In Memoriam: by Alfred Tennyson - Summary & Analysis

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      The series of one hundred and thirty-one reflective and elegiac poems (with the Prologue and Epilogue superadded) known as In Memoriam A.H.H. were published in 1850. The poems were written, off and on, through seventeen years. They enshrine the moods of grief, the consolations and reflections arising from the death of Tennyson's friend, Arthur Henry Hallam. A.H.H. was Arthur Henry Hallam (son of Henry Hallam the historian), who was born in 1811 and was about eighteen months younger than Tennyson. Arthur and Alfred formed at Trinity College, Cambridge, an intimate friendship which lasted nearly five years. In the summer of 1833, he made a tour of the Continent with his father; and at Vienna, on September 15th, died very suddenly and unexpectedly of a stroke of apoplexy. At Cambridge, Hallam's contemporaries looked upon him as the hero of their college and the phoenix of their century. The brilliance of his discourse, and the versatility of his gifts, his noble character and lovable nature, his wit and oratory evoked from them all a chorus of praise that leaves no doubt of a compelling personality of restless intelligence and rare charm.

The series of one hundred and thirty-one reflective and elegiac poems (with the Prologue and Epilogue superadded) known as In Memoriam A.H.H. were published in 1850. The poems were written, off and on, through seventeen years. They enshrine the moods of grief, the consolations and reflections arising from the death of Tennyson's friend, Arthur Henry Hallam. A.H.H. was Arthur Henry Hallam (son of Henry Hallam the historian), who was born in 1811 and was about eighteen months younger than Tennyson. Arthur and Alfred formed at Trinity College, Cambridge, an intimate friendship which lasted nearly five years. In the summer of 1833, he made a tour of the Continent with his father; and at Vienna, on September 15th, died very suddenly and unexpectedly of a stroke of apoplexy. At Cambridge, Hallam's contemporaries looked upon him as the hero of their college and the phoenix of their century. The brilliance of his discourse, and the versatility of his gifts, his noble character and lovable nature, his wit and oratory evoked from them all a chorus of praise that leaves no doubt of a compelling personality of restless intelligence and rare charm.
In Memoriam

      In Memoriam is the longest elegy in English poetry, longest, not because it is one long, unbroken, sustained composition, but because all the moods, thoughts, questionings and pictures of Nature in diverse aspects, revolve round the person lamented. Its grief, in the sections that voice it, is more poignant than it is in other elegies. It is a lament from the depths of the singer's heart.

Break, thou deep vase of chilling tears
Which grief has shaken into frost.

      His questions and doubts are just those that assail every person who, having lost some one so dear and so good, feels that life is no longer worthwhile. In many ways Tennyson's elegy strikes a universal note, even to those who are not interested in the continuity of the individual self after death.

      It has been rightly said that "In Memoriam is no simple elegy, but like Adonais, is charged with ideas." No other elegy presents the difficulties in the way of belief with such breadth of canvas as does In Memoriam. But its main interest apart from that of poetry, is psychological. It evokes the fears, hopes, dreams and fancies that dwell in that twilight region of the mind between the conscious and the unconscious. Its speculative and psychological strands, its emotionalized landscapes, mark it off from Milton's Lycidas and Arnold's Thyrsis. The poems that comprise it are, however, on different levels of inspiration and expression.


      Professor Oliver Elton thus summarises the argument and evolution of the poem: "At first the poet is drowned in grief; and plays with it, and makes love to it, as if wearily, sinking into it deliberately, and pausing to cheat himself with sombre fancies. He follows the voyage of the ship that brought his dead friend back, and re-threads the course of the friendship. After many ebbs and flows of feeling he finds that grief is a true possession; and he begins to find a kind of faith upon it. He finds in the mystery of life itself, and in that of love, some assurance of survival; failing this, life itself would be a chaos. Then he has a gleam of hope that the dead may care for us; he muses on the possible nature of the disembodied soul, and on how far it may remember its earthly affections. He revolts against the idea that the soul, after death, is at once absorbed in the whole; he judges, a matter of blind faith, that evil may in the end somehow generate good, in spite of the indifference of nature to man, her chief product. Then follow reflections upon the value and quality of posthumous fame, which Tennyson, unlike the Elizabethans, but like Emily Bronte, holds lightly. At last, in the dark garden, he has the trance like experience in which he believes that he communes with his friend. After this his love grows afresh, and widens out to include mankind, whose hopes and future occupy him to the calming of his grief. Love, now universalized, is seen to be the principle of human progress. Man's free will, and the outlook of the race, form a foundation for hope."


Analysis of 'In Memoriam'

      We have Tennyson's own authority for distinguishing at least three well-defined landmarks in the course of the subject-matter of In Memoriam. 'The divisions of the poem,' the poet says, 'are made by first Christmas Eve (Sec XXVIII), second Christmas (LXXVIII), third Christmas (CIV, CV). Taking then these landmarks as our guides, it follows that there are four chief divisions, or cycles, into which the main portion of the poem must fall. Does any distinct character mark each of these divisions such as would give it a clearly marked place in the unfolding to the general purpose? An examination would lead us to the following conclusion. 

      The First Cycle (I—XXVII) may be entitled Grief. It is entirely occupied with the thought of sorrow and its bitterness. Mood after mood of misery is depicted in it. The emotions expend themselves upon any objects which serve to enable the stunned mind to realise its loss. Grief is seeking to justify its regret to grieve.

      The Second Cycle (XXVIII—LXXVII) marks the beginnings and records the conflicts of Hope. Its Christmas falls 'sadly', but is welcomed as bringing once again 'the light that shone when Hope was born'. This is the longest of all the divisions and in some respects the most important. It is here that, putting aside the aid of assistance from external authority, the struggler battles a way for himself through the doubts and perplexities which beset his mind and his conscience. Sometimes encouraged, sometimes driven well-nigh to despair, his feet fail beneath him but his heart refuses to yield.

      The Third Cycle LXXVIII—CIII) conducts us to a happier region. It is a cycle of peace. Its Christmas falls 'caImly'. The mourner finds some comfort in thinking how his friend would have acted in his place. Gentler feelings are stirring within him, and the possibility of making other friendships can now be considered. Nature reflects the altered mood, and old scenes can be revisited without pain. His mind even turns to the possibility of communion with the departed. The starting of friends for Viemia, and the necessity of leaving the old Somersby home, are incidents which occasion distress; but calm returns after a night vision in which Time and its changes are seen to be only a preparation for the eternal possession of all that on earth was really noblest and best.

      The Fourth and concluding Cycle (CIV—CXXXI) raises our thoughts to a yet more exalted level. The old and familiar associations of the past have been exchanged for others which are entirely new. The Christmas Eve falls 'strangely'. But the change is useful and even indispensable. It opens the way for 'the closing cycle rich in good'. The watchword here is not Grief, not merely Hope, nor even Peace, but Joy. Set free from the narrowing restraints of local memories, the poet rises towards the apprehension of what is large and universal. He learns that life of a solitary is no perfect type of life. He recalls the largeness and fullness of the nature of his friend. He realises that his friend is becoming more to him now that he can think of him as a presence everywhere. The desire for their future reunion has linked itself with the wildest conceptions as to the ultimate development of the human race. The world is different. All is well, will be better, in a universe of which the controlling power is Love.

      How complete is the recovery, and how real the victory with which the long struggle has been crowned, is shown with quite a startling effect by the lightness and almost gaiety of the Epilogue. This consists of a marriage day, filled with most joyous congratulation, in which the happiness of those who were about to be linked in the closest of earthly relationships is thought of as dignified and ennobled by the assurance that every such true union is a seal and pledge of the mighty responsibilities which await the fulfilment of God's great purpose for man.

The Structure of the Poem

      When Tennyson published it in 1850 he arranged the poems in an order which was not that of composition, superimposing on them an artificial structure. It reshuffles the poet's moods and thoughts, imparting to them a unity different from that which belongs to the poet's own inner history. Artificial as it is, this structure is interesting. It invests In Memoriam with an internal chronology of nearly three years, marking the three stages of Despair, Regret, and Hope with three Christmas poems (xxviii, lxxvii and ciii). It purports to depict the 'way of the Soul' — its journey from the first stupor and confusion of grief, through a growing acquiescence often disturbed by the recurrence of pain, to an almost unclouded peace and joy. The anguish of wounded love "passes into the triumph of love over sorrow, time and death." This scheme is fitted with a prologue and an epilogue. Tennyson described the work as "a kind of Divina Commedia", presenting the "progress of his spirit from the inferno of Despair through the purgatorio of benumbed resignation to the Paradiso of Faith in nature as the expression of God's beneficent purpose.

      The stages of this progress are well-marked. When Tennyson hears of his friend's death in Vienna, in 1833, it is autumn (September); poems 28, 29 and 30 describe the first Christmas after Hallam's death. In poem 38, we have the spring of 1834. Poem 72 commemorates the first anniversary (September, 1834). In poem 78 comes the second Christmas, in 83 the spring of 1835. With September of this year two years have passed by. In 103, we have the third Christmas. The internal chronology then is two years and seven months. The prologue that heads the century odd poems was written last, in 1849. The Epilogue, which is also an epithalamium, celebrating the marriage of Edmund Lushington with the poet's sister, Cecilia, was written in 1842, and does not quite come into the scheme.

      Through these stages of Christmas and spring we can trace the poet's inner Odyssey from benumbing and soul-destroying personal grief to triumphing faith in God and Immortality and the resolve to merge himself in concern for the future of the race. From the dark negation of

And all the phantom, Nature, stands —
With all the music in her lone,
A hollow echo of my own,
A hollow form with empty hands. (III)

      The poet passes on to

The truth that never can be proved
Until we close with all we loved
And all we flow from soul in soul. (CXXXI)

      And the conviction,

One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event
To which the whole creation moves.

      When it was still a few days for the first Christmas he wishes to die before he heard the bells ringing out "peace and good will to all mankind." But on Christmas day the hope springs up in him that the dead do not die or lose their mortal sympathy (XXXI). When the next Christmas comes (LXXVIII) we see that grief is no longer inconsolable or heart-withering, but has passed into a calm regret. Over all things "a quiet sense of something lost" sleeps brooding. At tlie third Christmas, he resolves that wayward grief should no more abuse the genial hour 'Ring out wild bells' is a paean of hope, faith, vision and prophecy. We see a similar change through the three springs.

In Memoriam: The Pilgrimage of the Soul

      In the earlier poems we see a soul in the agony of loss, for the one thing that makes life worthwhile is gone. One can conquer it in one of two ways. One may forget the dead. But when memory dies, love too dies. Or, one may, without allowing oneself to be tormented by it, revolve, always, in one's subconscious life, thoughts of the dead. One embalms memories and lives in them. Only two lives matter — the person who enshrines memories, and the one enshrined. The rest of the world does not. Neither of these ways of getting over sorrow is true victory. In both cases the better part of ourselves perishes. That alone is victory in which the lower self dies and the higher is born. Secondly, love must grow stronger, but should take within its ambit, not one person elect and favoured, nor few, blit all suffering creatures who come into our lives. And, as what each of us actually realizes in tangible beneficence is small, our thoughts and dreams should take in every worthy cause or noble activity in any part of the world.

      In Stopford Brooke's words: "The first part of the poem is entirely personal to himself and his friend. It records the several phases of sorrow — sullen hopelessness, wild unrest, calm despair, tender tears, the woes of memory and association....Then follows that transition time which interests mostly those who care for intellectual analysis. In this section various arguments concerning immortality, for and against, are put, and answers attempted to them. Mood after mood of the questioning soul is represented, some bright, some dark, half doubt, half faith; some, of wonder whether the living soul has life, others, of wonder if the dead be alive, and if so, of what kind is their life, and whether it touches ours at all....Then comes the crisis, and the end of all the thought, all the doubt—so far as he has gone in the opening stanza of LXXXXV. It establishes his belief that his friend is alive, and that his friend's being is working on his own; that therefore he has sufficient comfort to live again on other men, to remember the mighty hopes that makes us men. It is the beginning of a new departure and is followed at once by the lovely verses: "Sweet after showers, ambrosial air, in which all Nature lends heavenly peace." The poet lays the spectres of the mind by the "larger love". All humanity comes within the orbit of that love."

Is it a Unified Whole?

      Though its charm as lyric poetry is in no way dependent on the relation of its parts to its whole, its power and its deeper significance are essentially dependent on the unity of In Memoriam. The poem, writes a critic, as a finished piece of art is designed so that 'its many parts may subserve a single meaningful end', a distinct if rather a diffuse pattern of movement from death to life, from dark to light. The prologue, written last, when Tennyson had determined a suitable arrangement, suggests the course of the central argument and at the same time attempts to anticipate possible objections to what may seem 'wild' — that is, morally and poetically undisciplined - in separate lyrics. The three Christmas poems somewhat mechanically mark the passage of years. This unity Tennyson indicated by subtitling the poem as 'the way of the soul'. In his essay on In Memoriam, T.S. Eliot states that to appreciate the poem, we should read it as a whole, but not in parts: "In Memoriam is the whole poem. It is unique: it is a long poem made by putting together lyrics, which have the unity and continuity of a diary, the concentrated diary of a man confessing himself. It is a diary of which we have to read every word." Tennyson said: "It must be remembered, that this is a poem, not an actual biography.....I did not write them (the sections) with any view of weaving them into a whole, or for publication, until I found that I had written so many. The different moods of sorrow as in a drama are dramatically given, and my conviction that fear, doubts, and suffering will find answer and relief only through faith in a God of Love. 'I' is not always the author speaking of himself, but the voice of the human race speaking thro' him" (Memoir, I).

      In the opinion of V. Pitt the chronology of the poem is seen to exist not for its own sake but to serve the poem's larger purpose, and the biography is formalised to show the total shape of the experience; "the poem is precisely not a diary. This formalisation is emphasised by the repetitions....and we can perceive through the whole work, Tennyson consciously striving for the unity of his poem, striving, that is, to see and present his loss in perspective, and as a whole experience rather titan as moments of woe and joy." His formal arrangements are made to unify, to bring out the significance he discovered in the long weariness of bereavement. As a whole the poem has a meaning, which the single lyrics have not.

      P. F. Baum, who feels a lack of unity in the poem, observes that "the poem is....(according to the poet's own note) partly personal and partly impersonal 'the voice of the human race'; but it is left to us to distinguish the two voices." According to this critic "the form, a series of short lyrics, is not suited to a sustained philosophical poem. The plan, a discontinuous record of incidents, moods, and meditations, is fatally improper to a serious presentation of one of the most difficult and profound subjects which interest the human mind and spirit; and Tennyson's own confession of the casual way in which the poem grew should be condemn his method. Tennyson's plan was, having let his little memorial poems accumulate until they were numerous enough to publish, to give them the appearance of order by indicating a few dates, and grouping them as best he could on a theoretical thread of grief, doubt, hope, and faith. The series of lyrics shows a kind of progress....but it is so frequently interrupted that the reader is.....left with uncertainty. In short, according to Baum, this poem (i) lacks unity or connection, (ii) as a philosophical work it lacks coherence and is ambiguous, and (iii) 'the voice of the human race' is not clearly expressed in the poem, for it is 'partly personal and partly impersonal'.

      The unity of the poem is already shown by its subtitle, 'the way of the soul', and the remarks of Eliot and Pitt. And this point may further be clarified with the following words of V. Pitt: "Tennyson did not conceive of his poem as the disjointed outpourings of a diary, but as a statement of a whole experience, and he uses the methods of art to achieve fulness and unity in his presentation of this theme All through In Memoriam, Tennyson reaches out his hand for the "far-off interest of tears (Sec. I): what he tries to find and express in the pattern of the poem is the pattern of his experience of loss. This gives the work a double movement; it is biographical in the sense that it records events, and it is philosophical in the sense that it tries to discover and record the perspective of those events." This observation also answers the second aspect of Baum's criticism. As regard the third point of Baum's criticism, we are certainly not inclined to subscribe to his view, for had it not been 'the voice of the human race', the poem would not have brought great solace to many unhappy people.

Universal Element

      The poet of In Memoriam, was humanised by his loss, and "his poetry at once took on the unmistakable accents, not of a superb master of sound, not of a painter of beautiful word-pictures, but of a noble and suffering man. And as the poem moves on, the subject expands, and the sorrow spoken of passes from the particular into the universal. The poet's personal conquest of pain becomes the universal conquest of the human race. To the Victorians, faced with the same doubts and fears about after-life as the poet, In Memoriam......appeared not just as Tennyson's spiritual history, but as their own."

      "Doubt and faith, and immortality are problems which have exercised men and women from earliest times and are certainly likely to do so in the future. To every generation Nature lends her evil dream." We can no longer understand the spiritual terrors which the theory of evolution held for the Victorians. But we have our own nightmares caused by atomic warfare and the fear of annihilation. And through these nightmares we often find ourselves in the same state of doubt as that in which Tennyson and the Victorians found themselves. Thus it is correctly stated that 'I' is not always the author speaking of himself, but the voice of the human race speaking through him.

      But J.H. Buckley opines that such universality as the 'I' attains is incidental to the deeply personal analysis; the self is representative only in so far as it must learn to accept the conditions of a general humanity and the circumstances of a particular culture. Whatever its public overtone, In Memoriam was written to satisfy a private need, and as a whole it occupies a place in Tennyson's own development comparable to that of The Prelude, in the career of Wordsworth. Like The describes the loss of hope, and the recovery of assent, the reassertion of the dedicated spirit, it grounds a new faith on the persistence of the remembered past; and it freely records literal facts to achieve its psychological pattern, to illustrate 'the growth of a poet's mind' or as, Tennyson called it, 'the way of the soul'.

The Victorian Compromise

      The Victorian people needed a voice — this voice was a fundamental need of the great age in which Tennyson lived, The people of this century may wish to have its poetry pure, but the Victorian people wanted to have it applied. Between Tennyson and his readers there was a deep sympathy: he could translate into words their doubts and difficulties; he could well express the thoughts on man's duty and destiny that perplexed so many earnest and restless souls of the mid-nineteenth century. There was both material and spiritual distress in that century. The people looked for a prophet. They needed a more poignant penetration of the spirit and a beatific vision which might come only through poetry; and this Tennyson extended to them. To satisfy this need of the Victorian people, Tennyson used a method of caution and compromise in his poetry.

      In Memoriam sympathised with the conclusions of contemporary science. For, to Tennyson, science was both fruitful and important, but Tennyson asserted that man would continue to live and perpetually refine himself. According to the poet, man was born to a nobler future. 'Nature red in tooth and claw', might appear to frustrate the belief in the God of love; but God was love indeed, and God existed in the hearts of men: 'I found Him not in world or sun, or eagle's wing, of insect's eye; Nor thro' the questions men may try...' Tennyson's compromise was one which allowed him to combine the two often contradictory duties which he believed to lie upon him. One of these was to speak words of comfort to his troubled age and to his grieving queen; the other duty was to speak the truth, to give honest testimony.

Symbol and Image

      Tennyson is at his best when his poetic moods find appropriate symbols. In section LXXXVI and XCV, we find, there is no arbitrary projection of an emotional state. The wind in both exists in its own right, as destroyer and vitalizer, sweeping away the old in storms and darkness and bringing new in peace and light. The identification with the symbol causes the poet to transcend his self-pity and to focus on the powerful themes of death and rebirth.

      In, In Memoriam, Tennyson is always attempting to identify himself with natural objects with the hope of finding the ultimate reality. For example, in Sec. II, the poet completely identifies himself with the old Yew tree, which symbolizes both gloom and immortality.

      Section LXXXVIII portrays very beautifully the two aspects of the poet's mind—joy and grief through the symbol of a nightingale. Since this bird's song brings for some melancholy and for others joy, the poet identifying himself with it appears to sing the song of joy when surrounded by intense grief.

      To convey his meaning, Tennyson employs very skilfully natural scenes with which we are familiar. Thus in the first part of In Memoriam we observe the poet's use of light and heal imagery. In this part of the poem the words like 'dark', 'haze', 'gloom', 'blind mist', etc. occur frequently with emphasis. These words symbolize futility and nothingness and serve to convey the inner meaning of the poem. The friend is dead and the speaker left in darkness. The 'magic light' (VIII) is gone, he has lost 'the very source and fount of day' (XXI V), and the poet, who has become 'bondsman to the ark' (IV), avers that 'all is dark where thou art not' (VII). And the loss of light has resulted in a cold, damp atmosphere in which the 'deep vase of chilling tears' has been turned into frost (IV) and in which tears 'at their fountain freeze' (XX). The speaker is thus left 'cold in that atmosphere of death' (XX). At its most intense the absence of heat and light creates the effect of an emotional waste land and, as in the famous Sec. VII where the break of day brings no light and warmth: 'And ghastly thro' the drizzling rain / 'On the bald street breaks the blank clay.' But this mood is not sustained, for the poet never fully rejects the possibility that there will once again be heat and light. In Sec. IV, where he allows his will to become 'the dark', the dawn of a new day brings a transition from the feeling of utter loss to a more positive position in which the will affirms: 'Thou shall not be the fool of loss/ Observes a critic: "Natural descriptions are not only picturesque in their own right but become images, emblems of states of mind, and thus play an important part in the emotional development of the poem. Thus in (CXV), we begin with a landscape painting of the ending of winter; and finish with "...and in my breast/Spring wakens too; and my regret/Becomes an April violet,/And buds and blossoms like the lest." Here Tennyson makes the violet an emblem of his regret because he feels it has been personal to him long enough: now it becomes part of a general process which may carry echoes of mortality behind the sense of reawakening hope. The violet is the common reawakening of spring; 'my' becomes 'an'; it is as if, already, he cannot say which of all the violets was once his secret personal regret.

      "Another very important tactile image" Clyde de L. Ryals writes "is the human hand, and it is closely associated with the images of light and warmth. In the first sections of In Memoriam, before Tennyson has had time to assess fully his response to the loss of his friend, he dwells not so much on his deprivation of Hallam's spirit and intelligence as on the loss of the friend's physical (or sensuous) presence. To indicate this loss of sensuous presence, Tennyson often compares his loss to that of a widow or to that of a young maiden who has been deprived of her lover.....(and again) parents' loss of child and of a maiden's loss of her betrothed. Such vignettes are not, however, purposeless. For by means of them (i.e. domestic love and facts) Tennyson introduces the theme of marriage, which plays in the Epilogue such an important part in the poem."

      In the stanzas concerned with the ship bringing home Hallam's remains, Tennyson contrives once again to set up meaningful symbols. In speaking of himself and Hallam he uses the image of the ship, but the ship identified with Hallam is in marked contrast to the vessel that refers to the speaker. The ship is fair that holds Hallam's remains (IX); it is a 'sacred bark' (XVII); the poet's ship, on the other hand, is a 'helmless bark' (IV)... an 'unhappy bark' (XVI), which having struck a rock staggers blindly before it sinks. 'The same contrast is made of the sea when it is associated with Hallam and with the speaker.....The sea, the symbol of life itself, is calm and quiet when connected with Hallam, but when associated with the speaker it becomes....turbulent. In XIX Tennyson very skilfully manipulates the water image to the point where it aptly symbolizes his own condition. As the tide passes by the Severn to Wye, its flood, the poet says, hushes the babbling river, but as the tide ebbs, the river grows shallower and babbles again. His grief is thus like the tide: only when the grief recedes a little can he speak."

Treatment of Nature

      Like Wordsworth and Shelley, Tennyson, too, may be called a poet of Nature. But there is a difference. He did not spiritualize Nature, neither did he conceive of it as alive; he took Nature, on the whole, as she was to his senses, as she appeared on the outside. Tennyson could not take an optimistic view of Nature. Living in an age of conflict between science and religion, he believed in the operation of a spirit in Nature culminating in one law, one element. "And one far-off divine event/To which the whole creation moves." But he had fully realized and keenly felt the conflict, pain and waste in Nature. He found Nature "red in tooth and claw."

      Though Tennyson sometimes professes to be a rebel against Wordsworth's doctrine, he, like him sees harmony between man and nature. Ryals says in this connection: In his revitalized mood of harmony with nature the speaker prays in section LXXXIII for the hastening of spring to thaw the sorrow in the blood. He longs for a rebirth, and he knows like the Wordsworth of the Intimations Ode, that the trouble cannot live with April days or sadness in summer moods. The prayer is answered in LXXXVI, where the poet finds a correspondence between his subjective state and the breeze coming after a shower / Nature for Tennyson, in short, is always a background for reflecting some of our emotions, she carries no message of her own, but synchronises with delicate adaptability to the mood of man. Thus sorrow in varying degrees of poignancy serves the poet as the inspiration of some of the loveliest pictures in In Memoriam: 'Calm is the morn without a sound,/Calm as to suit a calmer grief' (Sec. XI). And we find 'summer days, summer nights harmonise with this mood of wistful regret' in Sec. XCV.

      Tennyson can impress us with microscopic effects. Nature for him is a series of brilliant details. He, with his piercing short sight, fills the tapestry of his poetry with dazzling observations of the smallest things in nature (cf. the blasts 'that blow the poplar white' — Sec LXXII. or the sunflower, that 'Rays round with flames her disc of seed').

The Poet's Convictions in the Poem: Its Philosophy

      It may help to prepare us for a more detailed study of the poem if we endeavour to indicate very briefly and broadly what were the great convictions which strengthened themselves in the mind of the writer as he went on, and gave the distinctive note and character to his utterances as a whole.

      The first was the conviction that the easy and optimistic view of Nature, which had satisfied the thinkers of the generations immediately preceding his own, must of necessity be abandoned. Those who had been engaged in the religious and philosophical controversies of the 18th century had felt themselves justified in assuming that the order of Nature was a beneficent one, deliberately designed to promote the happiness and well-being of mankind. Even Wordsworth, who was attracted to Nature, more entirely for its own sake, had not been inclined to question what was supposed to be the fundamental tenet of 'Nature Religion'. But the whole aspect of the matter was seriously altered for eyes that could see, or foresee, the uplifting of the veil by the hand of modern science. The Nature which had previously seemed so fair was shown in reality to be an arena of struggle and carnage. Instead of the vision of beauty and peace there was substituted the spectacle of what looked only too like discord and waste and heartless indifference. There was development of higher organisms, no doubt, but it was achieved at the cost of an apparently reckless destruction of the lower; and there was no sort of security that the highest of themselves would not ultimately be overthrown, with no more hope than the grim anticipation that conceivably the whole process might be repeated all over again.

      The next conviction, no less powerful than the first, was that the view of the world suggested by such an interpretation of Nature on the part of the materialistic science was a view which could never be otherwise than intolerable to the general heart and conscience of mankind. It was wholly impossible to become reconciled to it; and the notion that a compensation for what man might lose of dignity or hope could be found in any increase of secular knowledge or any additions to physical comfort, was the most miserable mockery and insult that could be offered to the human intelligence. To a being endowed with the sense of justice and the power of love, continued existence could only be a curse and a degradation, when once it was certain that his higher aspirations could never be realised, and that his most sacred affections must crumble into dust. Under such conditions effort would be robbed of its motive, and no merely animal enjoyments which earth had to offer could make it worthwhile to live.

      The final conviction, maintained with an ever growing passion of earnestness, was that it would be through a larger understanding of the range and meaning of Nature that faith and hope would again emerge. In the hours of deepest gloom when intellect was urging its conclusions with most remorseless logic, there rose within the soul of the struggler the increasing certainty that the verdict of Nature has not been fully heard until it has included the testimony of Human Nature: and that, moreover, just as Nature is only partially represented by Nature external to man, so also man himself is only partially and most imperfectly represented when he is judged by his intellect alone.

      A strong and vital personality is more sure of its own abiding reality than of all the so-called facts of the outer world. A sensitive conscience demands the existence of moral order and progress in the Universe, no less absolutely than the intellect demands settled uniformity in the sequence of cause and effect as the indispensable preliminary of systematised knowledge. A heart that has loved has its own verifications of the belief that not even death can sever it from the objects of its love.

      It is of course not to be supposed that these convictions are stated and argued in anything like the way in which a mathematician, or a metaphysician arrives at his conclusions. They are convictions rather than conclusions: or perhaps they are anticipations of conclusions, which the fine instinct of the poet has enabled him to foresee, and which his gift of persuasive expression enables him to help others also to foresee, as certain to be reached when, through many a lengthened process may be, the whole of the truth of the matter shall have been heard and apprehended.

      Taken as a whole then, In Memoriam is a plea for a larger knowledge which will include the reverent recognition of all the facts without us and within. It is an appeal for a patience and a faith that can wait until the contradictions of the present shall be reconciled by the greater wisdom which is to be gained hereafter. It is more: it is a trembling overture to the vaster music which will yet be heard, when what now seem to be discords are resolved into their harmonies because all the parts, and not a few only, of Nature's great orchestra have been called into play.


      Hugh Walker has observed in In Memoriam, a poetic philosophy of life and death, apart from being an elegy on Arthur Hallam. Only so can a poem of nearly three thousand lines on such a subject be justified; and even so the faults of In Memoriam are, first, the monotony due to long dwelling upon thoughts, profound indeed and of universal and vital importance, but still all in one key; and secondly, the sense of something not altogether wholesome in the long brooding over the grave, for all the light which Tennyson imparts does not avail to dispel the gloom.

Artistic Qualities

      On its artistic side, In Memoriam is full of interest. It is one of the metrical triumphs of the age. The stanza is not Tennyson's invention, for Ben Jonson had used it, and so had Lord Herbert of Cherbury. But if Tennyson did not invent the measure, he unquestionably made it his own. 'Property to whom proper' says Ruskin; and so masterly is the skill with which this peculiar quatrain is used that we may consider the title established. It is now one of the classical stanzas of the English language, and till Tennyson showed what could be made of it, to all intents and purposes it was unknown. Not a little of the effect is due to the admirable adaptation of the metre to the subject. The slow movement of the verse suits the brooding thought as perfectly as even Spenser's stanza suited him.

      In Memoriam is also one of the most learned of English poems, by reason of the wealth of literary allusions embodied in it. This does not mean borrowing, still less stealing; but during those seventeen years Tennyson studied hard and read widely, and all this study and reading blends in his verse. As the air of a garden full of flowers is loaded with all their mingled scents, so is the verse in In Memoriam fraught with reminiscences, indicated by a word, a turn of phrase, a point of view from numberless poets and from not a few prose-writers whom the poet had studied. The rich and high-wrought style, the extraordinary felicities of expression, are among the results of this poetic learning. No other poem of recent times has given so many familiar quotations to the language. And on the whole the taste which selects and passes current these quotations is remarkably sure; their number is no bad test of merit. On the other hand, "it must be confessed that Tennyson does not always escape the faults which usually accompany such a style. It is sometimes not merely high-wrought but over-wrought, the expression is too weighty for the thought, or the words tortured. Thus, 'eaves of wearied eyes' is an affected expression, and 'mother town' for metropolis is hardly English," says Hugh Walker.


      In Memoriam is one of the greatest elegies in English poetry. Comparing In Memoriam with other elegies in English poetry, Steadman has observed: "The strength of Tennyson's intellect has full sweep in this great elegiac poem — the great threnody of our language, by virtue of unique conception and power. Lycidas with primrose beauty and varied lofty flights, is but the extension of a theme set by Maschus and Bion. Swinburne's, dirge for Baudelaire is a wonder of melody; nor do we forget the Thyrsis of Arnold, and other modern ventures in a direction where the sweet and absolute solemnity of the Saxon tongue is most apparent. Still, as an original and intellectual production, In Memoriam is beyond them all." Lang has observed: In Memoriam is unique, for neither in its praise nor dispraise is it to be compared with the famous elegies of the world. These are brief outbursts of grief—real, as in the hopeless words of Catullus over his brother's tomb; or academic, like Milton's Lycidas. The passion of In Memoriam is personal, is acute, is life-long, and thus it differs from the other elegies. Moreover, it celebrates a noble object, and thus is unlike the ambiguous affection, real or romantic, which informs the sonnets of Shakespeare. So the poem stands alone, cloistered, not fiery with indignation, not breaking into actual prophecy like Shelley's Adonais; nor capable, by reason of even its meditative metre, of the organ music of Lycidas yet it is not to be reckoned inferior to these because its aim and plan are other than theirs."

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