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Death and Tennyson's a Farewell



Flow down, cold rivulet, to the sea,
Thy tribute wave deliver:
No more by thee my steps shall be,
For ever and for ever.

Flow, softly flow, by lawn and lea,
A rivulet then a river;
Nowhere by thee my steps shall be,
For ever and for ever.

But here will sigh thine alder tree,
And here thine aspen shiver;
And here by thee will hum the bee,
For ever and for ever.

A thousand suns will stream on thee,
A thousand moons will quiver;
But not by thee my steps shall be,
For ever and for ever.

-Lord Alfred Tennyson-

Simply put, this poem, A Farewell, by British poet, Lord Alfred Tennyson is about death. We will all die. It is a natural event. Nature is unaffected by our death, continuing to proceed as usual.

The line “Thy tribute wave deliver” has always reminded me of a funeral. The moment someone dies, we begin a process of planning. How do we plan to cope with this loss? In planning for the wake, will we have one? Will it be an open casket or closed? Will it run for a couple of days or a couple of hours? Will we have music or is that too tacky? For the funeral, will we have one in a church or just by the grave? Who deserves to speak for everyone? What songs, if any, will be sung? Will there be flowers? Will there be a picture of the deceased? When it is time to bury, do we bury them beside who they would want to be buried next to or by whom we want them buried next to? Do we even bury them or do we have them cremated? The planning goes on and on and on. At the funeral though, we are almost at the finish line of the process. There will be a tribute for the deceased there. Still, there is yet one more step to take. This tribute will deliver the deceased to the final point. As with a trickle of water making its way into a stream, so will the stream make its way into the ocean.

In keeping with the water theme, when someone dies, it is as if the lake has suddenly dried up. You see the hole that their departure has left in your life. You are too in shock to see that there is still water underneath the surface. While you cannot enjoy this water immediately, one day you will when you have come to terms with the loss. After you’ve cried and sworn at God, lost your faith and had it returned, you will figuratively break the dry earth open to find the water. It will remind you that they are still with you and have been urging you all along to break that earth open. One day, you will do the same for the ones you’ll leave behind.

Tennyson’s poem uses the theme of nature to remind us of how small we really are. We see ourselves as indispensable, unique and, for some of us, view our death as the end of the world. What will everyone do when we die? Surely the earth will stop spinning and all foliage will turn black. We forget that there was a world before us, and like it or not, there will be a world after us. We will leave our mark, but the mark alone will be left. Like the narrator, we will, invisibly, watch the world proceed without us. We will watch others make their own mark where ours used to be.

I’ve always enjoyed the imagery of this poem. You can picture yourself on a raft, floating down a beautiful river, trees surrounding the river, the sun poking through the trees. It is a beautiful picture that leaves you feeling calm. You know that the end of the river will come soon, but you are enjoying the trip down it too much to care. You can see yourself on the raft, as you stand on the shore. You follow the raft, remembering how it felt being on the raft. You remember what you were thinking while you were floating. You realize from the shore, just as you realized from the raft, that the end of the river is going to come. It matters the same to you now as it did to you then. While the poet states that, “not by thee my steps shall be” it is said matter-of-factly. There is no regret in this poem. This is a good, well-lived life.

To read more poetry analysis by this writer, please click on the link below.

© 2009 L A Walsh


Nook on January 04, 2015:

You get a lot of respect from me for writing these helpful arlsetci.

era\ on April 21, 2013:

nice poems i have ever read

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L A Walsh (author) from Lowell, MA on January 27, 2010:

Absolutely, Trish. Im glad you liked my article enough to do that. Thanks for the comment, your asking for my approval and for the exposure! :)

Tricia Mason from The English Midlands on January 25, 2010:


I have placed a link to this item on one of my hubs ~ hope that's ok?

Tennyson and 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'

L A Walsh (author) from Lowell, MA on March 25, 2009:

Thank you. By the way, Tennyson is always in fashion. :)

LondonGirl from London on March 24, 2009:

I know it's not fashionable, but I adore Tennyson! Hard to pick a fave, really. Great hub!

L A Walsh (author) from Lowell, MA on March 24, 2009:

Thanks! :o)

Cris A from Manila, Philippines on March 24, 2009:

Great analysis and interpretation of such a lovely, quiet poem. Thanks for sharing :D

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