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may be observed to be the case, as the argument is being examined.
The theme is exhibited by the process of narration, through the subordinate process of argumentation. The important matter is the change which the feeling undergoes. The change as a whole has already been indicated. First, the pessimistic voice is victorious, and Tennyson weeps so bitterly that for a moment he cannot argue further.
"I would have said, 'Thou canst not know,'
But my full heart, that work'd below,
Rain'd thro' my sight its overflow."
And now the voice feels even more certain of its ground than at the outset; for what was there put as a question is now positively affirmed :
"Thou art so steep'd in misery,
'Thine anguish will not let thee sleep,
Nor any train of reason keep;
Thou canst not think, but thou wilt weep."
The weeping continues for a time. "I wept, Tho' I should die,' etc.. Note, by the way, the peculiar statement; Tennyson says that he wept the reply. In due course of the poem Tennyson gains his composure, and begins to hold his own with the voice. And now the voice seems a little baffled.
"As when a billow, blown against,
Falls back, the voice with which I fenced
From this time forward Tennyson rapidly gains firm standing and cheerful mood. In the conclusion he is so full of life and hope that he even wonders why he had ever communed with "that barren voice."
"So variously seem'd all things wrought,
He takes counsel now wholly of the second voice, and finds life so beautiful and good that he can anchor no more by a gloomy thought. The second voice gives "the pulse of hope to discontent." The poem is thus a movement of feeling, and a movement of utter dejection to inspiring hope.
As already indicated, this movement of feeling is by an argument for and against suicide. The steps in this argument should be noted, in reference to the emotional movement outlined above.
Voice. Because of the misery of life, is not death preferable to life? and would it not be well to take thy life? [The voice merely raises the question; may itself be a little doubtful of its own position.]
I. No; I am so wonderfully made. What you say may be true, but I must not destroy that which is so wonderfully made. [The I does not dispute the suggestion that the misery of life exceeds its joys; and hence has yet no standing ground for hope.]
Voice. The dragon-fly is wonderfully made; you can be spared on that ground.
I. But man crowns the cycles through which nature ran; he has dominion in the head and breast. He is most wonderfully made, and should not be destroyed, however full of misery he may be.
Voice. You are self-blinded by your pride; you ought not to assume that there are no beings more stately in a hundred million spheres. You cannot cling to life simply to preserve the highest form of creation.
Note also what the I thought of, which the voice did not offer:
"It spake, moreover, in my mind:
Tho' thou wert scatter'd to the wind,
That is, I thought myself that even if man were the highest form of creation, there are plenty more like myself, and I could be spared. [The I did not choose to help the voice
in an argument against the I. The point in the above stanza shows that the I felt its own argument giving way.]
I. But every individual is different from every other. If I am not the highest in the scale the most wonderfully made, I am unlike every other individual; and must not destroy myself, for I add something to the world.
Voice. Then thou art deficient -deficient to the extent to which you are unlike everything else. Can you argue self-preservation because of your deficiency? [This argument is based on the fact that likenesses are more fundamental than differences.] Will the world be any the less if your difference were cancelled?
I. "Thou canst not know." [This is what the I would have said, but here ends the first movement in the argument. The I can find no way out in the direction taken. That grief overbalances joy is not questioned; and with this, that death would be a relief. It is maintained only that for certain external theoretical considerations he felt it his duty not to destroy the wonderful and the peculiar individual. He weeps now because there seems to be no further excuse; and having tacitly admitted the preponderance of misery in life, he is brought to the pitiful situation in which the head cannot help the heart out. The instinct of his being rebels against suicide, but he is unable to give a rational account of the matter. The voice is now furnished with a clinching argument in the weeping.]
Voice. I am sure, now, of what was only a question at the outset, that "'t were better not to be." You cannot think without weeping.
I. Yes, I admit it all, but things change, and my sickness may take a turn. If I take my life I miss my chance. [Note that the I admits the sickness. No reason now for keeping life, but hoping for a turn, as it is not worth the having. Such an argument cannot stop the weeping. And as the sickness is admitted, the voice has only to insist on its being incurable.]
Voice. "What drug can make a withered palsy cease to shake?" [The I sinks again, and can only weep the reply.]
I. If I were dead the joy of life would still continue all about. [This does not seem to be intended so much as an argument in itself as the introduction to a new one which now opens.]
Voice. But you will sooner or later have to die, and then the life of the world will move on as if nothing had happened.
I. The world is a development; I think it worth while to remain and to see what I may of human development. [Tennyson is the poet of human progress. In "Locksley Hall" he has rapt visions of the progress of the race. "Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay." Such, also, is one of the leading ideas in "In Memoriam.”]
Voice. But the scale is infinite, and you can gain no real height. You may seem to find, but it is all delusion; you are only seeking. [The I seems to take this as a valid argument; for how little on an infinite scale could be observed in a human lifetime! If this were all, not enough worth remaining to see. Thus ends the second round of argument.]
I. If I should take my life, men will accuse me of cowardice, and of dishonoring myself.
Voice. It is more vile to loathe thy life and fear to die than to take thy life. "The fear of men, a coward still." What men think of thee cannot trouble thee when thou art dead.
I. The hopes and visions of my youth still persuade me that life is good; from that I take resolve. [Tennyson uses the same means of rally in "Locksley Hall." He makes much of his youthful inspiration, and now gives us a glimpse of the most generous and sublime plan and purpose that could stir a young heart. This should be fully worked out, beginning with "Nay," and closing with “ And
all the war is roll'd in smoke." This is the poet's first bold stroke for victory in the poem. To this point he seems to be acting on the defensive; now he strikes out to overcome his antagonist.]
Voice. This is all good enough as a generous hope of youth, but a change comes when pain takes the place of pleasure; and there is but one remedy. And if you could endure pain under such high purport, you cannot dissolve "the riddle of the earth." I have told you that the scale is infinite. Besides, you have no test of truth; you may not know whether you embrace clouds; you are crawling inch by inch to darkness. "There is one remedy for all."
I. Everything is not a lie. Some have achieved calm and heavenly joy. Besides, since I do not know the universe, I might make bad worse. [Thus, too, Hamlet argues :
"The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of."]
Voice. There can be no question but that the dead have peace and quiet.
"There is no other thing express'd
I. Thou canst not show the dead are dead." There is something in man that doubts against the evidence of the senses. The heart forebodes an eternity. In nature the perfect he craves cannot be found. [Let this argument be worked out in detail, for it is the one which staggers the voice.]
Voice. Thou hadst a beginning, and therefore must have an ending.
I. But I may not have first been in "human mould." Life may be a cycling always round. [Let this argument be followed, to, "Such as no language may declare."]
Voice. But you are dreaming; your pain is a reality.