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Thread: Alfred, Lord Tennyson and The Bab

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    Mr RonPrice Ron Price's Avatar
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    Alfred, Lord Tennyson and The Bab


    Thirty-nine days after Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the poet laureate of England, published his famous poem In Memoriam, the Báb was martyred in the barrack square of Tabriz Persia. In retrospect the poem could be seen as strangely prophetic. Tennyson had been working on the poem for 17 years. It is ostensibly a requiem for his friend Arthur Hallam who died suddenly at the age of 22 in 1833. But the poem is much more.

    For me, the poem serves as an epic model of the evolution of a poet’s feelings and attitudes over chronological time which flows in tandem with the unfolding of the verse. The feelings and attitudes in the poem In Memoriam are those of Tennyson’s. They shift and develop in relation to human nature, faith, science and eternal life. Given the very close publication date of the poem to the martyrdom of the Báb, 1 June 1850 to 9 July 1850, I have taken this poem of Tennyson’s and given it a personal twist in the direction of my own beliefs and experience. I onlydraw on Tennyson's epic work specifically on very few occasions. It is Tennyson's developmental poetic process that I model this prose-poem of mine–Ron Price with thanks to several internet sites on Tennyson and his poetry, 24 December 2007.

    Tennyson had a passion for the past, a longing for the days that had gone either the great ages of earlier history or the immediate past of his own life. This poetic nostalgia was at the heart of his poetry, his elegies, in his middle age and as he grew into late adulthood and old age. At the heart of his poetry was what Edmund Gosse said of Tennyson on his 80th birthday in 1889: a constancy, an unwearied and unwearying excellence and a greater variety of melodious language than any other man of his time. When Tennyson died in 1892 an era of poetry also died. I would like to be able to say this about my work but, alas and alack, I can only circle around the great in the hope that something will rub off and, for the most part, the process of rubbing off is mysterious and unquantifiable.-Ron Price with thanks to The Poetry Foundation Online, 23 December 2007.

    So long ago and when so young
    there began a sojourn not conceived
    by my youthful brain that played
    with sport and childhood gain.

    It knocked at door with hot soup
    and rose-hip tea and took me to
    lounge rooms across the town where
    life had found all there was back then.

    My life first heard of birds that flew
    and died in Akka long ago and men
    as well who died for youthful cause,
    a Cause I scarce had dreamed of then.

    I knew not what the tragic meant as
    post-war years tried to forget what
    could not be forgot and underwent
    a change much more profound in so
    short a time, shorter I mused than
    any in history’s long expanse of time.

    They and I little understood how frail
    was whatever confidence we had, then.
    Serious thinking had so many forms and
    analysis its degrees of force with some
    convulsive craving to be busy, distracted,
    then & now, with the triumph of sensation
    and the inability to sit quietly in one’s room.

    My life was just beginning its battle of ideas
    in a personal and public sphere where it was
    individuals made history modestly: parts in one
    great play with limits set for all aspirations in a
    frame; and that plea for moderation in all our
    efforts for change was finally being learned in
    one long elaborate pageant with rank on rank,
    generation on generation, succeeding each
    other in this contingent and complex world.

    They knew that they would and could move
    the world with that instrument, lever, device
    they had inherited from those two-God-men
    of recent times and I knew, too, and so filled
    the great vessel of this story with everything
    that memory and style could save from wrecks
    of my age, the destruction and recreation of its
    hopes for change and its desperation to believe
    that some fortuitous conjunction of events and
    plans could and would prevail in our time.

    I felt my book to be a long symphonic exercise
    in recollection in a chair placed to the side,
    but not raised high above the rushing waters
    in which I tried to knit my world’s multiple
    threads and history’s plot into a single pattern
    with its central images of departure and voyage,
    crisis and shipwreck, grace and unfoldment. Yes,
    history was being made as decisions piled high
    with contingencies and vortices of relative truths
    where dissent was a moral and intellectual
    contradiction to those who would be unifiers of
    humankind, all of humankind on this earthly plane.

    There was a new vitality and originality emerging
    slowly, providing context for the discussion of
    fundamental questions, solid thinking, helpful
    perspectives, a new kind of social criticism based
    on a refined standard of public discussion,
    an etiquette of expression and that moderation.

    No single formula could accurately describe
    the multiple changes and colours of my thought
    as it evolved in those towns in southern Ontario,
    on Baffin Island’s Arctic-white, in Australia’s scrub
    and semi-desert, vast savanna, mallee and down
    to old Van Diemen’s Land where it would end, or so
    it seemed, as I gazed out from my 63 year old eyes.

    I did indeed hold the truth of Him Who sings
    with one clear harp in diverse tones that men
    might rise on stepping stones of their dead selves
    to higher things. I had come to forecast these years
    and find in loss a gain to match and reach my hand
    thro’ time to catch the far-off interest of many tears.

    Love and grief renewed themselves under these
    cool metallic stars, sprang up intractably like
    some pesky weeds which, trampled on,
    yielded their heads but not their roots
    which fed insatiably in my heart’s thin soil
    and made their season in my fevered dreams
    from which I awoke so often with astute
    voracious tendrils at my throat and trembling
    palms gummy with mould and so many bits of
    knowledge, experience, traces of a traceless past.

    Love did not die, nor was hope blighted.
    The frail harvest of my desire did not fail
    before my mind’s accusing noon-bright stare,
    nor wither under reason’s chastening ice.
    Neglect it seemed, surprisingly fostered
    and dismayed, fertilized its thrusting growth.
    Yes, it thrived in the desert of my life even
    where that resolute verbena unarrestably
    insinuated itself through the socket of
    despair’s bleached skull and its fierce
    festoons, with their green and wiley,
    their richly coloured, succulence--astonished
    me with its ravishing vines that climbed all
    over the walls of my mystic Ivy League Life.

    And new dreams emerged with that symbol
    quintessential of my Western civilization
    restored in Greece, but rebuilt with new
    unprecedented zeal to capture timeless
    grandeur, meticulous analysis and theory,
    with vigorous efforts to combine rational
    clarity, elegance and homage to the divine
    in a mythic order in marbled-form, a serenity,
    calm, a magnificent faith, but this time utterly
    explainable within and without the traditions
    of academic discourse and a new centre of a
    perceptual universe, a single symbol of a world
    culture that has been emerging, some would argue,
    since homo sapiens sapiens walked around the earth.

    Yes, the dominant principle of this cycle: the political
    and religious unification of the planet for the welfare
    of its billions of citizenry—the world is but one country
    and humankind its citizens, so goes the litany without
    which the earth will not survive. For without symbolic
    norms and without many of the innate mechanisms of
    inhibitory instinct we would devour and kill each other
    with greater efficiency than other mammalians----but
    biology is not our destiny and training and education can
    transform us into something a little lower than the angels.

    This idea sensibly and insensibly came to occupy the centre
    of my ethos in the decades during which I grew from child
    to manhood, young to middle to late adulthood, decade
    after decade, epoch after epoch as billions died as millions
    had done before in wars to end all wars, or so the story went.

    And still the everyday, quotidian, went on,
    old orthodoxies played the game as if shibboleths
    could suffice in this new world for which new
    vocabularies had found their place—the essential
    revolution advanced quietly, hurriedly and unhurriedly,
    noticed by a few but hidden along the edges
    of society like that great force ofChrist had
    grown two millennia ago in a world, like ours,
    where millions had dropped out spiritually from
    a public sphere they found meaningless.

    The roots of faith, without which no society
    can long endure, had been severed-with them
    a deafening withdrawal, a continuing process
    of social breakdown, the discordant elements
    repelling each other into noisy decomposition.

    I watched all this from my place in classrooms
    across two continents, in lounge rooms and
    kitchens where I talked more talk and walked
    more walk to realize some nucleus, some new
    pattern, that had been slowly building for a
    century or more to build a society fit for people
    to live in—for I knew, as millions were coming
    to know, that something called humanity was
    being born and that it was no longer a private
    preserve for a few, a leisured class. To work,
    to produce, a world civilization that would in
    turn react on the character of the individual;
    to produce a just society whose purpose is unity,
    a dream we’ve had as far back as Plato’s Republic.

    Little did I know, then, in those earliest years, that
    mine was a quest for community and authority--with
    enough of Aristotle to protect us from Plato's terror.
    You might even call my search for a peculiar, gentler
    form of political mysticism or messianism. During all
    these decades of work, of jobs, marriages, relationships--
    it is hard to overlook the fact that State-politics have
    become suffused by qualities formerly inherent only
    in the family or the church. Where there is widespread
    conviction that community has been lost, there will be
    a conscious quest for community and association that
    seems to promise the greatest moral refuge, security—
    and a withdrawal into privacies new community concept.

    They came to America long ago and regarded their
    New World as the “City Upon the Hill” –one of the
    most important themes in American discourse.
    Centuries later ideologies which gained entry into
    the academy in my embryonic sixties claimed that
    the fundamental intellectual principles of Western
    culture were illegitimate and must be overthrown.
    Terms like truth, good, evil, and soul could be
    discarded—so it was said--so it seemed back then.

    We cannot know where we are, much less
    where we are going, until we know where
    we have been. This seemed so very difficult
    to find out. The inherent and absolute incompatibility
    between liberty and equality—for equality is a chimera—
    was also difficult to understand. If all human beings
    in a population either are declared equal in their native
    strengths and rights, or else are persuaded to believe
    this, then the eventual realization of the hard truth of
    the matter that no amount of redistribution of wealth
    and status can ever obliterate inequality in one form
    or another must often take the form of covetousness
    mixed with resentment: that is envy.

    The only remedy for the poisons created by
    egalitarianism in a society is emphatically not
    ever-greater dosages of political redistribution
    of wealth and status, for such dosages worsen
    the disease, producing fevers of avarice and envy.
    No, the sole remedy for this pathology is the
    introduction and diffusion of individual liberty
    as a sovereign value—but with certain limits.

    The principle beneficiary of the universal, global,
    state, coming insensibly into existence, was the
    new universal church—which I, without the least
    effort had come to believe in as far back as my
    teens in those halcyon 1950s. This new Cause
    was prospering, right and left, unobtrusively,
    obscurely, not as much as its votaries liked
    during all these years of my life, these epochs:
    combining the virtues of classical civilization
    and those of a truly spiritual sensibility. But,
    let me say no more for this poem’s first phase.
    I will return to this chronological development.

    Ron Price
    28 December 2007
    Ron Price is a Canadian who has been living in Australia for 42 years(in 2013). He is married to a Tasmanian and has been for 37 years after 8 years in a first marriage. At the age of 69 he now spends most of his time as an author and writer, poet and publisher. editor and researcher, online blogger, essayist, journalist and engaging in independent scholarship. He has been associated with the Baha'i Faith for 60 years and a member for 53

  2. #2
    Mr RonPrice Ron Price's Avatar
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    Jul 2004
    George Town, Tasmania, Australia
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    If readers want more of my prose and poetry on the Bab and other subjects go to:
    Ron Price is a Canadian who has been living in Australia for 42 years(in 2013). He is married to a Tasmanian and has been for 37 years after 8 years in a first marriage. At the age of 69 he now spends most of his time as an author and writer, poet and publisher. editor and researcher, online blogger, essayist, journalist and engaging in independent scholarship. He has been associated with the Baha'i Faith for 60 years and a member for 53

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