Come Down, O Maid: by Alfred Tennyson - Summary & Analysis

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Come down, O maid, from yonder mountain height:
What pleasure lives in height (the shepherd sang),
In height and cold, the splendour of the hills?
But cease to move so near the Heavens, and cease
To glide a sunbeam by the blasted Pine,
To sit a star upon the sparkling spire;
And come, for Love is of the valley, come,
For Love is of the valley, come thou down
And find him; by the happy threshold, he,
Or hand in hand with Plenty in the maize,
Or red with sprited purple of the vats,
Or fox like in the vine: nor cares to walk
With Death and Morning on the silver horns,
Nor wilt thou snare him in the white ravine,
Nor find him dropt upon the firths of ice,
That huddling slant in furrow-cloven falls
To roll the torrent out of dusky doors.
But follow; let the torrent dance thee down 
To find him in the valley; let the wild
Lean-headed Eagles yelp alone, and leave
The monstious ledges there to slope, and spill
Their thousand wreaths of dangling water-smoke,
That like a broken purpose waste in air.
So waste not thou; but come; for all the vales
Await thee; azure pillars of the hearth
Arise to thee; the children call, and I
Thy shepherd pipe, and sweet is every sound,
Sweeter thy voice, but every sound is sweet;
Myriads of rivulets hurrying thro' the lawn,
The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees.

Introduction

      This is one of the two lyrics from the last Canto of The Princess. In this section Princess Ida, who has rejected men because of their assumption of superiority over women, finally accepts the love of the Prince. The Prince's belief is that man must gain in sweetness woman in 'mental breadth', until at last woman will 'set herself to man, Like perfect music unto noble words.' Ida reads this song or 'small sweet idyll' as she sits by the bed of the prince, who has persisted in his wooing of her, and is now recovering from wounds received at a tournament between his. supporters and Ida's.

Summary

      The lyric is a classic example of the seduction song, like To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell (1621—78). The shepherd, who is a type or figure of the personal lover, begs the virgin to leave the cold and sterile heights of virginity, where nothing that is human can be found. He asks her to come down to the warm human valley, where Love lives with contentment, and to follow the falling stream to the heart and home that await her. On the icy mountains the only sound is that of yelping eagles but down in the valley every sound is sweet. The poem ends with three lines of extraordinary onomatopoeia invoking the I characteristic sounds of the sheltered valley. The rich onomatopoeia, or imitation of sound, is an appropriate conclusion: the virgin is being called back to that richness of life which she seems to have abandoned. Notice that from the beginning the shepherd assumes perhaps as a stratagem that she is looking for love. 

Critical Appreciation and Analysis

      Come Down, O Maid is a beautiful work of art, every word in it has been chosen for its sense and sound. Concentration of vowel sounds, the use of alliteration as also that of liquid consonants I, m and n contribute to the music and melody of this lyric. Tennyson's sense of colour is clear in the lyric — "azure pillars", "purple of the vats", "silver horns", etc. One exquisite image after another flows in the poem. The beloved is compared to a sun-beam and then to a star. In lines such as

Their thousand wreaths of dangling water—smoke
That like a broken purpose waste in air

      The abstract and the concrete mingle to give a beautiful image. However, though it is one of Tennyson's most popular lyrics, some critics have found in it more of artifice than art. Its felicity of diction and expression, its word-pictures, its imagery, and its music and melody all combine to make it one of the most popular lyrics of Tennyson.

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