The Brook

Original Text: 
Alfred Tennyson, Maud, and Other Poems (London: Edward Moxon, 1855): 101-13. Robarts Library
1Here, by this brook, we parted; I to the East
2And he for Italy--too late--too late:
3One whom the strong sons of the world despise;
5And mellow metres more than cent for cent;
6Nor could he understand how money breeds,
7Thought it a dead thing; yet himself could make
8The thing that is not as the thing that is.
9O had he lived! In our schoolbooks we say,
10Of those that held their heads above the crowd,
11They flourish'd then or then; but life in him
12Could scarce be said to flourish, only touch'd
13On such a time as goes before the leaf,
14When all the wood stands in a mist of green,
15And nothing perfect: yet the brook he loved,
16For which, in branding summers of Bengal,
18I panted, seems, as I re-listen to it,
19Prattling the primrose fancies of the boy,
20To me that loved him; for "O brook," he says,
21"O babbling brook," says Edmund in his rhyme,
22"Whence come you?" and the brook, why not? replies.
24        I make a sudden sally
27    By thirty hills I hurry down,
28        Or slip between the ridges,
30        And half a hundred bridges.
31    Till last by Philip's farm I flow
32        To join the brimming river,
33    For men may come and men may go,
34        But I go on for ever.
35"Poor lad, he died at Florence, quite worn out,
36Travelling to Naples. There is Darnley bridge,
37It has more ivy; there the river; and there
38Stands Philip's farm where brook and river meet.
39    I chatter over stony ways,
40        In little sharps and trebles,
41    I bubble into eddying bays,
42        I babble on the pebbles.
43    With many a curve my banks I fret
44        By many a field and fallow,
45    And many a fairy foreland set
46        With willow-weed and mallow.
47    I chatter, chatter, as I flow
48        To join the brimming river,
49    For men may come and men may go,
50        But I go on for ever.
51"But Philip chatter'd more than brook or bird;
52Old Philip; all about the fields you caught
53His weary daylong chirping, like the dry
55    I wind about, and in and out,
56        With here a blossom sailing,
57    And here and there a lusty trout,
59    And here and there a foamy flake
60        Upon me, as I travel
61    With many a silvery waterbreak
62        Above the golden gravel,
63    And draw them all along, and flow
64        To join the brimming river,
65    For men may come and men may go,
66        But I go on for ever.
67"O darling Katie Willows, his one child!
68A maiden of our century, yet most meek;
69A daughter of our meadows, yet not coarse;
70Straight, but as lissome as a hazel wand;
71Her eyes a bashful azure, and her hair
72In gloss and hue the chestnut, when the shell
73Divides threefold to show the fruit within.
74"Sweet Katie, once I did her a good turn,
75Her and her far-off cousin and betrothed,
76James Willows, of one name and heart with her.
77For here I came, twenty years back--the week
78Before I parted with poor Edmund; crost
79By that old bridge which, half in ruins then,
81Beyond it, where the waters marry--crost,
83And push'd at Philip's garden-gate. The gate,
84Half-parted from a weak and scolding hinge,
85Stuck; and he clamour'd from a casement, "run"
86To Katie somewhere in the walks below,
87"Run, Katie!" Katie never ran: she moved
88To meet me, winding under woodbine bowers,
89A little flutter'd, with her eyelids down,
90Fresh apple-blossom, blushing for a boon.
91"What was it? less of sentiment than sense
92Had Katie; not illiterate; neither one
93Who dabbling in the fount of fictive tears,
94And nursed by mealy-mouth'd philanthropies,
95Divorce the Feeling from her mate the Deed.
96"She told me. She and James had quarrell'd. Why?
97What cause of quarrel? None, she said, no cause;
98James had no cause: but when I prest the cause,
99I learnt that James had flickering jealousies
100Which anger'd her. Who anger'd James? I said.
101But Katie snatch'd her eyes at once from mine,
102And sketching with her slender pointed foot
103Some figure like a wizard pentagram
104On garden gravel, let my query pass
105Unclaim'd, in flushing silence, till I ask'd
106If James were coming. "Coming every day,"
107She answer'd, "ever longing to explain,
108But evermore her father came across
109With some long-winded tale, and broke him short;
110And James departed vext with him and her."
111How could I help her? "Would I--was it wrong?"
112(Claspt hands and that petitionary grace
113Of sweet seventeen subdued me ere she spoke)
114"O would I take her father for one hour,
115For one half-hour, and let him talk to me!"
116And even while she spoke, I saw where James
117Made toward us, like a wader in the surf,
118Beyond the brook, waist-deep in meadow-sweet.
119"O Katie, what I suffer'd for your sake!
120For in I went, and call'd old Philip out
121To show the farm: full willingly he rose:
122He led me thro' the short sweet-smelling lanes
123Of his wheat-suburb, babbling as he went.
124He praised his land, his horses, his machines;
125He praised his ploughs, his cows, his hogs, his dogs;
126He praised his hens, his geese, his guinea-hens;
127His pigeons, who in session on their roofs
128Approved him, bowing at their own deserts:
129Then from the plaintive mother's teat he took
130Her blind and shuddering puppies, naming each,
131And naming those, his friends, for whom they were:
132Then crost the common into Darnley chase
133To show Sir Arthur's deer. In copse and fern
134Twinkled the innumerable ear and tail.
135Then, seated on a serpent-rooted beech,
136He pointed out a pasturing colt, and said:
137"That was the four-year-old I sold the Squire."
138And there he told a long long-winded tale
139Of how the Squire had seen the colt at grass,
140And how it was the thing his daughter wish'd,
141And how he sent the bailiff to the farm
142To learn the price, and what the price he ask'd,
143And how the bailiff swore that he was mad,
144But he stood firm; and so the matter hung;
145He gave them line: and five days after that
146He met the bailiff at the Golden Fleece,
147Who then and there had offer'd something more,
148But he stood firm; and so the matter hung;
149He knew the man; the colt would fetch its price;
150He gave them line: and how by chance at last
151(It might be May or April, he forgot,
152The last of April or the first of May)
153He found the bailiff riding by the farm,
154And, talking from the point, he drew him in,
155And there he mellow'd all his heart with ale,
156Until they closed a bargain, hand in hand.
157"Then, while I breathed in sight of haven, he,
158Poor fellow, could he help it? recommenced,
159And ran thro' all the coltish chronicle,
160Wild Will, Black Bess, Tantivy, Tallyho,
161Reform, White Rose, Bellerophon, the Jilt,
162Arbaces, and Phenomenon, and the rest,
163Till, not to die a listener, I arose,
164And with me Philip, talking still; and so
165We turn'd our foreheads from the falling sun,
166And following our own shadows thrice as long
167As when they follow'd us from Philip's door,
168Arrived, and found the sun of sweet content
169Re-risen in Katie's eyes, and all things well.
170    I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
171        I slide by hazel covers;
172    I move the sweet forget-me-nots
173        That grow for happy lovers.
174    I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
175        Among my skimming swallows;
176    I make the netted sunbeam dance
177        Against my sandy shallows.
178    I murmur under moon and stars
179        In brambly wildernesses;
180    I linger by my shingly bars;
181        I loiter round my cresses;
182    And out again I curve and flow
183        To join the brimming river,
184    For men may come and men may go,
185        But I go on for ever.
186Yes, men may come and go; and these are gone,
187All gone. My dearest brother, Edmund, sleeps,
188Not by the well-known stream and rustic spire,
189But unfamiliar Arno, and the dome
191Poor Philip, of all his lavish waste of words
192Remains the lean P. W. on his tomb:
193I scraped the lichen from it: Katie walks
194By the long wash of Australasian seas
195Far off, and holds her head to other stars,
198In the long hedge, and rolling in his mind
199Old waifs of rhyme, and bowing o'er the brook
200A tonsured head in middle age forlorn,
201Mused, and was mute. On a sudden a low breath
202Of tender air made tremble in the hedge
203The fragil bindweed-bells and briony rings;
204And he look'd up. There stood a maiden near,
205Waiting to pass. In much amaze he stared
206On eyes a bashful azure, and on hair
207In gloss and hue the chestnut, when the shell
208Divides threefold to show the fruit within:
209Then, wondering, ask'd her "Are you from the farm?"
210"Yes" answer'd she. "Pray stay a little: pardon me;
211What do they call you?" "Katie." "That were strange.
212What surname?" "Willows." "No!" "That is my name."
213"Indeed!" and here he look'd so self-perplext,
214That Katie laugh'd, and laughing blush'd, till he
215Laugh'd also, but as one before he wakes,
216Who feels a glimmering strangeness in his dream.
217Then looking at her; "Too happy, fresh and fair,
218Too fresh and fair in our sad world's best bloom,
219To be the ghost of one who bore your name
220About these meadows, twenty years ago."
221"Have you not heard?" said Katie, "we came back.
222We bought the farm we tenanted before.
223Am I so like her? so they said on board.
224Sir, if you knew her in her English days,
225My mother, as it seems you did, the days
226That most she loves to talk of, come with me.
227My brother James is in the harvest-field:

Notes

4] scrip and share: "a provisional document entitling the holder to a share or number of shares in a joint-stock undertaking" (OED, "scrip," n.4, 1a). Back to Line
17] Neilgherry: mountain district in South India. Back to Line
23] coot: bald coot (bird). hern: common or grey heron (long-legged wading bird). Back to Line
25] sparkle out: spring out. Back to Line
26] bicker: run quickly. Back to Line
29] thorps: villages. Back to Line
54] grigs: crickets (poet's note). Back to Line
58] grayling: freshwater fish. Back to Line
80] eyebrow: "The arch of the bridge over the stream, through which you can look" (poet's note). Back to Line
82] Boony Doon: Robert Burn's song, "The Banks o' Doon." Back to Line
190] "The Duomo or cathedral at Florence, the dome the work of Brunelleschi (1407)" (poet's note). Back to Line
196] in converse seasons: in a later edition, Tennyson wrote that "converse-seasons was too sibilant in sound, so I wrote April-autumns. The summers in Australia are of course the winter-tides of Europe" (poet's note). Back to Line
197] style: stile. Back to Line
228] "The Father is dead" (poet's note). Back to Line
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
2011
Rhyme: