In section 26 Tennyson addresses the issue of loving past death and raises the important question of whether love is eternal. At the start of the poem, the speaker is determined hold on to an idea of love as beyond the reach of time's decay, even for selfish comfort along the "dreary way" of life. But as the poem progresses I am left with many questions as to whether the speaker resigns himself to a disbelief in the eternal nature of anything earthly, even of love or faith, which in a spiritual sense, points to the possibility of the divine residing in man.
Still onward winds the dreary way;
I with it, for I long to prove
No lapse of moons can canker Love,
Whatever fickle tongues may say.
And if that eye which watches guilt
And goodness , and hath power to see
Within the green the moulder'd tree,
And towers fallen as soon as built —
Oh if indeed that eye foresee
Or see — in Him is no before —
In more of life true life no more
And Love the indifference to be,
Then might I find, ere yet the morn,
Breaks hither over Indian seas,
That Shadow waiting with the keys
To shroud me from my proper scorn.
Structurally the poem's first stanza is a statement (the speaker's belief in divine love, outside the realms of time) but it is followed by stanza 2 and 3 which, as hypothetical statements, directly undermine this statement. What then does the conclusion of the poem signify? Is love much like everything else earthly and will come to decay with time?
I found that the image of "the tower fallen as soon as built" especially contributed to the dispiriting argument found in stanzas 2 and 3. In my own mind, the image of a tower represented the strongest man made structure , calling to mind the obvious phrase "a tower of strength". But researching its biblical usage a little, you see how much the strength of man's faith and God's love it self is tied to the image of the tower also:
Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth" [Genesis 11:4 ].
Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers. . .and you may tell future generations:"Yes, so mighty is God, our God who leads us always" [Psalm 48:12-14].
For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe [Psalm 61:3].
The God of my rock; in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour; thou savest me from violence [2Sa 22:3 ].
The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe [Pr 18:10].
Does this destruction of the tower signify the emptiness of faith, which results in nothing, coming from nothing in the first place?
The ambiguity of the final stanza, seems to neither reaffirm the first stanza nor does it seem to give into the middle two. Is the Shadow in the final stanza shrouding the speaker from his own erring human nature, and revealing the divine nature of love which he held so dearly to? Could this image be reassuring much like that of the pearl and the discarded shell we find later in section 52? Does the speaker say here that with death, our divine nature's will be revealed, which on earth, takes the form of love?
Last modified 18 September 2003