The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.

II. The Tennysons

§ 11. Frederick Tennyson

The other notable quality of Frederick Tennyson’s poems, longer and shorter, is a certain abstractness. His love of travel and a life apart were the index to a certain aloofness and solitariness of soul, not incompatible with a desire for sympathy and self-expression. Some stanzas called River of Life close with a confession of this aloofness:

  • River of Life, lo! I have furl’d my sail
  • Under the twilight of these ancient trees,
  • I listen to the water’s sleepless wail,
  • I fill mine ears with sighs that never cease,
  • If armed hearts come stronger out of ill,
  • The dust of conflict fills their eyes and ears;
  • Mine unaccustom’d heart will tremble still
  • With the old mirth and with the early tears.
  • He was deeply interested in metaphysical problems. He retells old myths with the purpose of making them messengers of his own thought on immortality and the unseen world. But the message is a little indistinct. Occasionally, as in Psyche, he loses himself in a Swedenborgian quagmire. There was something of a mystic in Frederick Tennyson; and his strange, unequal poems are the expression of a solitary soul with a certain distinction of its own. Nature and love and death and immortality are the foci round which his thought, as that of his great brother, moved, and on each he has written occasional haunting lines:
  • Oh! thou must weep, and, in the rain
  • Of tears, raise up the prime
  • And beauty of thy heart again,
  • And toil, and fall with time;
  • And look on Fate, and bear to see
  • The shadow of Death familiarly
  • Thy noblest act is but a sorrow,
  • To live—though ill befall;
  • Thy great reward—to die to-morrow,
  • If God and Nature call;
  • In faith to reach what ear and eye
  • Dream not, nor all thy phantasy!