It is generally understood that Alfred Lord Tennyson
meant something beyond traditional Pantheism
in naming and penning his 1867 poem The Higher Pantheism
. Read to great acclaim to the members of the first meeting of the Metaphysical Society
, it goes as follows:
The sun, the moon, the stars, the seas, the hills and the plains,-
Are not these, O Soul, the Vision of Him who reigns?
Is not the Vision He, tho' He be not that which He seems?
Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?
Earth, these solid stars, this weight of body and limb,
Are they not sign and symbol of thy division from Him?
Dark is the world to thee; thyself art the reason why,
For is He not all but thou, that hast power to feel "I am I"?
Glory about thee, without thee; and thou fulfillest thy doom,
Making Him broken gleams and a stifled splendour and gloom.
Speak to Him, thou, for He hears, and Spirit with Spirit can meet-
Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.
God is law, say the wise; O soul, and let us rejoice,
For if He thunder by law the thunder is yet His voice.
Law is God, say some; no God at all, says the fool,
For all we have power to see is a straight staff bent in a pool;
And the ear of man cannot hear, and the eye of man cannot see;
But if we could see and hear, this Vision-were it not He?
The verses, it has been observed, contain clear allusions to passages by Tennyson's longtime countryside strolling companion Thomas Carlyle
. This sentiment was similarly expressed by Tennyson--later in life a self-declared strider of the line between Agnosticism
--while gazing down amidst the Alps
, to in-law
and fellow poet Frederick Locker-Lampson
. Tennyson, his fellow traveler recalled, commented:
Perhaps this earth, and all that is on it,-storms, mountains, cataracts, the sun and the skies,-are the Almighty; in fact, such is our petty nature, we cannot see Him, but we see His shadow, as it were, a distorted shadow; possibly at this moment there may be beings, invisible to us, who see the Almighty more clearly than we do. For instance, we have five senses; if we had been born with only one our ideas of nature would have been very different from what they are.
Reception of the poem was hardly universally positive. Tennyson's somewhat younger contemporary, Algernon Charles Swinburne
, in 1870 uncharitably deemed The Higher Pantheism a "gabble and babble
of half-hatched thoughts in half-baked
words," and sometime in the intervening decade Swinburne went so far as to write an actually-somewhat-longer parody
of it in retort, The Higher Pantheism in a Nutshell
One, who is not, we see: but one, whom we see not, is:
Surely this is not that: but that is assuredly this.
What, and wherefore, and whence? for under is over and under:
If thunder could be without lightning, lightning could be without thunder.
Doubt is faith in the main: but faith, on the whole, is doubt:
We cannot believe by proof: but could we believe without?
Why, and whither, and how? for barley and rye are not clover:
Neither are straight lines curves: yet over is under and over.
Two and two may be four: but four and four are not eight:
Fate and God may be twain: but God is the same thing as fate.
Ask a man what he thinks, and get from a man what he feels:
God, once caught in the fact, shows you a fair pair of heels.
Body and spirit are twins: God only knows which is which:
The soul squats down in the flesh, like a tinker drunk in a ditch.
More is the whole than a part: but half is more than the whole:
Clearly, the soul is the body: but is not the body the soul?
One and two are not one: but one and nothing is two:
Truth can hardly be false, if falsehood cannot be true.
Once the mastodon was: pterodactyls were common as cocks:
Then the mammoth was God: now is He a prize ox.
Parallels all things are: yet many of these are askew:
You are certainly I: but certainly I am not you.
Springs the rock from the plain, shoots the stream from the rock:
Cocks exist for the hen: but hens exist for the cock.
God, whom we see not, is: and God, who is not, we see:
Fiddle, we know, is diddle: and diddle, we take it, is dee.