Be near me when my light is low,
When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
And tingle; and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of Being slow.
Be near me when the sensuous frame
Is racked with pangs that conquer trust;
And Time, a maniac scattering dust,
And Life, a Fury slinging flame.
Be near me when my faith is dry,
And men the flies of latter spring,
That lay their eggs, and sting and sing
And weave their petty cells and die.
Be near me when I fade away,
To point the term of human strife,
And on the low dark verge of life
The twilight of eternal day.
I was looking round the interweb for a copy of this poem to link to (before realising it’s out of copyright) and discovered that it’s read by one of the characters during the film Hellboy 2. Who knew? I’ve no idea what that reading’s like but there’s a good one here.
It’s always time for more Tennyson at what the afternoon knows; but this poem seemed to go with this post, in particular, because it does the ‘we read to know we are not alone’ thing so well. It’s such a powerful evocation of the state of being it describes. The images are extraordinary, and the sounds of the poem as you read it capture the weary, dulled, arid, had-enough feeling we have when ‘the heart is sick/And all the wheels of being slow’. And in the accuracy and vividness of his evocation, Tennyson does what he asks for in the poem: he is ‘near [us]’. Another Heineken moment—a poem reaching parts that other forms don’t reach.
When Time feels like nothing more than a ‘maniac scattering’ the ‘dust’ that is us; when we seem merely ‘flies’ who ‘weave our petty cells and die’; when pain’s pangs are ‘conquering trust’—in short, when we are worn out, hurt and it all seems pointless anyway: here is a reminder that others feel this, that we are not alone in this weary horror. And there seems to me something so human about the repeated request ‘be near me’: the craving for reassurance that someone (or thing) will simply ‘be near [us]’, even if that person or thing cannot change any of the facts.
We may not share Tennyson’s hope of a new ‘twilight of eternal day’ when the ‘term of human strife’ has been reached (which I read as, when we die, when the suffering is over). But even without that consolation, here is a reminder that, at this lowest ebb, you still need not feel alone. Others have felt as you feel. Sometimes that sense of recognition and accompaniment—a sort of remote empathy, if you will—can make the crucial difference.