Search This Blog

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Number 193: Tennyson "The Brook"

The Brook

I come from haunts of coot and hern,
I make a sudden sally
And sparkle out among the fern,
To bicker down a valley.

By thirty hills I hurry down,
Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorpes, a little town,
And half a hundred bridges.

Till last by Philip's farm I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles.

With many a curve my banks I fret
By many a field and fallow,
And many a fairy foreland set
With willow-weed and mallow.

I chatter, chatter, as I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I wind about, and in and out,
With here a blossom sailing,
And here and there a lusty trout,
And here and there a grayling,

And here and there a foamy flake
Upon me, as I travel
With many a silvery waterbreak
Above the golden gravel,

And draw them all along, and flow
To join the brimming river
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
I slide by hazel covers;
I move the sweet forget-me-nots
That grow for happy lovers.

I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeam dance
Against my sandy shallows.

I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

-- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Hap Notes: I had something entirely different planned for today, but I'd forgotten that it's the Summer Solstice and I yearn for something a bit greener and watery to celebrate it. It's a good evening to read Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, eat some strawberries and make a dandelion chain to wear in your hair. Or you could just read this Tennyson poem that seems to use every watery modifier to bring a brook to life with words. (You could do the other stuff, too...)

I'll admit I know this poem from the Thurber cartoon I read as a youth. I wonder how many other people got inspired to read classic older poetry by reading James Thurber? Odd thought, that.

Some quick vocabulary: A coot is a bird. When people call someone an "old coot" that is what they are actually referring to whether they know it or not. Probably from its often bent posture it looks like a crabby aged person. Hern is a truncation of heron commonly used in Tennyson's time. A thorpe is a tiny village, a grayling is a fish. I think that should do it – the other words are pretty easily understood. (The coot and heron are pictured in the masthead. The Thurber cartoon is next to the poem.)

Now jump into this poem like a happy otter.

This brook gets every word Tennyson can throw at it to illustrate its rushing babbling meandering. It sparkles, bickers, slips, slides, chatters, bubbles, babbles, winds, steals, murmurs, lingers, glooms, glances, loiters and curves. I suppose you get that it is traveling along at a good pace to join up with a bigger river, yes?

The best part of the poem, to me, is how the poem is like the brook. It catches you up in its motion, you are compelled to move forward with it, watching the banks with its towns and flora and fauna. Now almost anyone can write a short poem about a babbling brook but look how long he keeps it going, making the poem into a brook that goes on. He's a Mozart with sustained word passages. There's a pride in that repeated "men may come and men may go" too, eh? Long after Tennyson and the reader is gone, this brook (or maybe poem?) will keep right on traveling.

Happy Solstice!

Here's where we've talked about Tennyson before:

No comments:

Post a Comment