Strong Son of God, Immortal Love by Alfred Tennyson

Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove;

Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be:
They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Lord, art more than they.

We have but faith: we cannot know;
For knowledge is of things we see;
And yet we trust it comes from thee,
A beam in darkness: let it grow.

Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell;
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before …

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem


As people of modernity we prize reason above all.  Our rule of acceptance is that which is reasonable and our imagination is thereby impoverished.  This malaise is largely a product of adulthood, for children accept wonder with gladness, but wonder surrenders to cynicism when education is bereft of wisdom.

Today’s selection from Tennyson’s In Memoriam is found at the poem’s opening, but it surely marks the poet’s conclusion to his crisis of faith.  In The Word in the Wilderness, Malcolm Guite writes:

In an age when increasingly strident forms of scientific and religious fundamentalism are making absolute truth-claims over against one another we need to make this prayer our own.
A key verse in this extract is the insight that:

Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be:
They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Lord, art more than they.

To pray this prayer is to acknowledge the limits of knowledge, to know just how little our ‘little systems’ are. It is to ask for the grace and humility to trust, to trust God and one another. And yet from out of that humility this prayer asks for the wisdom to cherish real advances in knowledge, to see the discoveries of science as a partner to the discoveries of faith, to see ‘mind and soul according well’, making ‘one music’.

How are reason and faith complementary?

Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Dig Deeper: Literature & Liturgy

Alfred Tennyson

Alfred Tennyson

(1809–1892) The most popular English poet of the latter half of the nineteenth century, Tennyson was born in Somersby, Lincolnshire, the son of a country rector. He and his brother began to write verse and published a volume titled Poems by Two Brothers in 1827, the year Alfred left for Cambridge. He remained there until 1831, when financial need obligated him to return home, where he devoted himself to the craft of poetry. At Cambridge he developed a close friendship with Arthur Henry Hallam, who later became engaged to Tennyson’s sister. Hallam’s sudden death in Vienna at age twenty-two led to the publication of a long sequence of elegies by the poet in tribute to his friend. Finally completed and published in 1850, In Memoriam, is generally considered to be Tennyson’s finest work. Some parts of the poem have been made into hymns. Also in 1850 Tennyson was appointed Poet Laureate as successor to William Wordsworth.

His earlier poems—“Mariana,” “The Palace of Art,” “The Lotus Eaters,” “The Lady of Shalott,” “Ulysses,” and “Locksley Hall”—won for Tennyson wide acclaim. His poetry is always touched with the spirit of romanticism that early reminded critics of Keats. With the publication of In Memoriam Tennyson was secure, his income substantial, enabling him to buy a house in the country and to marry Emily Sellwood. Idylls of the King, a twelve-part narrative poem based on the Arthurian legends, occupied much of the latter part of Tennyson’s life. A good portion of Tennyson’s work is idealistic and morally high-minded. His religious convictions were expressed in terms of hope for an afterlife, but these hopes were rarely supported by strong doctrinal commitment. “Crossing the Bar,” his best known single poem, was written when the poet was eighty years old. Tennyson’s “Strong Son of God, Immortal Love” (1850) found its way into Christian hymnody when it was set to music by Leo Sowerby in 1941. He was buried in Westminster Abbey next to Robert Browning.

P.M. Bechtel, “Tennyson, Lord Alfred,” ed. J.D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort, Who’s Who in Christian History (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1992), 664.

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith

 

51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.

Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.