National Poetry Day seems to become lower and lower in status as the years go by. I remember when the BBC would organise polls with a special TV programme with Griff Rhys Jones. Now, it's relegated to a thrice repeated piece on BBC Radio 4 Extra i.e. not even on Radio 4!
This is a reading of Tennyson's beautiful and passionate poem Maud. The programme is on 3 times today. Unfortunately 2 have already been missed. It is on again at 3am Friday 4th October Radio 4 Extra and should be on BBC Iplayer for a week or so
Here are my favourite extracts from this poem:
O let the solid ground
Not fail beneath my feet
Before my life has found
What some have found so sweet;
Then let come what come may,
What matter if I go mad,
I shall have had my day.
Let the sweet heavens endure,
Not close and darken above me
Before I am quite sure
That there is one to love me;
Then let come what come may
To a life that has been so sad,
I shall have had my day.
I have led her home, my love, my only friend.
There is none like her, none.
And never yet so warmly ran my blood
And sweetly, on and on
Calming itself to the long-wish`d-for end,
Full to the banks, close on the promised good.
None like her, none.
Just now the dry-tongued laurels` pattering talk
Seem`d her light foot along the garden walk,
And shook my heart to think she comes once more,
But even then I heard her close the door,
The gates of Heaven are closed, and she is gone.
There is none like her, none.
Nor will be when our summers have deceased.
O, art thou sighing for Lebanon
In the long breeze that streams to thy delicious East,
Sighing for Lebanon,
Dark cedar, tho` thy limbs have here increased,
Upon a pastoral slope as fair,
And looking to the South, and fed
With honey`d rain and delicate air,
And haunted by the starry head
Of her whose gentle will has changed my fate,
And made my life a perfumed altar-flame;
And over whom thy darkness must have spread
With such delight as theirs of old, thy great
Forefathers of the thornless garden, there
Shadowing the snow-limb`d Eve from whom she came.
Come into the garden, Maud,
For the black bat, night, has flown,
Come into the garden, Maud,
I am here at the gate alone;
And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,
And the musk of the roses blown.
For a breeze of morning moves,
And the planet of Love is on high,
Beginning to faint in the light that she loves
On a bed of daffodil sky,
To faint in the light of the sun she loves,
To faint in his light, and to die.
There has fallen a splendid tear
From the passion-flower at the gate.
She is coming, my dove, my dear;
She is coming, my life, my fate;
The red rose cries, "She is near, she is near;"
And the white rose weeps, "She is late,"
The larkspur listens, "I hear, I hear;"
And the lily whispers, "I wait."
She is coming, my own, my sweet,
Were it ever so airy a tread,
My heart would hear her and beat,
Were it earth in an earthy bed;
My dust would hear her and beat,
Had I lain for a century dead;
Would start and tremble under her feet,
And blossom in purple and red.
O that `twere possible
After long grief and pain
To find the arms of my true love
Round me once again!
When I was wont to meet her
In the silent woody places
By the home that gave me birth,
We stood tranced in long embraces
Mixt with kisses sweeter sweeter
Than anything on earth.
A shadow flits before me,
Not thou, but like to thee;
Ah Christ, that it were possible
For one short hour to see
The souls we loved, that they might tell us
What and where they be.
It leads me forth at evening,
It lightly winds and steals
In a cold white robe before me,
When all my spirit reels
At the shouts, the leagues of lights,
And the roaring of the wheels.
Half the night I waste in sighs,
Half in dreams I sorrow after
The delight of early skies;
In a wakeful doze I sorrow
For the hand, the lips, the eyes,
For the meeting of the morrow
The delight of happy laughter,
The delight of low replies.
But the broad light glares and beats,
And the shadow flits and fleets
And will not let me be;
And I loathe the squares and streets,
And the faces that one meets,
Hearts with no love for me:
Always I long to creep
Into some still cavern deep,
There to weep, and weep, and weep
My whole soul out to thee.
Dead, long dead,
And my heart is a handful of dust,
And the wheels go over my head,
And my bones are shaken with pain,
For into a shallow grave they are thrust,
Only a yard beneath the street,
And the hoofs of the horses beat, beat,
The hoofs of the horses beat,
Beat into my scalp and my brain,
With never an end to the stream of passing feet,
Driving, hurrying, marrying, burying,
Clamor and rumble, and ringing and clatter,
And here beneath it is all as bad
For I thought the dead had peace, but it is not so;
To have no peace in the grave, is that not sad?
But up and down and to and fro,
Ever about me the dead men go;
And then to hear a dead man chatter
Is enough to drive one mad.
The BBC is broadcasting a series of programmes to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Alfred Lord Tennyson (all on the Radio). Some of these programmes have already been broadcast but are still available on the BBC Iplayer:
Wednesday 5th August 23:00 Radio 3 - The Essay. Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis discusses the importance to her of Tennyson's poem The Kraken.
Thursday 6th August 23:00 Radio 3 - The Essay. Brian Patten discusses the importance to him of Tennyson's poem Come into the Garden, Maud
Friday 7th August 23:00 Radio 3 - The Essay. Kit Wright on the importance to him of Tennyson's lyric poem Tears, Idle Tears.
Friday 7th August 23:00 Radio 4 - Andrew Motion champions the life of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate for over 40 years and creator of In Memoriam and The Charge of the Light Brigade. Ann Thwaite provides further details of Tennyson's often-troubled life
Saturday 8th August 23:30 Radio 4 - Tennyson's Ulysses revisited. Poet Sean O'Brien explores Alfred, Lord Tennyson's great poem, Ulysses.
Sunday 9th August 16:30 Radio 4 - Tennyson: Poetry Please. Roger McGough presents a special edition devoted to the poetry of Tennyson, as part of the poet's bicentenary celebrations. Tennyson is one of the most frequently requested 19th-century poets on the programme.
Sunday 9th August 22:45 Radio 3 - To Strive, to Seek, to Find and Not to Yield. In a programme celebrating the work of Tennyson, Beth Goddard and Michael Pennington read poetry from Tennyson himself and others on the theme of destiny, alongside with music inspired by, and reflecting the texts. The poet is represented by excerpts from favourites such as The Lady of Shalott and Ulysses
Sunday 15th August 23:30 Radio 4 - Tennyson: Poetry Please. Roger McGough presents a special edition devoted to the poetry of Tennyson, as part of the poet's bicentenary celebrations. Tennyson is one of the most frequently requested 19th-century poets on the programme.
Some programmes now gone but on the iplayer for a few days only:
Andrew Motion discussing Tennyson at the Proms LIterary Festival:
Searching for Alfred in the Shadow of Tennyson. Poet and writer Ruth Padel goes in search of the real Alfred, Lord Tennyson, a poet who for many people today is an iconic image of the Victorian era. We know him as Queen Victorian's Poet Laureate, an imposing figure with a beard and cape and the author of long poems often based on myths and legends. But this image hides other facets of Tennyson and obscures the fact that many creative artists today are drawing on his work.
The Essay - Vicki Feaver on Ulysses. Vicki Feaver talks about Tennyson's long poem Ulysses, about the aged hero of Greek myth, driven to travel onwards even after reaching his home on Ithaca and his long-suffering wife Penelope.
Favourite Tennyson Poems Poll
In the second half of the nineteenth century, Tennyson was arguably the second most well known person in the kingdom (after Queen Victoria). When people such as Garibaldi came to the country, visiting Tennyson at his home on the Isle of Wight was a priority. Edison took recordings of only a few people when he came to Britain in the late 1880s, Tennyson being one of them. At Charles Dickens’ funeral, mothers held their children up in the air so that they might catch a glimpse of the reclusive poet on one of his rare public appearances. So many tourists came to the Isle of Wight in order to see Tennyson on one of his walks across the High Down that he was forced to spend his summers elsewhere.
6th August is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Alfred Lord Tennyson, and to celebrate this event, a poll has been set up to find people’s favourite Tennyson poem. To help people make their choice here are extracts from the 20 poems in the shortlist (first 10)
As thro’ the land
As thro' the land at eve we went,
And pluck'd the ripen'd ears,
We fell out, my wife and I,
O we fell out I know not why,
And kiss'd again with tears.
And blessings on the falling out
That all the more endears,
When we fall out with those we love
And kiss again with tears!
For when we came where lies the child
We lost in other years,
There above the little grave,
O there above the little grave,
We kiss'd again with tears.
[Tennyson and his wife Emily were married in 1850 after a long engagement. Their first child was stillborn. Probably, this poem marks a visit to the grave of this child at the Parish church in Twickenham, London where they were living in the early years of their marriage]
O bridesmaid, ere the happy knot was tied,
Thine eyes so wept that they could hardly see;
Thy sister smiled and said, ‘No tears for me!
A happy bridesmaid makes a happy bride.’
And then, the couple standing side by side,
Love lighted down between them full of glee,
And over his left shoulder laugh’d at thee,
‘O happy bridesmaid, make a happy bride.’
And all at once a pleasant truth I learn’d,
For while the tender service made thee weep,
I loved thee for the tear thou couldst not hide,
And prest thy hand, and knew the press return’d,
And thought, ‘My life is sick of single sleep:
O happy bridesmaid, make a happy bride!’
[Tennyson met his wife Emily at the wedding of his brother Charles to Emily’s sister]
Break break break
Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.
O, well for the fisherman's boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!
And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!
Break, break, break,
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.
[Written in 1834, not long after the death of Arthur Hallam]
The Charge of the Light Brigade
'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd ?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
[short extract from possibly Tennyson’s most famous work]
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
The Idylls of the King
(from The passing of Arthur)
And slowly answered Arthur from the barge:
'The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?
I have lived my life, and that which I have done
May He within himself make pure! but thou,
If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.
[The Idylls are a monumental work that kept Tennyson busy for the last 30 years of his life. They reflect his life-long interest in the legends of King Arthur which he did a great deal to revive]
Be near me when my light is low,
When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
And tingle; and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of Being slow.
Be near me when the sensuous frame
Is rack’d with pangs that conquer trust;
And Time, a maniac scattering dust,
And Life, a Fury slinging flame.
Be near me when my faith is dry,
And men the flies of latter spring,
That lay their eggs, and sting and sing
And weave their petty cells and die.
Be near me when I fade away,
To point the term of human strife,
And on the low dark verge of life
The twilight of eternal day.
I envy not in any moods
The captive void of noble rage,
The linnet born within the cage,
That never knew the summer woods;
I envy not the beast that takes
His license in the field of time,
Unfetter'd by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;
Nor, what may count itself as blest,
The heart that never plighted troth
But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;
Nor any want-begotten rest.
I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'T is better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
[Just two short extracts from the work which propelled Tennyson to fame and fortune and the Laureateship in 1850. It had a huge influence on the Victorian psyche and response to questions about the meaning of life and death and human existence]
In the Valley of Cauteretz
All along the valley, stream that flashest white,
Deepening thy voice with the deepening of the night,
All along the valley, where thy waters flow,
I walk'd with one I loved two and thirty years ago.
All along the valley while I walk'd to-day,
The two and thirty years were a mist that rolls away;
For all along the valley, down thy rocky bed
Thy living voice to me was as the voice of the dead,
And all along the valley, by rock and cave and tree,
The voice of the dead was a living voice to me.
Below the thunders of the upper deep,
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant fins the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battering upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by men and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
The Lady of Shallott
She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro' the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
'The curse is come upon me!' cried
The Lady of Shalott.
[A short extract from this long poem, published when Tennyson was only 23. This poem was voted the nation’s second favourite poem (after Kipling’s “If”) in the BBC poll]
To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Arthur Hallam, the BBC put on a reading of In Memoriam as the afternoon play today on Radio 4. Only listened to a short part of it so far but already heard my favourite
bits, "Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" and "Be near me when my faith is dry..." David Bamber (Mr Collins from BBC Pride & Prejudice?) reads it superbly. If you missed it it'll be on the BBC Iplayer for a week:
One or two other Tennyson things on TV/radio: Tuesday 8th Feb at 20:00 BBC4 TV. Clare Balding cycling around the Isle of Wight. Includes some stuff on Tennyson (probably a visit to Farringford or Tennyson Down)
4AM Friday 4th February BBC2 looks to be worth recording