ePub 版

Nothing could be finer as a charming picture of a garrulous old tree which has seen many changes in his fifty decades of stationary life; he is intensely human in that he is proud of his great age, and eager to pour forth his interesting reminiscences, but he never ceases at the same time to be a tree and to talk as a tree should. Every stroke tells. His coarse rind, the rising sap, his colourless loves, his envy of the young beech, his many rings, and even the galls that disfigure his leafage, his affection for his tiny acorns, are all woven into his utterances by one who can transfigure himself for the time being into a living tree.

The poet's close attention to buds, which has already been remarked upon, might be still further illustrated.

A million emeralds break from the ruby-budded lime

gives in a single line a perfect picture of the appearance of the lime when the tender and delicate leaves are pushing their way through the ruby scales of the buds. The same skill is shown in the following:

Enormous elm-tree-boles did stoop and lean

Upon the dusky brushwood underneath

Their broad curved branches, fledged with clearest green,

New from its silken sheath.

Here the epithet "silken" is exactly the right one for the bracts of the elm.

The appearance of a wood in the transition stage between bud and leaf is described thus:Such a time as goes before the leaf,

When all the wood stands in a mist of green,

And nothing perfect.

It is impossible to exhaust such references without being tedious.

When rosy plumelets tuft the larch

is one more which is worth quoting, because it serves to show that Tennyson does not describe these things for their own sake, but to fix the time at which certain events take place. This is the poet's way of avoiding the prosaic date-the month and the day of the month. So when he "willows whiten, aspens quiver," he is working by suggestion, always a telling effect in poetry ; this is his way of hinting that a gentle breeze was blowing, turning up the silvery undersides of the willow leaves. The same idea is seen in


realms of upland, prodigal in oil

And hoary to the wind.

The olive leaves are lighter in colour on the under side.

To turn from trees to flowers lands us in a

wealth of description and allusion from which it is difficult to select. To begin with that all too common weed the dandelion, we find in an early poem the remark that a poet's "vagrant melodies are borne by the winds till they alight,

Then, like the arrow seeds of the field-flower,
The fruitful wit

Cleaving took root and springing forth anew
Where'er they fell, behold

Like to the mother-plant in semblance grew
A flower all gold.

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This is effective enough, but Tennyson improved upon it in later work. In Aylmer's Field the two children amuse themselves as many other children have done by blowing

From the tiny pitted target

What look'd a flight of fairy arrows aim'd

All at one mark, all hitting.

The same metaphorical application is found in Gareth and Lynette, where the shield of the warrior called Noon-day Sun flames in the sunshine :

As if the flower

That blows a globe of after-arrowlets

Ten thousandfold had grown.

The passages show the same minute study that we have been insisting on, but even more remarkable is the felicity of the wording. The "pitted target,'

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the "fairy arrows," the "globe" of pappus fruit are triumphs of happy choice. Pages could be filled with examples of this class, proving, if proof were required, that Tennyson knows all the plants and knows them thoroughly in every phase of their growth, that he is not content with a vague general notion of their features, but studies them in their minutest details. This is seen in "The foxglove's cluster of dappled bells," where "dappled " is the very word for the spotted throat of the digitalis corolla.


Bring orchis, bring the foxglove spire,
The little speedwell's darling blue,
Deep tulips dash'd with fiery dew,
Laburnums, dropping-wells of fire.

Here every line is a study, the only phrase that gives us pause being dropping-wells, which is apt to be read as if there were no connecting hyphen. When it is viewed as one word, the meaning is clear. As a parallel to this passage, the description of the cottage gardens in Aylmer's Field might be quoted, but I content myself with one or two lines.

A close-set robe of jasmine sown with stars,

A rosy sea of gillyflowers,

Here was one that, summer-blanch'd,

Was parcel-bearded with the traveller's-joy
In Autumn.

The clematis was white in summer, but in the autumn showed the characteristic hairy fruit of that climbing plant.

Here is Tennyson's picture of the sunflower :

Unloved the sunflower, shining fair,

Ray round with flames her disk of seed
And many a rose-carnation feed

With summer-spice the humming air.

The poet means that in the garden of his early home the flowers will bloom unregarded by the new-comers until associations grow up to endear the place to them but mark how the desire for freshness of allusion guides him to choose somewhat unusual cases.

Here is another miniature painting. The Prince's mother had

not a thought, a touch

But pure as lines of green that streak the white
Of the first snowdrop's inner leaves.

Clearly our poet is one who gazes closely into the throat of every blossom he sees, be it large or small. But he can take a large view too, as when he describes a cloth of palest gold, shining

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