The Letters


Still on the tower stood the vane,
A black yew gloomed the stagnant air,
I peered athwart the chancel pane
And saw the altar cold and bare.
A clog of lead was round my feet,
A band of pain across my brow;
“Cold altar, Heaven and earth shall meet
Before you hear my marriage vow.”

I turned and hummed a bitter song
That mocked the wholesome human heart,
And then we met in wrath and wrong,
We met, but only met to part.
Full cold my greeting was and dry;
She faintly smiled, she hardly moved;
I saw with half-unconscious eye
She wore the colours I approved.

She took the little ivory chest,
With half a sigh she turned the key,
Then raised her head with lips comprest,
And gave my letters back to me.
And gave the trinkets and the rings,
My gifts, when gifts of mine could please;
As looks a father on the things
Of his dead son, I looked on these.

She told me all her friends had said;
I raged against the public liar;
She talked as if her love were dead,
But in my words were seeds of fire.
“No more of love; your sex is known:
I never will be twice deceived.
Henceforth I trust the man alone,
The woman cannot be believed.

Through slander, meanest spawn of Hell—
And woman’s slander is the worst,
And you, whom once I loved so well,
Through you, my life will be accurst.”
I spoke with heart, and heat and force,
I shook her breast with vague alarms—
Like torrents from a mountain’s source
We rushed into each other’s arms.

We parted: sweetly gleamed the stars,
And sweet the vapour-braided blue,
Low breezes fanned the belfry bars,
As homeward by the church I drew.
The very graves appeared to smile,
So fresh they rose in shadowed swells;
“Dark porch,” I said, “and silent aisle,
There comes a sound of marriage bells.”


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Return to the Alfred Lord Tennyson Home Page, or . . . Read the next poem; The Lord Of Burleigh

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