Tears, Idle Tears Summary
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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Tears, Idle Tears Summary

In this mournful poem, the speaker comments on and responds to the tears that spring to his eyes, unbidden, as he looks on the fields during the season of autumn and thinks about his past, and those things which are dead or gone. This season is often symbolic of a particular era in a human life—that of being past middle age and approaching old age and death; this symbolism seems to be used here as the speaker laments the fact that his earlier days (of spring and summer, perhaps) are long gone. He describes these bygone days as both fresh and sad: as fresh as the first glint of sunlight on the sail of a boat that brings someone up from Hades and as sad as the last ray of sunlight on the sail of a boat that takes a deceased loved one down to the underworld. These past days are also described as sad and strange, like the early morning summer song of birds to the ears of a dying man or like the sunrise shining through an open window. The dying man can recognize the beauty of these events, though they are sad because he will not be able to rise and enjoy them, and they are made strange by this combination of beauty and sadness. Further, these past days feel as dear as the memories of kisses bestowed by someone who has passed on and as sweet as those bestowed by someone who actually cares for someone else. Those days still feel so intense, so raw, like one's first love as well as the sad, regretful feeling of knowing that they cannot live again. The speaker, in the final line, actually calls these past days a "Death in Life" because they cannot be recaptured; they are gone forever, and they cannot come again.