‘I have led her Home, my love, my only friend’ is an excerpt from Tennyson’s much longer work ‘Maud’. It is part XVIII. The poem was published in Maud and Other Poems in 1855. Within ‘Maud,’ a larger story is told of the speaker’s father’s suicide, the speaker’s relationship with his neighbour’s daughter, Maud, and the series of disturbing events that follow.
Explore I have led her Home, my love, my only friend
Within the poem, the speaker, who is fully and truly obsessed with Maud, stands outside her home and describes his state of mind. He believes now that his love is reciprocated and that everything is going to turn out beautifully for both of them. He speaks on his passion, her beauty, and grace, as well as the surrounding landscape. The speaker also spends time addressing his past and how he felt before this relationship took shape.
In the last lines, there is a brief bit of foreshadowing that acknowledges that everything might not turn out as cheerily as he intends.
‘I have led her Home, my love, my only friend’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson is a ten-stanza extract from the longer poem ‘Maud’. Unlike much of Tennyson’s verse, these lines do not conform to a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. But, there are examples of rhyme within the text. For instance, “none” and “Lebanon” are in the third stanza.
The stanzas range in length from five lines up to fifteen, with the individual lines also varying in length, number of words, and number of syllables.
Tennyson makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘I have led her Home, my love, my only friend’. These include alliteration, anaphora, enjambment, and caesura. The latter, caesura, occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might proceed an important turn or transition in the text. For example, the first line of stanza seven. It reads: “Would die; for sullen-seeming Death may give”. Or, another example, the last line of stanza two which reads: “The gates of Heaven are closed, and she is gone”.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “honeyed” and “haunted” in lines two and three of the fourth stanza. Or, “space” and “sky” in line three of the sixth stanza. Tennyson also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. There are a few examples within ‘I have led her Home, my love, my only friend’ such as in stanza one where lines three and four both start with “And”. Another example is in the tenth stanza where “Beat” starts two lines in a row.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are examples throughout the poem, for instance, the transition between lines three and four of the first stanza and lines three and four of the fourth stanza.
I have led her home, my love, my only friend,
There is none like her, none.
And never yet so warmly ran my blood
And sweetly, on and on
Calming itself to the long-wished-for end,
Full to the banks, close on the promised good.
In the first stanza of ‘I have led her Home, my love, my only friend’ the speaker begins by using repetition to describe Maud. She is his “love” and his “only friend”. He tells the reader that at this point in the narrative he has “led her home”. This alludes to a closeness between the two that he is certainly happy about. He places her on a pedestal. She’s one of a kind. There has never been anyone like her and he’s overwhelmed with the rightness of his place near him.
Tennyson uses a metaphor to compare the speaker’s emotions to a river. His blood is running warmly and sweetly and finally reaching the “long-wished-for end” which is a reciprocated love between the two.
None like her, none.
Just now the dry-tongued laurels’ pattering talk
Seem’d her light foot along the garden walk,
And shook my heart to think she comes once more;
But even then I heard her close the door,
The gates of Heaven are closed, and she is gone.
The second stanza of ‘I have led her Home, my love, my only friend’ repeats the phrase “None like her, none,” emphasizing his passion for Maud. His wind is wistful, seeking her out in every sound and movement around him. She’s not physically with him in this stanza but he hears the sound of the “laurel’s pattering talk” and relates it to Maud’s footsteps. The semi-elicit nature of their love affairs makes these moments all the more poignant.
A familiar comparison appears in the fifth and sixth lines of the stanza. He compares her, as he did obliquely in the first section of ‘Maud’ to Eve. Her home is “Heaven” and when the door closes, so too do the “gates of Heaven”.
There is none like her, none.
Nor will be when our summers have deceased.
O, art thou sighing for Lebanon
In the long breeze that streams to thy delicious East,
Sighing for Lebanon,
Dark cedar, tho’ thy limbs have here increased,
Upon a pastoral slope as fair,
The refrain “There is none like her, none” starts the third stanza as well. Here, he speaks to a “Dark cedar” a tree that he says originated from Lebanon. He asks the tree if it is “sighing” for its home, even though it’s growing in England. He is at once suggesting it might be homesick, but at the same time telling it that it has no reason to be as England has everything it could ever want.
And looking to the South, and fed
With honeyed rain and delicate air,
And haunted by the starry head
Of her whose gentle will has changed my fate,
And made my life a perfumed altar-frame;
And over whom thy darkness must have spread
With such delight as theirs of old, thy great
Forefathers of the thornless garden, there
Shadowing the snow-limbed Eve from whom she came.
In the fourth stanza of ‘I have led her Home, my love, my only friend’ does not stay away from the speaker’s main subject, Maud, for long. He adds that in addition to the “honeyed rain and delicate air” the tree is lucky enough to have “the starry head,” Maud around it. The tree is “fed” by her presence as the speaker is.
The speaker uses this opportunity to once again praise Maud’s nature and how she’s changed him. He acknowledges the changes that have come over him and uses a metaphor to say that his life has become a “perfumed altar-frame”. This brings in another aspect of religiosity or spirituality and sets up the reader for the direct comparison between Maud and Eve in the last lines of the stanza.
Here will I lie, while these long branches sway,
And you fair stars that crown a happy day
Go in and out as if at merry play,
Who am no more so all forlorn,
As when it seemed far better to be born
To labour and the mattock-hardened hand
Than nursed at ease and brought to understand
A sad astrology, the boundless plan
That makes you tyrants in your iron skies,
Innumerable, pitiless, passionless eyes,
Cold fires, yet with power to burn and brand
His nothingness into man.
In the fifth stanza of ‘I have led her Home, my love, my only friend’, it appears that the speaker is physically sleeping underneath this tree. He’s once again in the gardens around Maud’s home and is pining after her while she’s inside the house. The “long branches sway” over his head peacefully while he watches the stars. Tennyson uses personification to describe the stars at being at “merry play”. This is a projection of the speaker’s own joy. He sees it everywhere he looks.
The speaker thinks back to the past, to when he used to be “forlorn”. He used to think it would be better “to be born / To labour and the mattock-hardened hand”. Here he is referencing an agricultural took that’s similar to a pickaxe. He’s recalling how in the past he thought a life of physical labour would’ve been better than one that was filled to “sad astrology”. In the former life, in which one would study the stars, education would provide no answers. The indifference of the world would be made clear, depressing the learner further.
The last image of this stanza is a powerful one that alludes to industrialism, a clear contrast to the agricultural life of the farmhand he referenced previously.
But now shine on, and what care I,
Who in this stormy gulf have found a pearl
The countercharm of space and hollow sky,
And do accept my madness, and would die
To save from some slight shame one simple girl.
The sixth stanza of ‘I have led her Home, my love, my only friend’ is only five lines long and takes the reader back to the speaker’s current state of mind. Now that his love has been reciprocated he tells the stars they are welcome to “shine one”. He cares nothing for the “stormy gulf” now that he’s found “a pearl”. This metaphor compares a chaotic and painful life to a stormy sea and the discovery of Maud and their love for the “pearl”. Since he’s found it, he’s happy to endure.
His obsession with Maud is at its clearest in these lines. He says that he’s willing to “accept…madness, and…die” in order to save Maud from even a little shame.
Would die; for sullen-seeming Death may give
More life to Love than is or ever was
In our low world, where yet ’tis sweet to live.
Let no one ask me how it came to pass;
It seems that I am happy, that to me
A livelier emerald twinkles in the grass,
A purer sapphire melts into the sea.
The phrase “Would die” is emphasized at the beginning of the seventh stanza. His passion is clear, as is his dedication to Maud. He believes that Death, which seems sullen, may, in fact, give “more life to Love than is or ever was”. The possibility of it makes life all the sweeter.
When he thinks about his love and how it came to be, he has a hard time putting it clearly into words. He depicts his happiness as a now even “livelier emerald” that “twinkles in the grass” and an even “purer sapphire” that “melts into the sea”. These colors very likely relate to Maud herself, or the surrounding gardens. Everything is connected to her in ‘I have led her Home, my love, my only friend’.
Not die; but live a life of truest breath,
And teach true life to fight with mortal wrongs.
Oh, why should Love, like men in drinking-songs,
Spice his fair banquet with the dust of death?
In the eighth stanza, which is only four lines long, he takes the monologue away from death and back to life. It is his determination that he’s going to be able to fight for life, love, and the continuation of both.
Make answer, Maud my bliss,
Maud made my Maud by that long loving kiss,
Life of my life, wilt thou not answer this?
“The dusky strand of Death inwoven here
With dear Love’s tie, makes love himself more dear.”
Is that enchanted moan only the swell
Of the long waves that roll in yonder bay?
And hark the clock within, the silver knell
Of twelve sweet hours that past in bridal white,
And die to live, long as my pulses play;
But now by this my love has closed her sight
And given false death her hand, and stol’n away
To dreamful wastes where footless fancies dwell
In the ninth stanza of ‘I have led her Home, my love, my only friend’, he directs his words to Maud. The alliterative “m” sounds in these first lines are very prominent and are very beneficial to the overall rhythm of the poem. In the next lines, he again addresses the impact of death on love and begins alluding to his own physical passion. He speaks of her “bridal white,” or her virginity as well as his “pulses”. There is a very clear reference to an orgasm with the phrase “die to live”. Unfortunately for him, she’s only seventeen, under the protection of her family, and asleep inside her home.
Among the fragments of the golden day.
May nothing there her maiden grace affright!
Dear heart, I feel with thee the drowsy spell.
My bride to be, my evermore delight,
My own heart’s heart, my ownest own, farewell;
It is but for a little space I go:
And ye meanwhile far over moor and fell
Beat to the noiseless music of the night!
Has our whole earth gone nearer to the glow
Of your soft splendour that you look so bright?
I have climbed nearer out of lonely Hell.
Beat, happy stars, timing with things below,
Beat with my heart more blest than heart can tell.
Blest, but for some dark undercurrent woe
That seems to draw—but it shall not be so:
Let all be well, be well.
He says farewell to his beloved in the tenth stanza of ‘I have led her Home, my love, my only friend’. She’s still inside and he is outside. He hopes that nothing is going to disturbed her purity, her “maiden grace”. The speaker believes that she belongs to him, but, he’s getting tired. He’s looking for a “little space” in which to rest. He goes on to re-express his happiness at the entire situation as well as specifically at the fact that he’s climbed out of lonely Hell and into happiness.
In the last lines of this section of ‘Maud,’ he alludes to the possibility that things are not going to turn out as well as he hoped. There might be, or there might not be, a “dark undercurrent [of] woe” running through their relationship. He pushes this thought away and asks that “all be well, be well”.