The Voice of the Nameless

From The Ancient Sage by Alfred Tennyson

A thousand summers ere the time of Christ
From out his ancient city came a Seer
Whom one that loved, and honour’d him, and yet
Was no disciple, richly garb’d, but worn
From wasteful living, follow’d—in his hand
A scroll of verse—till that old man before
A cavern whence an affluent fountain pour’d
From darkness into daylight, turn’d and spoke.

This wealth of waters might but seem to draw
From yon dark cave, but, son, the source is higher,
Yon summit half-a-league in air—and higher,
The cloud that hides it—higher still, the heavens
Whereby the cloud was moulded, and whereout
The cloud descended. Force is from the heights.
I am wearied of our city, son, and go
To spend my one last year among the hills.
What hast thou there? Some deathsong for the Ghouls
To make their banquet relish? let me read.

“How far thro’ all the bloom and brake
That nightingale is heard!
What power but the bird’s could make
This music in the bird?
How summer-bright are yonder skies,
And earth as fair in lute!
And yet what sign of aught that lies
Behind the green and blue?
But man to-day is fancy’s fool
As man hath ever been.
The nameless Power, or Powers, that rule
Were never heard or seen.”

If thou would’st hear the Nameless, and wilt dive
Into the Temple-cave of thine own self,
There, brooding by the central altar, thou
May’st haply learn the Nameless hath a voice,
By which thou wilt abide, if thou be wise,
As if thou knewest, tho’ thou canst not know;
For Knowledge is the swallow on the lake
That sees and stirs the surface-shadow there
But never yet hath dipt into the abysm,
The Abysm of all Abysms, beneath, within
The blue of sky and sea, the green of earth,
And in the million-millionth of a grain
Which cleft and cleft again for evermore,
And ever vanishing, never vanishes,
To me, my son, more mystic than myself,
Or even than the Nameless is to me.
And when thou sendest thy free soul thro’ heaven,
Nor understandest bound nor boundlessness,
Thou seest the Nameless of the hundred names.
And if the Nameless should withdraw from all
Thy frailty counts most real, all thy world
Might vanish like thy shadow in the dark.

“And since—from when this earth began—
The Nameless never came
Among us, never spake with man,
And never named the Name”—

Thou canst not prove the Nameless, O my son,
Nor canst thou prove the world thou movest in,
Thou canst not prove that thou art body alone,
Nor canst thou prove that thou art spirit alone,
Nor canst thou prove that thou art both in one:
Thou canst not prove thou art immortal, no
Nor yet that thou art mortal—nay my son,
Thou canst not prove that I, who speak with thee,
Am not thyself in converse with thyself,
For nothing worthy proving can be proven,
Nor yet disproven: wherefore thou be wise,
Cleave ever to the sunnier side of doubt,
And cling to Faith beyond the forms of Faith!
She reels not in the storm of warring words,
She brightens at the clash of ‘Yes’ and ‘No,’
She sees the Best that glimmers thro’ the Worst,
She feels the Sun is hid but for a night,
She spies the summer thro’ the winter bud,
She tastes the fruit before the blossom falls,
She hears the lark within the songless egg,
She finds the fountain where they wail’d ‘Mirage’!

There is a place above the din to which all are called, but few report. This place, the “Temple-cave of thine own self,” is a wondrous place. The path which leads to its door is paved with stones of assurance and runs along the river of tranquility. This place is at once in this world and not of it; it sits where the eternal and temporal meet.

Those who find this place are at peace with themselves, in themselves, regardless of what is moving round about. Neither wars nor rumors of wars pull at the heartstrings of one who dwells in this place. It is here that you rejoin your inner voice as it titillates the resonant chamber of your heart, mind and body. It is here that light is transmuted into sound, a sound that purifies the world around you like the heat from the flame in a reverberatory furnace.

That which is sacred appears to be frail, but never once has the sword or tongue of one bent on the destruction of the Nameless achieved its aim. It may appear in the reddened vision of the malefactor that he has vanquished the Nameless, but he has only pushed himself further from the place in which the Nameless is perceived. Just as the darkness cannot penetrate into the light, that which is hell-bent cannot destroy that which is heavenly sent.


11 thoughts on “The Voice of the Nameless

  1. Colin

    This place, available to each of us, is the reason why the wise will not fight evil. There is nothing to gain, and everything to lose. You will lose your place in the “Temple-cave of thine own self” in the struggle, and ultimately will lose the ability to identify the sacred entirely. Better to shore up you own defense, making sure that every thought, word, and deed that comes from you comes from this place. In this way, there is no need to fight, because your defense is impregnable.


  2. Ricardo B.

    This sinks deep. It’s as if all the bickering we engage in, all the ‘proofs’ we seek to construct a world that we can understand, becomes but a whisper when we begin to listen to the voice of the ancient sage. The thing I love about poetry like this here is that it opens faculties that helps balance out the lopsided mind stuck on a single track of pure reason and logic. Words, artistically used, provide these magical gates towards contemplating the sublime. The images they conjure up seem to spark ageless paths of perception, a type of ‘sixth sense’ required to comprehend the eternal truths. I suppose that’s why the Ancient Sage states the Nameless shall not be proven, for our current sciences and religions do not possess sufficient breadth of perception to do so.
    For myself, I’ve found that my best decisions have come from this inner sanctum. The greatest clarity comes from the perspective offered here, for peace reigns supreme. Trouble only comes as I leave and wander off, and it is my own responsibility and no one else’s, to claim citizenship and establish my home here once and for all. I count my lucky stars that this is so.
    Wow, great poem and commentary.


  3. Lady Leo

    “For nothing worthy proving can be proven,” … and it doesn’t have to be when faith is the bedrock of our living…”And cling to Faith beyond the forms of Faith!”
    Thanks for reminding me of this resonant poem. It call forth the best from of us; to live this life with depth.


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