"Where Freedom Broadens Slowly Down"
Context: Tennyson was a patriot; he loved his country. He was nonetheless aware of the social ills of his day and often cried out against them. Doubtless there were times, since there was a melancholy side to his nature, when he saw enough of injustice to wish that he might abandon the nation of his birth. There are hints of this in Locksley Hall and in other poems. Part of it is of course a convention of the Romantic era. But his sympathy for others was undoubtedly sincere. Although he reacted to the spectacle of human suffering, Tennyson realized that he could not escape his feelings by running away from them; besides, he was part of an age of progress and was to some extent fascinated by it. He was not by nature a crusader; social protest did not really suit his temperament and artistry. However keenly he may have felt the inequities he saw and often protested, he was at heart reasonably content with his time. Present technical progress and, most of all, the noble and legendary history of the past: these were his real interests. He was essentially a maker of beauty, and to his critics his rage does not quite ring true. To them it seems as though he felt it his duty to lead popular thought when song was his natural preference. In the following poem, however, he speaks plainly and quietly on the subject, and there is no effect of mere rhetoric:
You ask me why, tho' ill at ease,Within this region I subsist,Whose spirits falter in the mist,And languish for the purple seas.It is the land that freemen till,That sober-suited Freedom chose,The land, where girt with friends or foesA man may speak the thing he will;A land of settled government,A land of just and old renown,Where Freedom broadens slowly downFrom precedent to precedent;Where faction seldom gathers head,But, by degrees to fullness wrought,The strength of some diffusive thoughtHath time and space to work and spread.Should banded unions persecuteOpinion, and induce a timeWhen single thought is civil crime,And individual freedom mute;Tho' Power should make from land to landThe name of Britain trebly great–Tho' every channel of the StateShould fill and choke with golden sand–Yet waft me from the harbour-mouth,Wild wind! I seek a warmer sky,And I will see before I dieThe palms and temples of the South.