Who wrote "Show me the heart unfettered by foolish dreams…And I'll show you a happy man." ?

It was spoken by George McAllister (=the character name of the Latin teacher "the Realist" in Dead Poets Society).

Some says that it could be Alfred Lord Tennyson, but can someone confirm this and state the precise publication?

Here is the transcript from the film:

McAllister: You take a big risk by encouraging them to be artists, John. When they realize they're not Rembrandts, Shakespeares or Mozarts, they'll hate you for it.
Keating: We're not talking artists, George, we're talking freethinkers.
McAllister: Freethinkers at seventeen?
Keating: Funny — I never pegged you as a cynic.
McAllister: Not a cynic, a realist. "Show me the heart unfettered by foolish dreams, and I'll show you a happy man."
Keating: "But only in their dreams can men be truly free. 'Twas always thus, and always thus will be."
McAllister: Tennyson?
Keating: No, Keating.

Video of the scene:

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    I don't believe it's a quote. I believe it's original to the film. It sure doesn't sound like Tennyson; I suspect the only reason one would guess that is because of the Tennyson reference immediately after. (A search on Google Books did turn up a fiction book which attributed it to Tennyson, but it was in 2015 and I suspect it's quoting the film rather than than any real source.) Jul 26, 2017 at 15:59
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    I couldn't find anything either, @JoshuaEngel. Some news articles mentioned Tennyson, but they didn't appear to have anything behind that conjecture (and nary a citation in sight). One [list of poetry references](chrome-extension://gbkeegbaiigmenfmjfclcdgdpimamgkj/views/app.html) that Google offered includes the quote without attribution. It appears that they couldn't find it either, or it's original to the film.
    – Shokhet
    Jul 26, 2017 at 16:07
  • 6
    Lists of quotes without attribution are the bane of Internet research. It's not just that they're useless, but they make it difficult to search for real authorities (and usually come up higher on searches). Jul 26, 2017 at 16:10
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    Sometimes it's easier to start with those "real authorities," @JoshuaEngel. quoteinvestigator.com seems reliable, and I'm sure there are others. (And no, it appears that QI hasn't gotten to this one yet. I've already checked ;-))
    – Shokhet
    Jul 26, 2017 at 18:21
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    I also use wikiquote a lot; I don't have an opinion on which is better. Wikiquote is a wiki, so it's got all of those problems, but it does usually attribute things so I can verify. They do support a "common misattributions/misquotes" section; maybe I should add this. Jul 26, 2017 at 18:58

1 Answer 1


This is not a Tennyson quote as far as we know.

A member of the Tennyson Society have checked the Tennyson concordance, (not in itself complete), and confirms to me so far that this is not a Tennyson quote.

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