Tenyson, Alfred Lord - Timbuctoo [extract]
Type of Spiritual Experience
There is the possibility that this was ecstasy, that the spirit he sees was his.
A description of the experience
ALFRED LORD TENNYSON. From Timbuctoo. Poems of Tennyson (Oxford edn., 1923)
'I stood upon the Mountain which o'erlooks
The narrow seas"' ...Then I raised
My voice and cried, "'Wide Afric, doth thy Sun
Lighten, thy hills enfold a City as fair
As those which starr'd the night o' the elder World?
Or is the rumour of thy Timbuctoo
A dream as frail as those of ancient Time?"
A curve of whitening, flashing, ebbing light!
A rushing of white wings! the bright descent
Of a young Seraph! and he stood beside me
There on the ridge, and look'd into my face
With his unutterable, shining orbs.
So that with hasty motion I did veil
My vision with both hands, and saw before me
Such colour'd spots as dance athwart the eyes
Of those, that gaze upon the noonday Sun...'
[The Seraph says 'Open thine eyes and see']
'I look'd, but not
Upon his face, for it was wonderful
With its exceeding brightness, and the light
Of the great Angel Mind which look’d from out
The starry glowing of his restless eyes.
I felt my soul grow mighty, and my spirit
With supernatural excitation bound
Within me, and my mental eye grew large
With such a vast circumference of thought,
That in my vanity I seem'd to stand
Upon the outward verge and bound done
Of full beatitude. Each failing sense,
As with a momentary flash of light
Grew thrillingly distinct and keen. I saw
The smallest grain that dappled the dark Earth,
The indistinctest atom in deep air,
The Moon's white cities, and the opal width
Of her small glowing lakes, her silver heights
Unvisited with dew of vagrant cloud,
And the unsounded, undescended depth
Of her black hollows. The clear Galaxy
Shorn of its hoary lustre, wonderful,
Distinct and vivid with sharp points of light.
Blaze within blaze, an unimagin'd depth
And harmony of planet-girded suns
And moon-encircled planets, wheel in wheel,
Arch'd the wan sapphire. Nay-the hum of men
Or other things talking in un-known tongues,
And notes of busy life in distant worlds -
Beat like a far wave on my anxious ear.
A maze of piercing, trackless, thrilling thoughts.
Involving and embracing each with each
Rapid as fire, inextricably link'd,
Expanding momently with every sight
And sound which struck the palpitating sense,
The issue of strong impulse, hurried through
The riv'n rapt brain...
...I know not if I shape
These things with accurate similitude
From visible objects, for but dimly now,
Less vivid than a half-forgotten dream,
The memory of that mental excellence
Comes o'er me, and it may be I entwine
The indecision of my present mind
With its past clearness, yet it seems to me
As even then the torrent of quick thought
Absorbed me from the nature of itself
With its own fleetness...
My thoughts which long had grovell'd in the slime
Of this dull world, like dusky worms which house
Beneath unshaken waters, but at once
Upon some Earth-awakening day of Spring
Do pass from gloom to glory... '
Ev'n so my thoughts, erewhile so low, now felt
Unutterable buoyancy and strength
To bear them upwards through the trackless fields
of undefin'd existence far free.....
...my human brain
Stagger'd beneath the vision, and thick night
Came down upon my eyelids, and I fell. -
With ministering hand he rais'd me up:
Then with a mournful and ineffable smile,
Which but to look on for a moment fill'd
My eyes with irresistible sweet tears...
Thus he spake;
“ There is no mightier spirit than I to sway
The heart of man: and teach him to attain
By shadowing forth the Unattainable...’’