If any vague desire should rise, That holy Death ere Arthur died Had moved me kindly from his side, And dropt the dust on tearless eyes;
Then fancy shapes, as fancy can, The grief my loss in him had wrought, A grief as deep as life or thought, But stay'd in peace with God and man.
I make a picture in the brain; I hear the sentence that he speaks; He bears the burthen of the weeks But turns his burthen into gain.
His credit thus shall set me free; And, influence-rich to soothe and save, Unused example from the grave Reach out dead hands to comfort me.
Sometimes, apparently, Tennyson wishes he had died before Arthur.
He imagines that, if this had been the case, Arthur would have handled his grief a bit better. Arthur wouldn't have lost his faith, like Tennyson has. He would have "stay'd in peace with God and man."
The speaker continues to imagine what this scenario would look like. Arthur would bear his grief better, turning it to good.
This thought really comforts Tennyson. It's like Arthur's "dead hands" are "reach[ing]" out from the grave to make him feel better. Aw—when's the last time "dead hands" gave you a warm and fuzzy feeling?