Wednesday, September 15, 2010
In Memoriam LIV
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Oh, yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final end of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;
That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroy'd,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;
That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivell'd in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another's gain.
Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last—far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.
So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.
* * *
This is a Luna moth I found in the stairwell of our apartment building. It had followed the lights and come inside, but then fell asleep because it thought it was daytime. Moths do this all the time, and call me pathetic, but I think it's sad. I moved this particular moth.
The poem quoted is part of a larger work that Tennyson wrote to process the death of his dear friend, Arthur Hallam. Intellectually, he believes that all things work together for good, that every tragedy has a reason, but despite his rational belief, he doesn't quite get it. He's like a baby crying in the dark (though, as a mother, I'm going to take a wild guess that the baby's not crying for the light, he's crying for his mother!) who doesn't understand what's going on. It's an uncertain poem, stating a moral but then casting doubt on it at the end -- saying, "Yes, I do believe this, but when the rubber hits the road this consolation does not really satisfy me." I like the honesty of it.