“As I Walked Out One Evening,” by W. H. Auden
I chose Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses” to memorize because I think the end is THE GREATEST bit of poetry in the English language. I also thought the calm tone, the wondrous there-may-not-be-much-time-to-us-but-we-can-still-do-stuff tone would be a nice counter to my carpe diem overload.
I learned two things immediately:
1) Memorizing “As I Walked Out” was made easy via Tom Hiddleston’s voice, not through any facility with verse. I listened to those dulcet tones over and over until they sank into my synapses. I have yet to find a beautifully read “Ulysses” and it’s harder to compress lines in my head from the page. Would it be weird if I tweeted at Mr. Hiddleston to ask for more poetry? New Plan: Write better (and faster) to land a book deal. Then, he could star in something I’d written and, while he was chatting me up for intel on his chatacter, I could say: “Hang on, will you be a dear and read this?”*
2) Rhyming poems aren’t just a little easier, they’re a lot easier.
As a result, “Ulysses” is not fully in my head. I read through it every other day and while most lines are there, the transitions are not. I can get through it only with prompting and wild gesticulations. I’m just posting an update so no one thinks I’ve forgotten my latest venture and am already slipping in the new year.
I plan to always include a copy of the relevant poem in each of these posts, but for “Ulysses,” I’m going to type it in manually to get as much interaction with the text as possible.
“Ulysses” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me,
I cannot rest from travel. I will drink
Life to the lees. All time I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known,—cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all,—
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch where-through
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me,—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads,—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,—
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Note: When this gets quoted in movies (e.g. Skyfall), the Achilles bit is often left out. Good luck remembering it! That said, Dame Judi Dench’s abridged version is suitably epic.
Next week: Something short.
*If I ever do get super famous and meet Tom Hiddleston, I’ll feel very embarrassed to have written this.