A POEM WHICH OBTAINED THE CHANCELLOR'S MEDAL AT THE 'Cambridge Commencement' M.DCCCXXIX BY A. TENNYSON Of Trinity College.
Printed in the Cambridge 'Chronicle and Journal' for Friday, 10th July, 1839, and at the University Press by James Smith, among the 'Profusiones Academicae Praemiis annuis dignatae, et in Curiā Cantabrigiensi Recitatae Comitiis Maximis' A.D. M.DCCCXXIX. Reprinted in an edition of the 'Cambridge Prize Poems' from 1813 to 1858 inclusive, by Messrs. Macmillan in 1859, but without any alteration, except in punctuation and the substitution of small letters for capitals where the change was appropriate; and again in 1893 in the appendix to the reprint of the 'Poems by Two Brothers'.
Deep in that lion-haunted island lies A mystic city, goal of enterprise.
I stood upon the Mountain which o'erlooks The narrow seas, whose rapid interval Parts Afric from green Europe, when the Sun Had fall'n below th' Atlantick, and above The silent Heavens were blench'd with faery light, Uncertain whether faery light or cloud, Flowing Southward, and the chasms of deep, deep blue Slumber'd unfathomable, and the stars Were flooded over with clear glory and pale. I gaz'd upon the sheeny coast beyond, There where the Giant of old Time infixed The limits of his prowess, pillars high Long time eras'd from Earth: even as the sea When weary of wild inroad buildeth up Huge mounds whereby to stay his yeasty waves. And much I mus'd on legends quaint and old Which whilome won the hearts of all on Earth Toward their brightness, ev'n as flame draws air; But had their being in the heart of Man As air is th' life of flame: and thou wert then A center'd glory--circled Memory, Divinest Atalantis, whom the waves Have buried deep, and thou of later name Imperial Eldorado roof'd with gold: Shadows to which, despite all shocks of Change, All on-set of capricious Accident, Men clung with yearning Hope which would not die. As when in some great City where the walls Shake, and the streets with ghastly faces throng'd Do utter forth a subterranean voice, Among the inner columns far retir'd At midnight, in the lone Acropolis. Before the awful Genius of the place Kneels the pale Priestess in deep faith, the while Above her head the weak lamp dips and winks Unto the fearful summoning without: Nathless she ever clasps the marble knees, Bathes the cold hand with tears, and gazeth on Those eyes which wear no light but that wherewith Her phantasy informs them. Where are ye Thrones of the Western wave, fair Islands green? Where are your moonlight halls, your cedarn glooms, The blossoming abysses of your hills? Your flowering Capes and your gold-sanded bays Blown round with happy airs of odorous winds? Where are the infinite ways which, Seraph-trod, Wound thro' your great Elysian solitudes, Whose lowest depths were, as with visible love, Fill'd with Divine effulgence, circumfus'd, Flowing between the clear and polish'd stems, And ever circling round their emerald cones In coronals and glories, such as gird The unfading foreheads of the Saints in Heaven? For nothing visible, they say, had birth In that blest ground but it was play'd about With its peculiar glory. Then I rais'd My voice and cried "Wide Afric, doth thy Sun Lighten, thy hills enfold a City as fair As those which starr'd the night o' the Elder World? Or is the rumour of thy Timbuctoo A dream as frail as those of ancient Time?" A curve of whitening, flashing, ebbing light! A rustling of white wings! The bright descent Of a young Seraph! and he stood beside me There on the ridge, and look'd into my face With his unutterable, shining orbs, So that with hasty motion I did veil My vision with both hands, and saw before me Such colour'd spots as dance athwart the eyes Of those that gaze upon the noonday Sun. Girt with a Zone of flashing gold beneath His breast, and compass'd round about his brow With triple arch of everchanging bows, And circled with the glory of living light And alternation of all hues, he stood.
"O child of man, why muse you here alone Upon the Mountain, on the dreams of old Which fill'd the Earth with passing loveliness, Which flung strange music on the howling winds, And odours rapt from remote Paradise? Thy sense is clogg'd with dull mortality, Thy spirit fetter'd with the bond of clay: Open thine eye and see." I look'd, but not Upon his face, for it was wonderful With its exceeding brightness, and the light Of the great angel mind which look'd from out The starry glowing of his restless eyes. I felt my soul grow mighty, and my spirit With supernatural excitation bound Within me, and my mental eye grew large With such a vast circumference of thought, That in my vanity I seem'd to stand Upon the outward verge and bound alone Of full beautitude. Each failing sense As with a momentary flash of light Grew thrillingly distinct and keen. I saw The smallest grain that dappled the dark Earth, The indistinctest atom in deep air, The Moon's white cities, and the opal width Of her small glowing lakes, her silver heights Unvisited with dew of vagrant cloud, And the unsounded, undescended depth Of her black hollows. The clear Galaxy Shorn of its hoary lustre, wonderful, Distinct and vivid with sharp points of light Blaze within blaze, an unimagin'd depth And harmony of planet-girded Suns And moon-encircled planets, wheel in wheel, Arch'd the wan Sapphire. Nay, the hum of men, Or other things talking in unknown tongues, And notes of busy life in distant worlds Beat like a far wave on my anxious ear. A maze of piercing, trackless, thrilling thoughts Involving and embracing each with each Rapid as fire, inextricably link'd, Expanding momently with every sight And sound which struck the palpitating sense, The issue of strong impulse, hurried through The riv'n rapt brain: as when in some large lake From pressure of descendant crags, which lapse Disjointed, crumbling from their parent slope At slender interval, the level calm Is ridg'd with restless and increasing spheres Which break upon each other, each th' effect Of separate impulse, but more fleet and strong Than its precursor, till the eye in vain Amid the wild unrest of swimming shade Dappled with hollow and alternate rise Of interpenetrated arc, would scan Definite round.
I know not if I shape These things with accurate similitude From visible objects, for but dimly now, Less vivid than a half-forgotten dream, The memory of that mental excellence Comes o'er me, and it may be I entwine The indecision of my present mind With its past clearness, yet it seems to me As even then the torrent of quick thought Absorbed me from the nature of itself With its own fleetness. Where is he that borne Adown the sloping of an arrowy stream, Could link his shallop to the fleeting edge, And muse midway with philosophic calm Upon the wondrous laws which regulate The fierceness of the bounding element? My thoughts which long had grovell'd in the slime Of this dull world, like dusky worms which house Beneath unshaken waters, but at once Upon some earth-awakening day of spring Do pass from gloom to glory, and aloft Winnow the purple, bearing on both sides Double display of starlit wings which burn Fanlike and fibred, with intensest bloom: E'en so my thoughts, ere while so low, now felt Unutterable buoyancy and strength To bear them upward through the trackless fields Of undefin'd existence far and free.
Then first within the South methought I saw A wilderness of spires, and chrystal pile Of rampart upon rampart, dome on dome, Illimitable range of battlement On battlement, and the Imperial height Of Canopy o'ercanopied.
Behind, In diamond light, upsprung the dazzling Cones Of Pyramids, as far surpassing Earth's As Heaven than Earth is fairer. Each aloft Upon his narrow'd Eminence bore globes Of wheeling suns, or stars, or semblances Of either, showering circular abyss Of radiance. But the glory of the place Stood out a pillar'd front of burnish'd gold Interminably high, if gold it were Or metal more ethereal, and beneath Two doors of blinding brilliance, where no gaze Might rest, stood open, and the eye could scan Through length of porch and lake and boundless hall, Part of a throne of fiery flame, where from The snowy skirting of a garment hung, And glimpse of multitudes of multitudes That minister'd around it--if I saw These things distinctly, for my human brain Stagger'd beneath the vision, and thick night Came down upon my eyelids, and I fell.
With ministering hand he rais'd me up; Then with a mournful and ineffable smile, Which but to look on for a moment fill'd My eyes with irresistible sweet tears, In accents of majestic melody, Like a swol'n river's gushings in still night Mingled with floating music, thus he spake:
"There is no mightier Spirit than I to sway The heart of man: and teach him to attain By shadowing forth the Unattainable; And step by step to scale that mighty stair Whose landing-place is wrapt about with clouds Of glory of Heaven.  With earliest Light of Spring, And in the glow of sallow Summertide, And in red Autumn when the winds are wild With gambols, and when full-voiced Winter roofs The headland with inviolate white snow, I play about his heart a thousand ways, Visit his eyes with visions, and his ears With harmonies of wind and wave and wood-- Of winds which tell of waters, and of waters Betraying the close kisses of the wind-- And win him unto me: and few there be So gross of heart who have not felt and known A higher than they see: They with dim eyes Behold me darkling. Lo! I have given thee To understand my presence, and to feel My fullness; I have fill'd thy lips with power. I have rais'd thee nigher to the Spheres of Heaven, Man's first, last home: and thou with ravish'd sense Listenest the lordly music flowing from Th'illimitable years. I am the Spirit, The permeating life which courseth through All th' intricate and labyrinthine veins Of the great vine of Fable, which, outspread With growth of shadowing leaf and clusters rare, Reacheth to every corner under Heaven, Deep-rooted in the living soil of truth: So that men's hopes and fears take refuge in The fragrance of its complicated glooms And cool impleached twilights. Child of Man, See'st thou yon river, whose translucent wave, Forth issuing from darkness, windeth through The argent streets o' the City, imaging The soft inversion of her tremulous Domes. Her gardens frequent with the stately Palm, Her Pagods hung with music of sweet bells. Her obelisks of ranged Chrysolite, Minarets and towers? Lo! how he passeth by, And gulphs himself in sands, as not enduring To carry through the world those waves, which bore The reflex of my City in their depths. Oh City! Oh latest Throne! where I was rais'd To be a mystery of loveliness Unto all eyes, the time is well nigh come When I must render up this glorious home To keen 'Discovery': soon yon brilliant towers Shall darken with the waving of her wand; Darken, and shrink and shiver into huts, Black specks amid a waste of dreary sand, Low-built, mud-wall'd, Barbarian settlement, How chang'd from this fair City!"
Thus far the Spirit: Then parted Heavenward on the wing: and I Was left alone on Calpe, and the Moon Had fallen from the night, and all was dark!
[Footnote 1: Be ye perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.]
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