A sunny spring evening at Crane Creek Vineyards brought to mind one of my favorite lines of poetry:
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees.
For a bit of context, lees refers to the bits of sediment that rest at the bottom of a barrel of wine after it has gone through the fermentation and aging process. Tennyson’s Ulysses, then, is vowing to get every bit of life out of life.
It little profits that an idle king,By this still hearth, among these barren crags,Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and doleUnequal laws unto a savage race,That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.I cannot rest from travel: I will drinkLife to the lees: All times I have enjoy’dGreatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with thoseThat loved me, and alone, on shore, and whenThro’ scudding drifts the rainy HyadesVext the dim sea: I am become a name;For always roaming with a hungry heartMuch have I seen and known; cities of menAnd manners, climates, councils, governments,Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;And drunk delight of battle with my peers,Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.I am a part of all that I have met;Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fadesFor ever and forever when I move.How dull it is to pause, to make an end,To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on lifeWere all too little, and of one to meLittle remains: but every hour is savedFrom that eternal silence, something more,A bringer of new things; and vile it wereFor some three suns to store and hoard myself,And this gray spirit yearning in desireTo follow knowledge like a sinking star,Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfilThis labour, by slow prudence to make mildA rugged people, and thro’ soft degreesSubdue them to the useful and the good.Most blameless is he, centred in the sphereOf common duties, decent not to failIn offices of tenderness, and payMeet adoration to my household gods,When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—That ever with a frolic welcome tookThe thunder and the sunshine, and opposedFree hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;Death closes all: but something ere the end,Some work of noble note, may yet be done,Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deepMoans round with many voices. Come, my friends,‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.Push off, and sitting well in order smiteThe sounding furrows; for my purpose holdsTo sail beyond the sunset, and the bathsOf all the western stars, until I die.It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’We are not now that strength which in old daysMoved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;One equal temper of heroic hearts,Made weak by time and fate, but strong in willTo strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Here’s to a fine wine on a spring evening and that we all my find the “will / to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Curious about the other National Poetry Month poems? Check out the regularly updated original post to catch them all!