In Memoriam, A.H.H. by Alfred Tennyson

“Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life; . . .

So careful of the type?” but no.
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, “A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go.

“Thou makest thine appeal to me:
I bring to life, I bring to death:
The spirit does but mean the breath:
I know no more.” And he, shall he,

Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law —
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed —

Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills,
Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal’d within the iron hills?

No more? A monster then, a dream,
A discord. Dragons of the prime,
That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music match’d with him.

O life as futile, then, as frail!
O for thy voice to soothe and bless!
What hope of answer, or redress?
Behind the veil, behind the veil.”

from parts LV and LVI, “In Memorium: A. H. H.”, Alfred Tennyson, 1850.

This is part of a very long poem that can be found at the Internet Archive Digital Library. (The book version reproduced there was published later, but 1850 is the original date of publication. The poem was written in 1849.) One of the more interesting things about this poem is the line “Nature red in tooth and claw” that appears in the quoted portion. This phrase is often used to describe the process of natural selection, as it was described by Charles Darwin as a prime agent of evolution. However, Darwin published his theory of evolution in 1859 — nine years AFTER Tennyson published this poem. The twist in timing helps illustrate the fact that Darwin drew on ideas already common to his culture at the time to formulate the idea of natural selection, not the other way around.

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