The Poet’s Song, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Poet’s Song
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The rain had fallen, the Poet arose,
     He passed by the town and out of the street,
A bright wind blew from the gates of the sun,
     And waves of wind went over the wheat,
And he sat him down in a lonely place,
     And chanted a melody loud and sweet,
That made the wild-swan pause in her cloud,
     And the lark drop down at his feet.

The swallow stopt as he hunted the bee,
     The snake slipt under a spray,
The wild hawk stood with the down on his beak,
     And stared, with his foot on the prey,
And the nightingale thought, ‘I have sung many songs,
     But never a one so gay,
For he sings of what the world will be
     When the years have died away.’

I recently re-read this poem as was nigh-on dumbstruck by its beauty and the poignancy of its final line.  The figure of a divinely-inspired poet pops up in some of J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories, namely The Silmarillion, where Felagund sings for Bëor and his folk, though numerous examples of such poetry are certainly present in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  The poet is usually an Elf.  Mortal Men (or Hobbits) who meet them sense something in them is different:  Their eyes are brighter, their voices clearer, and their song stirs the listener’s heart to visions of beauty he does not understand, but knows he has lost.  The Elves sing of what they have seen—things Men cannot see, though they still long for them in their hearts.  This is the effect the poet of Tennyson’s poem has on his listeners.  The swallow stops his hunting, the hawk raises his head.

But there is a difference.  Indeed, there is a great reversal.  For while Tolkien’s Elves sing of what the world was before Morgoth came and Valinor was hidden from mortal eyes, our poet sings with spellbinding brilliance of what the world will be in time to come, after it has been remade.  And that, my friends, in the words of Gandalf, “may be an encouraging thought.”1


1J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Book 1, Chapter 2

2 thoughts on “The Poet’s Song, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

  1. I recently discovered this Tennyson poem as well! It’s so beautiful! I’ve also been reading a lot about Felagund recently. Together with Luthien, he has become my favorite Silmarillion character, so I love that you tied him into this post. I most recently read “Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth,” in which Felagund and a mortal woman discuss similar ideas to those you’ve explored here — the past, the future, and hope for when the world is remade.

    Beautifully written! Thank you for revealing more of the depth of this poem to me.


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