate offing, sailorless harbors, famishing populace, wharves forlorn;

Star of the morning, Hope in the sunrise; gloom of the evening, Life at a close;

Pleasure who flaunts on her wide downway with her flying robe and her poison’d rose;

Pain, that has crawl’d from the corpse of Pleasure, a worm which writhes all day, and at night

Stirs up again in the heart of the sleeper, and stings him back to the curse of the light;

Wealth with his wines and his wedded harlots; honest Poverty, bare to the bone;

Opulent Avarice, lean as Poverty; Flattery gilding the rift in a throne;

Fame blowing out from her golden trumpet a jubilant challenge to Time and to Fate;

Slander, her shadow, sowing the nettle on all the laurell’d graves of the Great;

Love for the maiden, crown’d with marriage, no regrets for aught that has been,

Household happiness, gracious children, debtless competence, golden mean;

National hatreds of whole generations, and pigmy spites of the village spire;

Vows that will last to the last death-ruckle, and vows that are snapp’d in a moment of fire;

He that has liv’d for the lust of a minute, and died in the doing it, flesh without mind;

He that has nail’d all flesh to the Cross, till Self died out in the love of his kind;

Spring and Summer and Autumn and Winter, and all these old revolutions of earth;

All new-old revolutions of Empire—change of the tide—what is all of it worth?

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?—

Peace, let it be! for I loved him, and love him for ever: the dead are not dead but alive.