Explanation Of Tears, Idle Tears By Alfred Tennyson

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,

Tears from the depth of some divine despair

Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,

In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,

And thinking of the days that are no more.

These lines have been taken from Tennyson’s poem. Tears, Idle Tears. This is a song. It is sung by a maiden named Violet at the request of Princess Ida as she and her fair colleagues are enjoying a day’s outing in the countryside.

The speaker looks at the corn fields in Autumn. The fields are full of the ripe crops fit for harvesting. The speaker thinks of the happy past that is gone forever. His heart is filled with a profound sadness at the crude limitations of human life. Tears gather in his eyes though they are of no help in relieving the burden of his grief. Autumn is a season of mellow fruitfulness, of the bounty of nature. During this time men reap the fruits of their earlier labours. But to the speaker the present is only a sad reminder of the high hopes, the dear wishes that were once cherished in joy but were never realized. It is this recollection that stirs the depth of the heart. Some ideal that is indefinable and that inspired a man in youth and filled his life with zest may now seem unattainable; or he might be haunted by the shadow of mortal darkness falling over his youth; or he may have the dreary feeling that his life may be passing away without full realization of a love that has already been tested. However, indefinite the cause may be, it fills the speaker’s heart, as it would be the heart of any other sensitive person, with dark despair and helpless sorrow which find outward expression in tears.

These lines reflect Tennyson’s abundance, variety and complete competence.

Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,

That brings our friends up from the underworld,

Sad as the last which reddens over one

That sinks with all we love below the verge;

So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

These lines are from Tennyson’s “Tears, Idle Tears”. Here, the poet says that the memory of a happy past which is gone forever is fresh as well as sad. By two very happy images, the poet conveys to us these ideas of freshness and sadness. When we hear of our dear friends returning to us from a remote land, we are filled with delight. But the delight attains a quality of freshness and strangeness when we actually observe the ship carrying the beloved persons appearing on the horizon with the first ray of the rising sun shining on its sails. To the naked eye, it appears as if the ship just visible on the horizon has come out of the underwood, i.e., the world below the horizon. Everything associated with our friends comes back vividly to our mind as our eyes experience this exciting sight. Thus, as there is a gap between a man and his happy past, there is a freshness in its recollection as the staleness of familiarity has now been removed. Again, it is sad to think of the departure of our near and dear ones to a distant land, and the sadness deepens when we see the ship carrying them disappearing beyond the horizon with the last rays of the setting sun falling on the sails. So also a deep sadness attends the memory of a happy past which will never come back.

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These lines give us an insight into Tennyson’s poetic craftsmanship.

Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns

The earliest pipe of half-awaken’d birds

To dying ears, when unto dying eyes

The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;

So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

These lines have been taken from Tennyson’s poem “Tears, Idle Tears”. In this stanza, the sadness and strangeness of the memory of a happy past gone forever is beautifully conveyed with the touching imagery of a dying man’s last experience of a morning. The thought of the past is sad and strange as is the piping of birds at early dawn to the ears of a dying man who watches the windows slowly growing from darkness into a square of light as the dawn comes up. The twittering of birds and the light of dawn would be sad to a dying man for he knows that he will not live to see another morn and his thoughts naturally go to the things he is leaving behind. They would also be strange, for his last morning on earth and all earthly sounds and sights are invested with a rare charm. To a dying man it appears as if he had never seen these sights or heard these sounds before in his life. Thus, the familiar takes on the quality of the strange for the dying man.

The poignancy of feeling as well as the pathos of the situation has been brought out so delicately and artistically that we at once give credit to Tennyson’s unsurpassed lyric charm and poetic felicity. We are reminded of Keats’s Ode to A Nightingale and the picture of the poet listening with charmed ecstasy to the rich and sweet music of the nightingale, and desiring to die at that moment devoid of any pain or worry. The picture which Keats presents before us can be justly contrasted with Tennyson’s picture of the dying man being filled with sadness on listening to the sweet music of bird.

Dear as remember’d kisses after death,

And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feign’d

On lips that are for others; deep as love,

Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;

O Death in Life, the days that are no more!

These are the concluding lines of Tennyson’s poem entitled, “Tears, Idle Tears”. Here, the feelings awakened by the memory of happy past gone forever are compared to the feelings associated with different experiences love. Such a memory is dearly cherished in the mind as a lover remembers the sweet kisses he exchanged with his beloved who is now dead. The memory is as sweet as the kisses, a rejected and despondent lover may in imagination bestow on the lips of a beloved who belongs to some other person. Again, the memory of the past is as soul-stirring and deep in its effects as an ardent first love that has been unrequited. So the memory of a happy past irrevocably gone is so full of sorrow and regrets that it makes a person experience the pangs of death as a part of the living state, for so long as a man is alive the dead past continues to be an important factor of his existence. The past dead and buried. But it also lives. Whenever we remember the past, the pas relieves in our mind. It becomes living again. Therefore, the memory of the past combines the qualities of death and of life-it is “a death in life”.



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