August 31, 2011


When I was in Arizona last week I was talking to my parents about some of the literature we read growing up. My parents are all about the classics. I have memories of them reading us poetry in the evening and one poem that I'll never forget is called Enoch Arden by Alfred Lord Tennyson. A quick summary of the poem is that three young children grow up as best friends in a small village - Enoch, Philip and Annie. Enoch and Philip love Annie and rival over her. As they grow up, Enoch and Annie fall in love and decide to get married (all the while Philip is still in love with her). They get married and have children and Enoch becomes a merchant sailor. He goes to sea, is shipwrecked and goes missing for ten years. In the meantime, Annie (believing that her husband is dead), marries Philip and they have a child together. Then Enoch returns and looks through the window of their home together:

Now when the dead man come to life beheld
His wife no more, and saw the babe
Hers, yet not his, upon the father's knee,
And all the warmth, the peace, the happiness,
And his own children tall and beautiful,
And him, that other, reigning in his place,
Lord of his rights and of his children's love, --
Then he, tho' Miriam Lane had told him all,
Because things seen are mightier than things heard,
Stagger'd and shook, holding the branch, and fear'd
To send abroad a shrill and terrible cry,
Which in one moment, like a blast of doom,
Would shatter all the happiness of the hearth.

He therefore turning softly like a thief,
Lest the harsh shingle should grate underfoot,
And feeling all along the garden-wall,
Lest he should swoon and tumble and be found,
Crept to the gate, and open'd it, and closed,
As lightly as a sick man's chamber-door,
Behind him, and came out upon the waste.

And there he would have knelt, but that his knees
Were feeble, so that falling prone he dug
His fingers into the wet earth, and pray'd.

'Too hard to bear! why did they take me hence?
O God Almighty, blessed Saviour, Thou
That didst uphold me on my lonely isle,
Uphold me, Father, in my loneliness
A little longer! aid me, give me strength
Not to tell her, never to let her know.
Help me not to break in upon her peace.
My children too! must I not speak to these?
They know me not. I should betray myself.
Never: no father's kiss for me -- the girl
So like her mother, and the boy, my son.'

There speech and thought and nature fail'd a little,
And he lay tranced; but when he rose and paced
Back toward his solitary home again,
All down the long and narrow street he went
Beating it in his wearing brain,
As tho' it were the burden of a song,
'Not to tell her, never to let her know.'

I remember my dad reading it and he always got so emotional at that part. As I brought up the poem to my parents last week they went on a quest through their extensive library of classics and found the poem in an old McGuffey Reader. My dad sat in his den chair and read that part again. As his voice got shaky I was reminded of memories of my dad reading when I was living there as a teenager. It's much more meaningful to me now that I'm married and I'm a mother but I'm so grateful to parents who taught us to appreciate classic literature and culture.

You can read the whole poem here (warning - it's very long).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this...for one who enjoys Tennyson's writing, I can't believe I haven't heard about this one. It's been quite awhile since I was in school, so maybe my memory is rusty. :)


Comments are moderated to eliminate spammers and internet bullies.