NauenThen

"The woods decay"

March 11, 2018

Tags: Tennyson

The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapors weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan.

Are there more perfect lines than these, which open Tennyson's "Tithonus"? So why is his work barely available? Even the Strand had no Tennyson. Is it time for a Tennyson reappraisal?

In an earlier version, he wrote "dies the rose." That draft gives a glimpse of how he rewrote. And improved even good lines.

One time when I was in the Adirondacks, I walked around for days chanting "there lies the port, the vessel puffs her sail, there gloom the dark broad seas." What makes these lines so completely satisfying? Or any lines that give us pleasure in their repetition. (Yeats has it too—think of "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and its last line: the thump-thump of "I hear it in the deep heart’s core" after more regular iambics.) Easy enough to credit Tennyson's heartbeat rhythm of iambic pentameter, the quiet vowels, the mysteries of meaning. But the greater mystery is how it adds up to so much more than you can pull apart & see the works.