Friday 23 December 2022

'Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace...'

 'The time draws near the birth of Christ...'
One of the most moving and perfect sections of Tennyson's great poem of love and loss, In Memoriam A.H.H. – a work not short of moving and perfect passages – is the section numbered XXVIII. Tennyson, I take it, is either at his family home, Somersby rectory in the Lincolnshire Wolds, or  he is remembering or imagining himself back there at Christmastide. The 'four hamlets round' would be, I think, Bag Enderby (part of his father's parish), Stainsby, Salmonby and Ashby Puerorum (fine Lincolnshire names all). But then, I used to think that another great and famous passage from In Memoriam, 'Ring Out, Wild Bells', was also inspired by the ringing Wolds, but all the evidence suggests that it was, in that case, the bells of the abbey church at Waltham Abbey – a long, long way from Lincolnshire. 
'Sorrow touch'd with joy', or joy touched with sorrow – that's Christmas... 

The time draws near the birth of Christ:
      The moon is hid; the night is still;
      The Christmas bells from hill to hill
Answer each other in the mist.

Four voices of four hamlets round,
      From far and near, on mead and moor,
      Swell out and fail, as if a door
Were shut between me and the sound:

Each voice four changes on the wind,
      That now dilate, and now decrease,
      Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace,
Peace and goodwill, to all mankind.

This year I slept and woke with pain,
      I almost wish'd no more to wake,
      And that my hold on life would break
Before I heard those bells again:

But they my troubled spirit rule,
      For they controll'd me when a boy;
      They bring me sorrow touch'd with joy,
The merry merry bells of Yule.

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