Sorry for going AWOL on you. However, I am back and very much alive. What better way to make this announcement than with a Flashback Friday! For those of you who have hung around this blog long enough, this is nothing new. For the newcomers, however, Flashback Friday is where I post my favourite poems that I’ve read over the years and have been appropriately awed and/or inspired by. There’s also the added bonus of listening to me explain why the particular poem adorns this list. Yay! (not)
Today’s pick is Tithonus by Lord Alfred Tennyson. Here’s why – we’ve all nurtured and harboured dreams of being granted three wishes by an ever-elusive genie at some point of time or the other. It tickles me no end to hear the outrageously preposterous demands people want to make when they can have absolutely anything in the world. I dare say these wishes are the true measure of a man. Tithonus was one such man. He fell in love with Aurora, the Goddess of Dawn. She, in turn, fell in love with him too and took him away from earth to reside with her in her heavenly abode. He asked of her a gift, which she bestowed upon him very kindly indeed. He asked for immortality (isn’t that what most of humanity is striving towards?). but alas! in his haste, he failed to ask for eternal youth too. So, now, he wanders the halls, all aged and wizened and, yet, he cannot die. Talk about eternal damnation wrapped up as a present! I come back to this poem every time I need a reminder of man’s vanity and the to not be too sure of myself – to always think before acting. And, of course, to ‘be careful what you wish for!’
I would also recommend you to pay keen attention to how Lord Tennyson has portrayed dawn in personification. I am in love with that description! I’d never fault Tithonus for falling in love with this side of nature.
Happy reading! please let me know what you think of this poem in the comments section down below.
The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan.
Me only cruel immortality
Consumes: I wither slowly in thine arms,
Here at the quiet limit of the world,
A white-hair’d shadow roaming like a dream
The ever-silent spaces of the East,
Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn.
Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man—
So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,
Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem’d
To his great heart none other than a God!
I ask’d thee, ‘Give me immortality.’
Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile,
Like wealthy men, who care not how they give.
But thy strong Hours indignant work’d their wills,
And beat me down and marr’d and wasted me,
And tho’ they could not end me, left me maim’d
To dwell in presence of immortal youth,
Immortal age beside immortal youth,
And all I was, in ashes. Can thy love,
Thy beauty, make amends, tho’ even now,
Close over us, the silver star, thy guide,
Shines in those tremulous eyes that fill with tears
To hear me? Let me go: take back thy gift:
Why should a man desire in any way
To vary from the kindly race of men
Or pass beyond the goal of ordinance
Where all should pause, as is most meet for all?
A soft air fans the cloud apart; there comes
A glimpse of that dark world where I was born.
Once more the old mysterious glimmer steals
From thy pure brows, and from thy shoulders pure,
And bosom beating with a heart renew’d.
Thy cheek begins to redden thro’ the gloom,
Thy sweet eyes brighten slowly close to mine,
Ere yet they blind the stars, and the wild team
Which love thee, yearning for thy yoke, arise,
And shake the darkness from their loosen’d manes,
And beat the twilight into flakes of fire.
Lo! ever thus thou growest beautiful
In silence, then before thine answer given
Departest, and thy tears are on my cheek.
Why wilt thou ever scare me with thy tears,
And make me tremble lest a saying learnt,
In days far-off, on that dark earth, be true?
‘The Gods themselves cannot recall their gifts.’
Ay me! ay me! with what another heart
In days far-off, and with what other eyes
I used to watch—if I be he that watch’d—
The lucid outline forming round thee; saw
The dim curls kindle into sunny rings;
Changed with thy mystic change, and felt my blood
Glow with the glow that slowly crimson’d all
Thy presence and thy portals, while I lay,
Mouth, forehead, eyelids, growing dewy-warm
With kisses balmier than half-opening buds
Of April, and could hear the lips that kiss’d
Whispering I knew not what of wild and sweet,
Like that strange song I heard Apollo sing,
While Ilion like a mist rose into towers.
Yet hold me not for ever in thine East:
How can my nature longer mix with thine?
Coldly thy rosy shadows bathe me, cold
Are all thy lights, and cold my wrinkled feet
Upon thy glimmering thresholds, when the steam
Floats up from those dim fields about the homes
Of happy men that have the power to die,
And grassy barrows of the happier dead.
Release me, and restore me to the ground;
Thou seëst all things, thou wilt see my grave:
Thou wilt renew thy beauty morn by morn;
I earth in earth forget these empty courts,
And thee returning on thy silver wheels.