Frail, but of force to withstand


Our third term poet is Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  We’ve been making our way through the poems recommended for Tennyson for Y7, including this excerpt from “Maude” which really resonates with me right now.  It seems very much like a metaphor.  Who hasn’t felt the way Tennyson describes the shell at his foot – made for something sublime, yet tumbled, perhaps bruised, even broken by the cataract seas, the surf of life?  Small, but a work divine, frail, but with force to withstand, year after year…

SEE what a lovely shell,
Small and pure as a pearl,
Lying close to my foot,
Frail, but a work divine,
Made so fairily well
With delicate spire and whorl,
How exquisitely minute,
A miracle of design!

What is it? a learned man
Could give it a clumsy name.
Let him name it who can,
The beauty would be the same.

The tiny cell is forlorn,
Void of the little living will
That made it stir on the shore.
Did he stand at the diamond door
Of his house in a rainbow frill?
Did he push, when he was uncurl’d,
A golden foot or a fairy horn
Thro’ his dim water-world?

Slight, to be crush’d with a tap
Of my finger-nail on the sand,
Small, but a work divine,
Frail, but of force to withstand,
Year upon year, the shock
Of cataract seas that snap
The three-decker’s oaken spine
Athwart the ledges of rock,
Here on the Breton strand!

I took the photo at the beach sometime during the spring when there had been a nor’ easter just prior.  We love Virginia State Parks, and are inordinately blessed to have First Landing State Park twenty minutes away or so.  We began going there off-season about a year or so ago, after helping out at an AHG Beach Clean up where we found thousands of horseshoe crabs, and a beautiful empty beach. It is so calming to visit and walk on the beach through the seasons.  Located on the Chesapeake Bay just around Cape Henry from the Atlantic Ocean, and east of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, it’s salty, and windy, but the surf is milder and the beach is infinitely less crowded.  We always see lots of shells, more than a few relatively intact, and a great many broken into pieces, tangled with sea weed in long lines, abandoned on the shore by the receding tide.  I was never before interested in the imperfect shell, those were quickly examined and absent-mindedly tossed back into the ocean with a slight air of disappointment.

I see things somewhat differently now.

Too, in the years BH, that would be Before Homeschooling, I never tried to name or identify shells, or anything else for that matter.  It amazes me still, my complete lack of curiosity.  A year ago, I was rather disgusted that having lived here for decades, I still didn’t know the difference between a scallop shell, a clam shell, and the many different sea snail shells that I regularly walked by on the beach. The only shell I was confident of identifying was the Great Pink Sea Snail. (From the classic Dr. Doolittle movie with Rex Harrison and Samantha Eggar, remember?)

“What is it? a learned can could give it a clumsy name. Let him name it who can, the beauty would be the same.”

These days, I want to know what everything is, even if the names are clumsy.  I’ve wasted so much time not paying attention.

The Daughter learned a lot about sea snails and mollusks and sea worms in general when we were studying Exploring Creation with Zoology II – Swimming Creatures.  Realizing my own startling ignorance, I decided to hone in on our particular region and learn more about the uniqueness of our Chesapeake Bay Estuary.  So, I replaced the AO nature read with  A Naturalists Guide to the Virginia Coast for the second term, and  Salt Tide: Currents of Life and Nature for the third term,  both by Curtis J. Badger.

Now, The Daughter and I are better equipped to interpret the many beautiful things that we now have eyes to see. 

Alfred Lord Tennyson Resources: 

The Alfred Lord Tennyson Poems we read are collected here in a pdf file:  Tennyson Poems.  If you choose to download it, I would be so grateful to hear how you heard about the file, and let me know where you are in your homeschooling!

I have a few other posts that feature Tennyson poems:

C is for Cheeseburger Bird
Slippery Rock Falls
Tennyson, Ulysses and 007
Singing Tennyson 

We are big fans of Spotify for the great abundance and variety of music, and poetry!
Here is an album of Tennyson:

2 thoughts on “Frail, but of force to withstand

  1. Good to hear from you again! I was wondering if you had a list of the poems you studied for Tennyson. We are getting ready to study him as well for AO Year 7, but all I have selected is Idylls. I would love some other recommendations, too! Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Julie! Thanks for stopping by! We read Ulysses and the Lotos Eaters, both of which are longer poems. Then we read a series of smaller poems, many of which are excerpts of epics like The Princess. I’ve included a PDF file of our poems at the bottom of the post. 😉

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