In “Locksley Hall”–a lesser known masterpiece of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (pictured left)–a soldier ruminates on the disappointments of his youthful passion and idealism. Below is an excerpt in which the narrator reflects on his earlier vision of a future of peace through international law and commerce and his later disillusionment with that dream. The poem is remarkably post-modern given that it was first published in 1842. Despite the skepticism of the modernist, internationalist project expressed in the poem, Winston Churchill reportedly called it “the most wonderful of modern prophecies,” and U.S. President Harry Truman–in office when the UN was formed with his strong support–is said to have carried it in his wallet. Here is the excerpt:
When I heard my days before me, and the tumult of my life;
Yearning for the large excitement that the coming years would yield,
Eager-hearted as a boy when first he leaves his father’s field,
And at night along the dusky highway near and nearer drawn,
Sees in heaven the light of London flaring like a dreary dawn;
And his spirit leaps within him to be gone before him then,
Underneath the light he looks at, in among the throngs of men:
Men, my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new:
That which they have done but earnest of the things that they shall do:
For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;
Far along the world-wide whisper of the south-wind rushing warm,
With the standards of the peoples plunging thro’ the thunder-storm;
Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’d
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.
There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.
So I triumph’d ere my passion sweeping thro’ me left me dry,
Left me with the palsied heart, and left me with the jaundiced eye;
Eye, to which all order festers, all things here are out of joint:
Science moves, but slowly, slowly, creeping on from point to point:
Slowly comes a hungry people, as a lion, creeping nigher,
Glares at one that nods and winks behind a slowly-dying fire.
The entire poem (which, I note, shows its age in its protagonist’s thoughts on women and non-European peoples) is available here.