I like how my memory works ( it could be how everyone’s work, but I can only say about myself !) – remembering some very old details precisely and forgetting some large details. I used to hate the poems in my text books for the sole reason that I needed to learn them as is, unlike the answers which I could have easily made up or substituted the words. To this day, I can’t understand why was there such an insistence on reproducing the poems in exams, right up to the punctuation.

Anyways, despite this unfriendly relationship with poems, there are few that have stuck with me. One of them is “Home they brought her warrior dead” by Lord Tennyson. After what I believe was an emotional rendering by the teacher – it is about death after all – he/she (see I don’t remember now, I have to scratch my head hard for this) said in particular about the following sentence as one thing we should always remember.

Truest friend and noblest foe

The poem is a gem, as all of you might know, and has many other sentences that are good takeaways. But our teacher said of the above that, it is very hard to understand and we should all think about it. I did, and I thought it was quite straight forward – you have to be good friend and a good enemy. Big deal I thought. Why will I have enemies at all I thought. Our teacher said, that is the best compliment one can receive at his death. (Oh, he/she might have meant it in the context of a warrior, but still, I thought at that time that there should be greater compliments to a warrior too). Nothing against the teacher but at that time, I was skeptical of his/her emphasis on this one sentence in the entire poem more than lets say “worthy to be loved” or the significance of age in the actions of a maiden and the “ninety” year nurse – to be fair, I vaguely remember he/she explaining it by an attribution to the experience – or the vast implications of “past vs future” of “husband vs child”.

But over the years, it has ingrained in me so well that I come across this sentence only when I rationalize my actions. I have realized that this noble idea has guided me in more than one occasion. If one subconscious thought holds me back from feeling vengeance/angry/disappointed or if one thought that forces me to smile/forgive, it is this thought that I should aspire to be noblest foe. That, I should not be what they are to me. Truest friend is easy, but being noblest foe each time and every time takes a lot of effort than I imagined at that tender age.

Here is the poem “Home they brought her warrior dead” by Alfred Lord Tennyson:

HOME they brought her warrior dead:
She nor swooned, nor uttered cry:
All her maidens, watching, said,
‘She must weep or she will die.’

Then they praised him, soft and low,
Called him worthy to be loved,
Truest friend and noblest foe;
Yet she neither spoke nor moved.

Stole a maiden from her place,
Lightly to the warrior stepped,
Took the face-cloth from the face;
Yet she neither moved nor wept.

Rose a nurse of ninety years,
Set his child upon her knee—
Like summer tempest came her tears—
‘Sweet my child, I live for thee.’