Recollections of the Arabian Nights

Original Text: 
Alfred Tennyson, Poems, Chiefly lyrical (London: E. Wilson, 1830). tenn T366 P645 1830 (Fisher Library). Works (London: Macmillan, 1891). tenn T366 A1 1891a (Fisher Library).
2In the silken sail of infancy,
3The tide of time flow'd back with me,
4    The forward-flowing tide of time;
5And many a sheeny summer-morn,
6Adown the Tigris I was borne,
8High-walled gardens green and old;
10      For it was in the golden prime
12Anight my shallop, rustling thro'
13The low and bloomed foliage, drove
14The fragrant, glistening deeps, and clove
16By garden porches on the brim,
17The costly doors flung open wide,
18Gold glittering thro' lamplight dim,
19And broider'd sofas on each side:
20    In sooth it was a goodly time,
21    For it was in the golden prime
22        Of good Haroun Alraschid.
24The outlet, did I turn away
25The boat-head down a broad canal
26From the main river sluiced, where all
27The sloping of the moon-lit sward
28Was damask-work, and deep inlay
29Of braided blooms unmown, which crept
30Adown to where the water slept.
31    A goodly place, a goodly time,
32    For it was in the golden prime
33        Of good Haroun Alraschid.
34A motion from the river won
35Ridged the smooth level, bearing on
36My shallop thro' the star-strown calm,
37Until another night in night
38I enter'd, from the clearer light,
39Imbower'd vaults of pillar'd palm,
40Imprisoning sweets, which, as they clomb
41Heavenward, were stay'd beneath the dome
42    Of hollow boughs.--A goodly time,
43    For it was in the golden prime
44        Of good Haroun Alraschid.
45Still onward; and the clear canal
46Is rounded to as clear a lake.
48Of diamond rillets musical,
49Thro' little crystal arches low
50Down from the central fountain's flow
51Fall'n silver-chiming, seem'd to shake
52The sparkling flints beneath the prow.
53    A goodly place, a goodly time,
54    For it was in the golden prime
55        Of good Haroun Alraschid.
56Above thro' many a bowery turn
57A walk with vary-colour'd shells
59All round about the fragrant marge
60From fluted vase, and brazen urn
61In order, eastern flowers large,
62Some dropping low their crimson bells
63Half-closed, and others studded wide
65    With odour in the golden prime
66        Of good Haroun Alraschid.
67Far off, and where the lemon-grove
68In closest coverture upsprung,
69The living airs of middle night
71Not he: but something which possess'd
72The darkness of the world, delight,
73Life, anguish, death, immortal love,
74Ceasing not, mingled, unrepress'd,
75    Apart from place, withholding time,
77        Of good Haroun Alraschid.
78Black the garden-bowers and grots
79Slumber'd: the solemn palms were ranged
80Above, unwoo'd of summer wind:
82Flush'd all the leaves with rich gold-green,
83And, flowing rapidly between
84Their interspaces, counterchanged
85The level lake with diamond-plots
86    Of dark and bright. A lovely time,
87    For it was in the golden prime
88        Of good Haroun Alraschid.
89Dark-blue the deep sphere overhead,
90Distinct with vivid stars inlaid,
91Grew darker from that under-flame:
92So, leaping lightly from the boat,
93With silver anchor left afloat,
94In marvel whence that glory came
95Upon me, as in sleep I sank
96In cool soft turf upon the bank,
97    Entranced with that place and time,
98    So worthy of the golden prime
99        Of good Haroun Alraschid.
100Thence thro' the garden I was drawn--
102And many a shadow-chequer'd lawn
103Full of the city's stilly sound,
104And deep myrrh-thickets blowing round
105The stately cedar, tamarisks,
107Tall orient shrubs, and obelisks
108    Graven with emblems of the time,
109    In honour of the golden prime
110        Of good Haroun Alraschid.
111With dazed vision unawares
112From the long alley's latticed shade
113Emerged, I came upon the great
115Right to the carven cedarn doors,
116Flung inward over spangled floors,
117Broad-based flights of marble stairs
118Ran up with golden balustrade,
119    After the fashion of the time,
120    And humour of the golden prime
121        Of good Haroun Alraschid.
122The fourscore windows all alight
124A million tapers flaring bright
126The hollow-vaulted dark, and stream'd
128In inmost Bagdat, till there seem'd
129Hundreds of crescents on the roof
130    Of night new-risen, that marvellous time,
131    To celebrate the golden prime
132        Of good Haroun Alraschid.
133Then stole I up, and trancedly
134Gazed on the Persian girl alone,
136Amorous, and lashes like to rays
137Of darkness, and a brow of pearl
138Tressed with redolent ebony,
139In many a dark delicious curl,
140Flowing beneath her rose-hued zone;
141    The sweetest lady of the time,
142    Well worthy of the golden prime
143        Of good Haroun Alraschid.
144Six columns, three on either side,
145Pure silver, underpropt a rich
146Throne of the massive ore, from which
147Down-droop'd, in many a floating fold,
150Thereon, his deep eye laughter-stirr'd
151With merriment of kingly pride,
152    Sole star of all that place and time,
153    I saw him--in his golden prime,


1] This poem first appeared in the volume of 1830, and has only undergone slight alterations in text. It paints a series of pictures, charming from their sensuous beauty, which are suggested to Tennyson's imagination by reminiscences of the "Arabian Nights", more particularly of one of the stories, that of "Nur Al-Din Ali and the Damsel Anis al Jalis", especially of that part of the story narrated on the Thirty-sixth Night. The varying arrangement of the rhymes in the several stanzas should be noted. Back to Line
7] Bagdat. A city situated on both banks of the Tigris, some 500 miles from its mouth.
fretted. See note on Gray's "Elegy", 1. 39. Back to Line
9] sworn. 'Close' or 'firm', cf. the expression "sworn friends". Back to Line
11] Haroun, surnamed Al-Raschid ('the orthodox'), flourished 786-809 A.D., caliph of Bagdat, famed for his bravery and magnificence, and for his patronage of literature and art. Back to Line
15] citron-shadows. Citron is applied to lemon-trees and allied species. Back to Line
23] clear-stemm'd platans. Oriental plane-trees which run up smoothly for some height before sending out their wide-spreading branches. Back to Line
47] rivage. Bank; "Faerie Queene", IV.6.20:
"The which Pactolus with his waters shere
Throws forth upon the rivage round about him near." Back to Line
58] engrain'd. Properly 'dyed in fast colours'; the poet seems still to have the idea of a woven fabric in his mind, as at line 28. Back to Line
64] With disks and tiars. "Disks" suggests round, flattish blossoms, "tiars" more elongated and convex forms. "Tiara" is properly an eastern hat, and is naturally suggested by the locality of the poem. For the poetical form "tiar," cf. "Par. Lost", iii, 625. Back to Line
70] bulbul. The Persian name for nightingale. Back to Line
76] flattering. 'Lending a lustre to', cf. "Aylmer's Field": "A splendid presence flattering the poor roofs", and Shakespeare, "Sonnet", 33: "Full many a glorious morning have I seen / Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye." Back to Line
81] A sudden splendour. The light from the Pavilion of the Caliphat (see 1. 114). Back to Line
101] pleasance. Archaic and poetical for 'pleasure'. Cf. the following passage from the original story in the "Arabian Nights": "Now this garden was named the Garden of Gladness and therein stood a belvedere hight the Palace of Pleasure." Back to Line
106] rosaries. In the sense of the Latin original (rosarium), 'gardens or beds, of roses'. Back to Line
114] Caliphat (usually "Caliphate") the dominion of the Caliphs, or successors of Mahomet. Back to Line
123] quintessence. The stress is usually upon the second syllable, but the pronunciation which the metre here requires, is also admissible. Back to Line
125] silvers. A bold use of the plural, meaning, of course, silver candlesticks. Back to Line
127] mooned. 'Ornamented with crescents'--the symbol of Turkish dominion, hence an anachronism here. Back to Line
135] argent-lidded. "Argent" refers to the colour; so in "Dream of Fair Women", l. 158: "the polish'd argent of her breast". Back to Line
148] diaper'd. The word is applied to material covered with a regularly repeated pattern produced in the weaving without use of colour. Back to Line
149] The lines seem to suggest that the cloth of gold had inwrought upon it garlands of flowers (as a border probably) and, besides that, a regularly repeated pattern (presumably in the main body of the cloth). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
W. J. Alexander; William Hall Clawson
RPO Edition: 
RP (1912), pp. 198-202; RPO 1997.