You are here: Archive Home > Arthur Sullivan > Songs & Ballads > Tears, Idle Tears
Tears, Idle Tears
Words by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Sullivan was commissioned to set three lyrics from Tennyson's The Princess by John Church & Co., of Cincinnati in January 1900. In the event, Sullivan completed only two: O Swallow, Swallow and Tears, Idle Tears.

Both songs were sung at St. James's Hall in October 1900 at a concert by Kennerley Rumford, Clara Butt's husband. However, the reviewer for The Times was not impressed by Sullivan's settings:


Mr. Rumford’s songs included the magnificent “Serious songs” of Brahms, sung in perfect style, Somervell’s “Weep you no more,” and Stanford’s vigorous “Battle of Pelusium,” and a couple of fairly effective new songs by Sir Arthur Sullivan, the first appropriately sombre and the second inappropriately merry; although the latter was encored and repeated, it is difficult to accept the songs as an adequate musical equivalent of two of the lovliest lyrics in the language, Tennyson’s “Tears, idle tears,” and “O, swallow, swallow,” both of which have been a good deal more happily treated by more than one composer. (The Times, 15th October 1900.)

Karaoke File

Tears, idle tears,
I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy autumn fields,
And thinking, thinking of the days that are no more.

Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns,
The earliest pipe of half awakened birds to dying ears,
When unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimm'ring square;
So sad, so strange the days that are no more.

Dear as remember'd kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feigned
On lips that are for others;
Deep as love, deep as first love,
And wild with all regret:
Wild with all regret;
Oh Death in Life, oh Death in Life,
The days that are no more!
Oh Death in Life,
The days that are no more!

Archive Home  |  Arthur Sullivan  |  Songs & Ballads  

Page updated 19 NOvember 2012 Copyright © 2007-10 The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive All Rights Reserved