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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Break, Break, Break

(Untitled by Richard Serra, born in 1939, American artist)

In 1833, the poet Arthur Hallam died unexpectedly of a stroke. He was only twenty-one years old. His friend, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, put his profound grief into verse. In Memoriam A. H. H. is a long lyric poem about bereavement and despair and faith and hope that includes these oft-quoted lines about friendship:

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
’Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Tennyson wrote another poem about his friend, a short elegy that mourned the loss of “the tender grace of a day” while it acknowledged the forces of life and nature that continue on after death.


Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman’s boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break,
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.

~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), English poet

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