The Brook / Tennyson

A short poem about being a brook, written by Alfred Lord Tennyson (6 August 1809 – 6 October 1892). See short biographical note at end of page.


I come from haunts of coot1 and hern,2
I make a sudden sally,
And sparkle out among the fern,
To bicker3 down a valley.
By thirty hills I hurry down,
Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorps,4 a little town,
And half a hundred bridges.
Till last by Philip’s farm I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.
I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles.
With many a curve my banks I fret
By many a field and fallow,
And many a fairy foreland5 set
With willow-weed and mallow.
I chatter, chatter, as I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.
I wind about, and in and out,
With here a blossom sailing,
And here and there a lusty trout,
And here and there a grayling,
And here and there a foamy flake
Upon me, as I travel,
With many a silvery waterbreak
Above the golden gravel,
And draw them all along, and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.
I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
I slide by hazel6 covers;
I move the sweet forget-me-nots
That grow for happy lovers.
I slip, I slide, I gloom,7 I glance,
Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeams dance
Against my shady shallows.
I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly8 bars;
I loiter round my cresses;
And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.


This little lyric forms a part of “an idyl” of the same title, published in 1855. The poet introduces it in the following manner:

“Here, by this brook, we parted; I to the East
And he to Italy—too late—too late:
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . Yet the brook he loved
.  .  .  .  . seems, as I re-listen to it,
Prattling the primrose fancies of the boy,
To me that loved him; for, ‘O brook,’ he says,
‘O babbling brook,’ says Edmund in his rhyme,
‘Whence come you?’ and the brook, why not? replies:
‘I come from haunts of coot and hern,'” etc.

In reading this poem, observe how strikingly the sound is made to correspond to the sense.

1. coot. A wild water-fowl, resembling the duck.

2. hern. Heron.

3. bicker. To move unsteadily.

4. thorps. Small villages. A. S. thorpe. From Ger. trupp, a troop.

5. foreland. A promontory.

6. hazel covers. Hazel thickets.

7. gloom. Glimmer, shine obscurely.

8. shingly. Gravelly.

Notes from James Baldwin, Ph.D. in his “Six Centuries of English Poetry”. Available at Project Gutenberg: Here

Dr. Baldwin also offers this little:

Biographical Sketch!

Alfred Tennyson was born at Somersby, Lincolnshire, England, in 1809. His early education was received at home from his father, who was rector of Somersby and vicar of Bennington and Grimsby. He was afterwards sent to Trinity College, Cambridge, where, at the age of twenty, he received the chancellor’s medal for a poem in blank verse, entitled “Timbuctoo.” In 1830 he published a small volume of “Poems chiefly Lyrical.” A revised edition of this volume, published in 1833, contained “The Lady of Shalott,” “The Lotos-Eaters,” and others of his best-known short poems. In 1850, upon the death of Wordsworth, he was appointed poet-laureate. In the same year he was married to Emily, daughter of Henry Sellwood, Esq., and niece of Sir John Franklin. Since 1851, Tennyson has resided for the greater part of the time at Farringford, Freshwater, Isle of Wight. In December, 1883, he was made Baron Tennyson of Aldworth and Freshwater. “Mr. Tennyson,” says R. H. Hutton, “was an artist even before he was a poet; in other words, the eye for beauty, grace, and harmony of effect was even more emphatically one of his original gifts than the voice for poetic utterance itself. This, probably, it is which makes his very earliest pieces appear so full of effort, and sometimes even so full of affectation. They were elaborate attempts to embody what he saw, before the natural voice of the poet had come to him. I think it possible to trace not only a pre-poetic period in his art, but to date the period at which the soul was ‘infused’ into his poetry, and the brilliant external figures became the dwelling-places of germinating poetic thoughts creating their own music. Curiously enough, the first poem where there is any trace of those musings of the Round Table to which he has directed so much of his maturest genius, is also a confession that the poet was sick of the magic mirror of fancy and its picture-shadows, and was turning away from them to the poetry of human life. Whenever Mr. Tennyson’s pictorial fancy has had it in any degree in its power to run away with the guiding and controlling mind, the richness and the workmanship have to some extent overgrown the spiritual principle of his poems. It is obvious, for instance, that even in relation to natural scenery, what his poetical faculty delights in most are rich, luxuriant [36]landscapes, in which either nature or man has accumulated a lavish variety of effects. It is in the scenery of the mill, the garden, the chase, the down, the rich pastures, the harvest-field, the palace pleasure-grounds, the Lord of Burleigh’s fair domains, the luxuriant sylvan beauty, bearing testimony to the careful hand of man, ‘the summer crisp with shining woods,’ that Mr. Tennyson most delights. If he strays to rarer scenes, it is almost in search of richer and more luxuriant loveliness, like the tropical splendors of ‘Enoch Arden’ and the enervating skies which cheated the Lotos-Eaters of their longing for home.” “Mr. Tennyson,” says a writer in the North British Review, “deserves an especial study, not only as a poet, but as a leader and a landmark of popular thought and feeling. As a poet, he belongs to the highest category of English writers; for poetry is the strongest and most vigorous branch of English literature. In this literature his works are evidently destined to secure a permanent place; for they express in language refined and artistic, but not unfamiliar, a large segment of the popular thought of the period over which they range. He has, moreover, a clearly marked if not strongly individualized style, which has served as a model for imitators, and as a starting-point for poets who have sought to improve upon it.” Principal Poems of Tennyson: Charge of the Light Brigade, written in 1854; Dora, 1842; The Dying Swan, 1830; Enoch Arden, 1864; Idylls of the King, 1859-1873,—to be read in the following order: The Coming of Arthur; Gareth and Lynette; Geraint and Enid; Merlin and Vivien; Lancelot and Elaine; The Holy Grail; Pelleas and Ettarre; The Last Tournament; Guinevere; The Passing of Arthur;—In Memoriam, 1850 (131 parts); Locksley Hall, 1842; Locksley Hall Sixty Years Afterwards, 1886; Maud, 1855 (3 parts); The Princess, 1847 (7 parts); Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington, 1852. Dramatic Pieces: Queen Mary, 1875; Harold, 1876; The Cup, 1881; The Falcon, 1882; Becket, 1884; The Foresters: Robin Hood and Maid Marian, 1892. References: Stedman’s Victorian Poets; Van Dyke’s The Poetry of Tennyson; Taine’s History of English Literature, vol. IV; Kingsley’s Miscellanies; Elsdale’s Studies in the Idylls; Buchanan’s Master Spirits; Tainsh’s Studies in Tennyson; Hutton’s Essays; Chapman’s Companion to In Memoriam; Walters’s In Tennyson Land.