Poem: Hateful is the dark-blue sky

I think I listened to this on an Audibe book the second night in the hospital. A real cheerer-upper, as Holden Caulfield would say

Alfred. Lord Tennyson

From "The Lotos-Eaters")

Hateful is the dark-blue sky,
Vaulted o’er the dark-blue sea.
Death is the end of life; ah, why
Should life all labor be?
Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast,
And in a little while our lips are dumb.
Let us alone. What is it that will last?
And things are taken from us, and become
Portions and parcels of the dreadful past.
Let us alone. What pleasure can we have
To war with evil? Is there any peace
In ever climbing up the climbing wave?
All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave
In silence – ripen, fall, and cease:
Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease.

Avatar photo

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

9 Responses

  1. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I hope no one is misled into reading this bit of “The Lotus Eaters” as didactic, much less as an editorial for the drug-culture or a life of indolence. It is a counter-point to one of his most famous poems, “Ulysses,” in which he expresses the eternal striving of (Western) man for the strenuous pursuit of what lies beyond himself.

    Then why write such. poem? Don’t ask me and I would not ask the poet if he were alive. Obviously, we are all multi-layered personalities with hundreds of unfulfilled tendencies that a poet or artist can draw upon in creating something beautiful and meaningful. I once wrote a poem–while I was a Christian–taking the point of view of a Byzantine Neo-pagan.

  2. Sam Dickson says:

    One can’t help but think at times along the lines of “The Lotus Eaters” especially now when the forces of darkness are triumphant (having censored the Internet of dissident thoughts) and when the virus-inspired shut down takes its daily toll as we are forced to live as if we were in a prison.

    But, Thomas!

    Such thoughts are not for you.

    Your fan club wants you to meditate on the thoughts Tennyson expressed in Ulysses (as you mentioned), to-wit:

    Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
    One equal temper of heroic hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

    These are the thoughts we want in your mind.

  3. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Perhaps the only quality I share with Tennyson is an openness to a variety of inclinations and mental states. I am entirely upbeat and exuberant. But one. night in the hospital, I was in misery and put on an Audible book of Tennyson bits. It seemed soothing at the time–and beautifully cadenced, even (As Tennyson told someone) to the point of using lazy rhymes and even a repetition. When I posted it, it was because I reflects something true in human nature and experience, though the passage in Uysses was more expressive of the poet’s own character.

  4. Vince Cornell says:

    When I was young, I was utterly baffled by Ecclesiastes. Now I read it with a smile. There is always a time when even the most energetic and optimistic should spend time considering the “vanity of vanities.” Sometimes it helps to one keep proper perspective.

  5. Vince Cornell says:

    That being said . . . another cup of coffee probably would have helped me write the previous comment more clearly!

  6. Frank Brownlow says:

    Tennyson at his best (as in the Lotos Eaters, “Tears, idle tears,” &c) is, to tell the truth, a very strange poet, & I’ve thought for a long time that his school-masterish, cheer-leading moments (e.g., “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”) were his efforts to reassure his readers, cheer them up, convince them he was as normal as the average member of Parliament. Does it work? Not if one absorbs a poem like “Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white.”

  7. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    The Laureate side of Tennyson is OK for public occasions, but, as you observe, he is at his best when his oversenisitivies are on display, as in Maude. Even the Idylls are very Romantic. He wanted to be Vergil or Milton, and he had the technique to match them, but in some ways he is closer to Keats. Some time we can talk about his mastery of versification, some of which he discusses in a letter or to, e.g. to his mother.

  8. Frank Brownlow says:

    Ah, yes…
    The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
    And murmuring of innumerable bees.

  9. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I’ll soon be putting up two poems by a writer whose prose essays are known to our readers, but first I promised a poem in which the poet, a Christian, tries to enter the imagination of a pagan.