The Princess, A Medley
by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Text from the 3rd London Edition (1850)
with illustrations from the 1884 American Edition.
THIS VOLUME IS INSCRIBED BY HIS FRIEND
- Sir Walter Vivian all a summer's day
- Gave his broad lawns until the set of sun
- Up to the people: thither flocked at noon
- His tenants, wife and child, and thither half
- The neighboring borough with their Institute
- Of which he was the patron. I was there
- From college, visiting the son,--the son
- A Walter too,--with others of our set,
- Five others: we were seven at Vivian-place.
- And me that morning Walter showed the house,
- Greek, set with busts: from vases in the hall
- Flowers of all heavens, and lovelier than their names,
- Grew side by side; and on the pavement lay
- Carved stones of the Abbey-ruin in the park,
- Huge Ammonites, and the first bones of Time;
- And on the tables every clime and age
- Jumbled together; celts and calumets,
- Claymore and snowshoe, toys in lava, fans
- Of sandal, amber, ancient rosaries,
- Laborious orient ivory sphere in sphere,
- The cursed Malayan crease, and battle-clubs
- From the isles of palm: and higher on the walls,
- Betwixt the monstrous horns of elk and deer,
- His own forefathers' arms and armourhung.
- And 'this' he said 'was Hugh's at Agincourt;
- And that was old Sir Ralph's at Ascalon:
- A good knight he! we keep a chronicle
- With all about him'--which he brought, and I
- Dived in a hoard of tales that dealt with knights,
- Half-legend, half-historic, counts and kings
- Who laid about them at their wills and died;
- And mixt with these, a lady, one that armed
- Her own fair head, and sallying through the gate,
- Had beat her foes with slaughter from her walls.
- 'O miracle of women,' said the book,
- 'O noble heart who, being strait-besieged
- By this wild king to force her to his wish,
- Nor bent, nor broke, nor shunned a soldier's death,
- But now when all was lost or seemed as lost--
- Her stature more than mortal in the burst
- Of sunrise, her arm lifted, eyes on fire--
- Brake with a blast of trumpets from the gate,
- And, falling on them like a thunderbolt,
- She trampled some beneath her horses' heels,
- And some were whelmed with missiles of the wall,
- And some were pushed with lances from the rock,
- And part were drowned within the whirling brook:
- O miracle of noble womanhood!'
- So sang the gallant glorious chronicle;
- And, I all rapt in this, 'Come out,' he said,
- 'To the Abbey: there is Aunt Elizabeth
- And sister Lilia with the rest.' We went
- (I kept the book and had my finger in it)
- Down through the park: strange was the sight to me;
- For all the sloping pasture murmured, sown
- With happy faces and with holiday.
- There moved the multitude, a thousand heads:
- The patient leaders of their Institute
- Taught them with facts. One reared a font of stone
- And drew, from butts of water on the slope,
- The fountain of the moment, playing, now
- A twisted snake, and now a rain of pearls,
- Or steep-up spout whereon the gilded ball
- Danced like a wisp: and somewhat lower down
- A man with knobs and wires and vials fired
- A cannon: Echo answered in her sleep
- From hollow fields: and here were telescopes
- For azure views; and there a group of girls
- In circle waited, whom the electric shock
- Dislink'd with shrieks and laughter: round the lake
- A little clock-work steamer paddling plied
- And shook the lilies: perched about the knolls
- A dozen angry models jetted steam:
- A petty railway ran: a fire-balloon
- Rose gem-like up before the dusky groves
- And dropt a fairy parachute and past:
- And there through twenty posts of telegraph
- They flashed a saucy message to and fro
- Between the mimic stations; so that sport
- Went hand in hand with Science; otherwhere
- Pure sport; a herd of boys with clamour bowl'd
- And stumped the wicket; babies rolled about
- Like tumbled fruit in grass; and men and maids
- Arranged a country dance, and flew through light
- And shadow, while the twangling violin
- Struck up with Soldier-laddie, and overhead
- The broad ambrosial aisles of lofty lime
- Made noise with bees and breeze from end to end.
- Strange was the sight and smacking of the time;
- And long we gazed, but satiated at length
- Came to the ruins. High-arched and ivy-claspt,
- Of finest Gothic lighter than a fire,
- Through one wide chasm of time and frost they gave
- The park, the crowd, the house; but all within
- The sward was trim as any garden lawn:
- And here we lit on Aunt Elizabeth,
- And Lilia with the rest, and lady friends
- From neighbourseats: and there was Ralph himself,
- A broken statue propt against the wall,
- As gay as any. Lilia, wild with sport,
- Half child half woman as she was, had wound
- A scarf of orange round the stony helm,
- And robed the shoulders in a rosy silk,
- That made the old warrior from his ivied nook
- Glow like a sunbeam: near his tomb a feast
- Shone, silver-set; about it lay the guests,
- And there we joined them: then the maiden Aunt
- Took this fair day for text, and from it preached
- An universal culture for the crowd,
- And all things great; but we, unworthier, told
- Of college: he had climbed across the spikes,
- And he had squeezed himself betwixt the bars,
- And he had breathed the Proctor's dogs; and one
- Discussed his tutor, rough to common men,
- But honeying at the whisper of a lord;
- And one the Master, as a rogue in grain
- Veneer'd with sanctimonious theory.
- But while they talked, above their heads I saw
- The feudal warrior lady-clad; which brought
- My book to mind: and opening this I read
- Of old Sir Ralph a page or two that rang
- With tilt and tourney; then the tale of her
- That drove her foes with slaughter from her walls,
- And much I praised her nobleness, and 'Where,'
- Asked Walter, patting Lilia's head (she lay
- Beside him) 'lives there such a woman now?'
- Quick answered Lilia 'There are thousands now
- Such women, but convention beats them down:
- It is but bringing up; no more than that:
- You men have done it: how I hate you all!
- Ah, were I something great! I wish I were
- Some might poetess, I would shame you then,
- That love to keep us children! O I wish
- That I were some great princess, I would build
- Far off from men a college like a man's,
- And I would teach them all that men are taught;
- We are twice as quick!' And here she shook aside
- The hand that played the patron with her curls.
- And one said smiling 'Pretty were the sight
- If our old halls could change their sex, and flaunt
- With prudes for proctors, dowagers for deans,
- And sweet girl-graduates in their golden hair.
- I think they should not wear our rusty gowns,
- But move as rich as Emperor-moths, or Ralph
- Who shines so in the corner; yet I fear,
- If there were many Lilias in the brood,
- However deep you might embower the nest,
- Some boy would spy it.'
At this upon the sward
- She tapt her tiny silken-sandaled foot:
- 'That's your light way; but I would make it death
- For any male thing but to peep at us.'
- Petulant she spoke, and at herself she laughed;
- A rosebud set with little wilful thorns,
- And sweet as English air could make her, she:
- But Walter hailed a score of names upon her,
- And 'petty Ogress', and 'ungrateful Puss',
- And swore he longed at college, only longed,
- All else was well, for she-society.
- They boated and they cricketed; they talked
- At wine, in clubs, of art, of politics;
- They lost their weeks; they vext the souls of deans;
- They rode; they betted; made a hundred friends,
- And caught the blossom of the flying terms,
- But missed the mignonette of Vivian-place,
- The little hearth-flower Lilia. Thus he spoke,
- Part banter, part affection.
'True,' she said,
- 'We doubt not that. O yes, you missed us much.
- I'll stake my ruby ring upon it you did.'
- She held it out; and as a parrot turns
- Up through gilt wires a crafty loving eye,
- And takes a lady's finger with all care,
- And bites it for true heart and not for harm,
- So he with Lilia's. Daintily she shrieked
- And wrung it. 'Doubt my word again!' he said.
- 'Come, listen! here is proof that you were missed:
- We seven stayed at Christmas up to read;
- And there we took one tutor as to read:
- The hard-grained Muses of the cube and square
- Were out of season: never man, I think,
- So mouldered in a sinecure as he:
- For while our cloisters echoed frosty feet,
- And our long walks were stript as bare as brooms,
- We did but talk you over, pledge you all
- In wassail; often, like as many girls--
- Sick for the hollies and the yews of home--
- As many little trifling Lilias--played
- Charades and riddles as at Christmas here,
- And what's my thought and when and where and how,
- As here at Christmas.'
She remembered that:
- A pleasant game, she thought: she liked it more
- Than magic music, forfeits, all the rest.
- But these--what kind of tales did men tell men,
- She wondered, by themselves?
- Perched on the pouted blossom of her lips:
- And Walter nodded at me; 'He began,
- The rest would follow, each in turn; and so
- We forged a sevenfold story. Kind? what kind?
- Chimeras, crotchets, Christmas solecisms,
- Seven-headed monsters only made to kill
- Time by the fire in winter.'
'Kill him now,
- The tyrant! kill him in the summer too,'
- Said Lilia; 'Why not now?' the maiden Aunt.
- 'Why not a summer's as a winter's tale?
- A tale for summer as befits the time,
- And something it should be to suit the place,
- Heroic, for a hero lies beneath,
- Grave, solemn!'
Walter warped his mouth at this
- To something so mock-solemn, that I laughed
- And Lilia woke with sudden-thrilling mirth
- An echo like a ghostly woodpecker,
- Hid in the ruins; till the maiden Aunt
- (A little sense of wrong had touched her face
- With colour) turned to me with 'As you will;
- Heroic if you will, or what you will,
- Or be yourself you hero if you will.'
- 'Take Lilia, then, for heroine' clamoured he,
- 'And make her some great Princess, six feet high,
- Grand, epic, homicidal; and be you
- The Prince to win her!'
'Then follow me, the Prince,'
- I answered, 'each be hero in his turn!
- Seven and yet one, like shadows in a dream.--
- Heroic seems our Princess as required--
- But something made to suit with Time and place,
- A Gothic ruin and a Grecian house,
- A talk of college and of ladies' rights,
- A feudal knight in silken masquerade,
- And, yonder, shrieks and strange experiments
- For which the good Sir Ralph had burnt them all--
- This were a medley! we should have him back
- Who told the "Winter's tale" to do it for us.
- No matter: we will say whatever comes.
- And let the ladies sing us, if they will,
- From time to time, some ballad or a song
- To give us breathing-space.'
So I began,
- And the rest followed: and the women sang
- Between the rougher voices of the men,
- Like linnets in the pauses of the wind:
- And here I give the story and the songs.
On to Part I
Poets' Corner .
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