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Monday, April 29, 2013

"The Splendor Falls" sounds about as good as a poem can sound.


"The Splendor Falls"
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)


The splendor falls on castle walls
    And snowy summits old in story;
The long light shakes across the lakes,
    And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.
O, hark, O, hear! how thin and clear,
    And thinner, clearer, farther going!
O, sweet and far from cliff and scar
    The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying,
Blow, bugles; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.
O love, they die in yon rich sky,
    They faint on hill or field or river;
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
    And grow forever and forever.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.

* Laura Cronk Comments:
National Poetry Month seems to me to be about connecting with the absolute pleasure of poetry. "The Splendor Falls" is the first poem I ever memorized just because I wanted to.  When I was fifteen I found it in my text book for English class and sat up late in my room memorizing it by the light of my great grandmother’s lamp.
"The Splendor Falls" sounds about as good as a poem can sound.  It is constructed with the rhythm and cadence of walking outside, alone.  One of the things it is about is sound — there’s the command to make sound (“Blow, bugle, blow,”), the command to answer sound (“answer echoes”), the elevated command to listen (“O, hark, O, hear!”).  The poem opens with a glorious description of the movement of light across a mountain scene.  We see the scene because we hear it — the open, languorous sounds of “falls” and “walls”, the light picking up speed reflecting on the s sounds of “snowy summits old in story” and then the masterful “long light shakes across the lakes” giving the scene perspective and sense of actually being there, the sound startling us into seeing the movement of the glittering waves on the water.  When the waterfall is introduced, the sound of the word “cataract” helps us experience the water flying, “leaping.”
In the second stanza we listen to the sounds of the bugles (always interesting to me that he chose this word, with its military feeling, its relative ugliness) “thin and clear,” again giving a sense of scope and distance and we hear the notes bouncing off the sides of the mountains and diminishing “thinner, clearer, father going!” And then elves! Tennyson claims in a brilliant metaphor that the echoes are produced by elves from “purple glens.” We experience the wonder of hearing echoes. The urge to make more sound just to hear it answered. The sound of the echoes are created especially in the ing sounds of “replying” and “dying, dying, dying” During the second refrain, it becomes clearer that the word "dying" is used deliberately and not just for its echoing sound.
The shift of the final stanza to addressing the beloved directly, “O love, they die” slays me with its sudden intimacy, and sudden killing off of the sounds of the poem “they die in yon rich sky.” Tennyson gives us their gradual fading, “they faint on hill or field or river;” I want, as the speaker here does, to believe the next lines, that the calling out and answering between two people who love each other could possibly never end, “Our echoes roll from soul to soul, / And grow forever and forever.” Tennyson’s heaven is being outside, illuminated, in exquisite communication. But this world that is our only sure experience is made of “dying, dying, dying.”

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