Tears, Idle Tears by Tennyson– Meaning Stanza by Stanza
Tears, Idle Tears
By Alfred Tennyson
Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.
Meaning.. In Autumn, the fields are ready for harvest. Summer begins to recede and winter begins to set in. The speaker scans the fields idly and begins to reminisce. As memories sweep through his mind, he is overwhelmed with some unexplained sadness. His eyes well up as his heart pines for the joys of the past. He realizes the happy bygone days will not return.
Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.
Meaning … It is clear the speaker fondly remembers his friends who are no more on earth. He imagines that these dead friends are returning to earth on a ship whose sail lights up when the first sunshine of the morning falls on it. This thought, so unreal, but so balmy, fades away in moments. In its place, comes the apparition of a ship laden with his friends heading to embrace death. The deep orange light of the setting sun’s rays fall on its sails just as the ship disappears into the horizon. It signals the death of the speaker’s near and dear friends. Thus, the day that brought so much delight and excitement to the speaker ends engulfing his mind in sorrow and despair.
Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.
Meaning .. The dawn in summer present a scene of contrast. A dying man lying on his bed hears the chirping of the birds, and the sun’s early rays come into his room. The window looks brighter and brighter as the morning progresses. But, due to obvious reasons, these joyful signs of Nature fail to lift the dying man’s spirits. For the man about to breathe his last, it is an inexorable slide to doom. These thoughts fill the speaker’s mind with gloom and awe. He grieves remembering the happy times that are gone.