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The Two Voices
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Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1842)
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A still small voice spake unto me,
“Thou art so full of misery,
Were it not better not to be?”

Then to the still small voice I said;
“Let me not cast in endless shade
What is so wonderfully made.”

To which the voice did urge reply;
“To-day I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.

“An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.

“He dried his wings: like gauze they grew;
Thro’ crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew.”

I said, “When first the world began,
Young Nature thro’ five cycles ran,
And in the sixth she moulded man.

“She gave him mind, the lordliest
Proportion, and, above the rest,
Dominion in the head and breast.”

Thereto the silent voice replied;
“Self-blinded are you by your pride:
Look up thro’ night: the world is wide.

“This truth within thy mind rehearse,
That in a boundless universe
Is boundless better, boundless worse.

“Think you this mould of hopes and fears
Could find no statelier than his peers
In yonder hundred million spheres?”

It spake, moreover, in my mind:
“Tho’ thou wert scatter’d to the wind,
Yet is there plenty of the kind.”

Then did my response clearer fall:
“No compound of this earthly ball
Is like another, all in all.”

To which he answer’d scoffingly;
“Good soul! suppose I grant it thee,
Who’ll weep for thy deficiency?

“Or will one beam be less intense,
When thy peculiar difference
Is cancell’d in the world of sense?”

I would have said, “Thou canst not know,”
But my full heart, that work’d below,
Rain’d thro’ my sight its overflow.

Again the voice spake unto me:
“Thou art so steep’d in misery,
Surely ’twere better not to be.

“Thine anguish will not let thee sleep,
Nor any train of reason keep:
Thou canst not think, but thou wilt weep.”

I said, “The years with change advance:
If I make dark my countenance,
I shut my life from happier chance.

“Some turn this sickness yet might take,
Ev’n yet.” But he: “What drug can make
A wither’d palsy cease to shake?”

I wept, “Tho’ I should die, I know
That all about the thorn will blow
In tufts of rosy-tinted snow;

“And men, thro’ novel spheres of thought
Still moving after truth long sought,
Will learn new things when I am not.”

“Yet,” said the secret voice, “some time,
Sooner or later, will gray prime
Make thy grass hoar with early rime.

“Not less swift souls that yearn for light,
Rapt after heaven’s starry flight,
Would sweep the tracts of day and night.

“Not less the bee would range her cells,
The furzy prickle fire the dells,
The foxglove cluster dappled bells.”

I said that “all the years invent;
Each month is various to present
The world with some development.

“Were this not well, to bide mine hour,
Tho’ watching from a ruin’d tower
How grows the day of human power?”

“The highest-mounted mind,” he said,
“Still sees the sacred morning spread
The silent summit overhead.

“Will thirty seasons render plain
Those lonely lights that still remain,
Just breaking over land and main?

“Or make that morn, from his cold crown
And crystal silence creeping down,
Flood with full daylight glebe and town?

“Forerun thy peers, thy time, and let
Thy feet, millenniums hence, be set
In midst of knowledge, dream’d not yet.

“Thou hast not gain’d a real height,
Nor art thou nearer to the light,
Because the scale is infinite.

“’Twere better not to breathe or speak,
Than cry for strength, remaining weak,
And seem to find, but still to seek.

“Moreover, but to seem to find
Asks what thou lackest, thought resign’d,
A healthy frame, a quiet mind.”

I said, “When I am gone away,
‘He dared not tarry,’ men will say,
Doing dishonour to my clay.”

“This is more vile,” he made reply,
“To breathe and loathe, to live and sigh,
Than once from dread of pain to die.

“Sick art thou—a divided will
Still heaping on the fear of ill
The fear of men, a coward still.

“Do men love thee? Art thou so bound
To men, that how thy name may sound
Will vex thee lying underground?

“The memory of the wither’d leaf
In endless time is scarce more brief
Than of the garner’d Autumn-sheaf.

“Go, vexed Spirit, sleep in trust;
The right ear, that is fill’d with dust,
Hears little of the false or just.”

“Hard task, to pluck resolve,” I cried,
“From emptiness and the waste wide
Of that abyss, or scornful pride!

“Nay—rather yet that I could raise
One hope that warm’d me in the days
While still I yearn’d for human praise.

“When, wide in soul and bold of tongue,
Among the tents I paused and sung,
The distant battle flash’d and rung.

“I sung the joyful P¾an clear,
And, sitting, burnish’d without fear
The brand, the buckler, and the spear—

“Waiting to strive a happy strife,
To war with falsehood to the knife,
And not to lose the good of life—

“Some hidden principle to move,
To put together, part and prove,
And mete the bounds of hate and love—

“As far as might be, to carve out
Free space for every human doubt,
That the whole mind might orb about—

“To search thro’ all I felt or saw,
The springs of life, the depths of awe,
And reach the law within the law:

“At least, not rotting like a weed,
But, having sown some generous seed,
Fruitful of further thought and deed,

“To pass, when Life her light withdraws,
Not void of righteous self-applause,
Nor in a merely selfish cause—

“In some good cause, not in mine own,
To perish, wept for, honour’d, known,
And like a warrior overthrown;

“Whose eyes are dim with glorious tears,
When, soil’d with noble dust, he hears
His country’s war-song thrill his ears:

“Then dying of a mortal stroke,
What time the foeman’s line is broke,
And all the war is roll’d in smoke.”

“Yea!” said the voice, “thy dream was good,
While thou abodest in the bud.
It was the stirring of the blood.

“If Nature put not forth her power
About the opening of the flower,
Who is it that could live an hour?

“Then comes the check, the change, the fall,
Pain rises up, old pleasures pall.
There is one remedy for all.

“Yet hadst thou, thro’ enduring pain,
Link’d month to month with such a chain
Of knitted purport, all were vain.

“Thou hadst not between death and birth
Dissolved the riddle of the earth.
So were thy labour little-worth.

“That men with knowledge merely play’d,
I told thee—hardly nigher made,
Tho’ scaling slow from grade to grade;

“Much less this dreamer, deaf and blind,
Named man, may hope some truth to find,
That bears relation to the mind.

“For every worm beneath the moon
Draws different threads, and late and soon
Spins, toiling out his own cocoon.

“Cry, faint not: either Truth is born
Beyond the polar gleam forlorn,
Or in the gateways of the morn.

“Cry, faint not, climb: the summits slope
Beyond the furthest flights of hope,
Wrapt in dense cloud from base to cope.

“Sometimes a little corner shines,
As over rainy mist inclines
A gleaming crag with belts of pines.

“I will go forward, sayest thou,
I shall not fail to find her now.
Look up, the fold is on her brow.

“If straight thy track, or if oblique,
Thou know’st not. Shadows thou dost strike,
Embracing cloud, Ixion-like;

“And owning but a little more
Than beasts, abidest lame and poor,
Calling thyself a little lower

“Than angels. Cease to wail and brawl!
Why inch by inch to darkness crawl?
There is one remedy for all.”

“O dull, one-sided voice,” said I,
“Wilt thou make everything a lie,
To flatter me that I may die?

“I know that age to age succeeds,
Blowing a noise of tongues and deeds,
A dust of systems and of creeds.

“I cannot hide that some have striven,
Achieving calm, to whom was given
The joy that mixes man with Heaven:

“Who, rowing hard against the stream,
Saw distant gates of Eden gleam,
And did not dream it was a dream;

“But heard, by secret transport led,
Ev’n in the charnels of the dead,
The murmur of the fountain-head—

“Which did accomplish their desire,
Bore and forebore, and did not tire,
Like Stephen, an unquenched fire.

“He heeded not reviling tones,
Nor sold his heart to idle moans,
Tho’ cursed and scorn’d, and bruised with stones:

“But looking upward, full of grace,
He pray’d, and from a happy place
God’s glory smote him on the face.”

The sullen answer slid betwixt:
“Not that the grounds of hope were fix’d,
The elements were kindlier mix’d.”
...continued on next page...




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