"The Ringing Grooves Of Change"
Context: Locksley Hall is, among other things, a striking forecast–especially so for 1842–of the world to come, in which Tennyson glimpses the wonders that will be wrought by man's ingenuity. This vision of the future is central to the theme of the poem, which begins with the speaker's own despair. The woman he loves has, in obedience to the customs of the day, married a gross and stupid country landowner chosen by her parents. The speaker tortures himself with a vivid forecast of the life of disappointment and heartbreak she must now lead; he condemns her weakness bitterly and for a moment considers renouncing civilization, exiling himself to some tropic isle, and ending there. But he has been born into an age of exciting change, a world of promise: once, before his disastrous love affair, he had seen into the future. In spite of personal grief, he must remain a part of civilization and see his vision of it become reality. What he had seen forms an interesting source of speculation for the reader, who is left with the uncanny impression that Tennyson really did see a hundred years ahead: "For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,/ Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;/ Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,/ Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;/ Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain'd a ghastly dew/ From the nations' airy navies grappling in the central blue;/ Far along the world-wide whisper of the south-wind rushing warm,/ With the standards of the peoples plunging thro' the thunder-storm;/ Till the war-drum throbb'd no longer, and the battle-flags were furl'd/ In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world./ There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,/ And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law." The vision does not blind him to social ills; he is aware of starving multitudes: "Slowly comes a hungry people, as a lion, creeping nigher,/ Glares at one that nods and winks behind a slowly-dying fire." But he must take the future as it comes and be a part of it; the island paradise, to which, for a moment, he considers escaping, is only a foolish dream.
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!Not in vain the distance beacons. Forward, forward let us range,Let the great world spin forever down the ringing grooves of change.Thro' the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day:Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.Mother-Age (for mine I knew not) help me as when life begun:Rift the hills, and roll the waters, flash the lightnings, weigh the sun.. . .Howsoever these things be, a long farewell to Locksley Hall!Now for me the woods may wither, now for me the roof-tree fall.