Locksley Hall "The Heir Of All Ages, In The Foremost Files Of Time"

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

"The Heir Of All Ages, In The Foremost Files Of Time"

Context: Locksley Hall is Tennyson's first poem of social protest; but it is also an interesting prophecy of the world to come, all the more remarkable when the date of its composition is considered. As the poem opens, the poet stands on the beach near his home, Locksley Hall. He is bidding farewell to the scenes of his boyhood, where he had ranged the moors and beaches, "nourishing a youth sublime/ With the fairy tales of science, and the long result of Time." Here he had glimpsed the wonders of the future; here also he had loved his cousin Amy. She, obeying the customs of the day, had abided by the decision of her parents and married a country gentleman they had chosen for her. The forsaken poet calls her shallow-hearted, "Puppet to a father's threat, and servile to a shrewish tongue." The forecast he gives of her married life is bleak and pitiless: "thou shalt lower to his level day by day,/ What is fine within thee growing coarse to sympathize with clay./ As the husband is, the wife is: thou art mated with a clown,/ And the grossness of his nature will have weight to drag thee down./ He will hold thee, when his passion shall have spent its novel force,/ Something better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse." Torturing himself in this fashion, and feeling it would be better if she were dead, the poet foresees that she will in time be ignored or tolerated by her husband, but will be compensated in some measure by a child. The poet feels he "must mix with action, lest I wither by despair." He yearns for the past, but cannot recapture it: "Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and I linger on the shore,/ And the individual withers, and the world is more and more." He thinks of renouncing civilization completely, going to some island in the South Seas and taking a savage wife who will "rear my dusky race." But even as he considers this course, he knows he cannot follow it:

Iron-jointed, supple-sinew'd, they shall dive, and they shall run,
Catch the wild goat by the hair, and hurl their lances in the sun;
Whistle back the parrot's call, and leap the rainbows of the brooks,
Not with blinded eyesight poring over miserable books–
Fool, again the dream, the fancy! but I know my words are wild,
But I count the grey barbarian lower than the Christian child.
I, to herd with narrow foreheads, vacant of our glorious gains,
Like a beast with lower pleasures, like a beast with lower pains!
Mated with a squalid savage–what to me were sun or clime?
I the heir of all the ages, in the foremost files of time–
I that rather held it better men should perish one by one,
Than that earth should stand at gaze like Joshua's moon in Ajalon!