The Higher Pantheism

by Alfred Tennyson


Original Language English

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?

-- from Tennyson's Poetry (Norton Critical Editions), by Alfred Tennyson / Edited by Robert W. Hill Jr.

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This is a poem worth reading aloud, several times. Listen to the rhythm and rhyme. Only once you've danced about with the words should you then let the meaning sift in.

Each couplet is rich with inner insight...

The sun, the moon, the stars, the seas, the hills and the plains --
Are not these, O Soul, the Vision of Him who reigns?


I think here the Romantics got it right: To ignore the natural world or merely dominate it, only blinds us. It is when we learn to see the living world that we glimpse the underlying Reality. This is Tennyson's "Higher Pantheism" -- that the Divine is not somehow separate or apart from creation; the Divine is revealed through the living world.

The material world is sometimes seen as a mask or a veil that obscures the Eternal. True enough, but here's the funny thing about masks-- they not only hide, they also reveal the contours of the face behind it.

Tennyson invites us to look well, and catch the gleaming eyes peering out through the mask.

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'?


The world seems like an obstruction only because we ourselves -- the false projected self of the ego -- stand in the way of clear seeing. When we recognize our true Self, that which knows "I am I" a stillness and clarity of awareness results. The world is no longer seen as dark and dense and separated, but as an enlightened, interwoven whole.

Glory about thee, without thee; and thou fulfillest thy doom,
Making Him broken gleams, and a stifled splendour and gloom.


The world all around us -- and through us -- is filled with a radiant glory, but too often we don't see it. Instead of seeing that shining wholeness, the mind inserts itself into the vision and breaks it apart, dims it, stifles it so the ego can remain unchallenged by something brighter and bigger than itself.



Recommended Books: Alfred Tennyson

The Oxford Book of Mystical Verse Tennyson's Poetry (Norton Critical Editions) Alfred Lord Tennyson: Selected Poems (Penguin Classics) Alfred Tennyson: The Major Works (Oxford World's Classics) The Suppressed Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson
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The Higher Pantheism