Pastoral Elegy and the Elegiac Tradition:
The pastoral elegy is the traditional literary form for the expression of grief, often grief for a dead young poet. Tennyson’s poem uses some of the conventions of this genre, but is more personal, autobiographical, and self-analytical than most early elegies had been.
Original Greek myths mourned the decay of spring under the midsummer heat.
Theocritus’s “Daphnis” presents the song of the shepherd Thryrsis, mourning the death of Daphnis until he too dies and is borne down to Hades. The poet calls on all nature to grieve in sympathy, and thus nature, and our own more general decay is used as a reflection of human death. The presentation of sympathetic mourners was to become an important part of the formal elegy.
Bion’s “Lament for Adonis” presents the gods’ annual mourning for the death of Adonis.
Moschus’s “Bion” uses a similar form to lament his fellow poet, and ends with the poet’s desire to join him in the underworld, but he takes comfort in the thought that the gods will protect Bion and grant him lasting fame. Clearly this poem was the first of a tradition of poems in which a poet figure mourns the death of a fellow poet, from “Lycidas” to “Adonais” and beyond.
Edmund Spenser’s “Astrophel” grieves for Sir Philip Sidney (author of “Astrophel and Stella”). In this Clorinda’s song celebrates the life of the poet’s spirit in Paradise; by contrast it is the living, not the dead, who are wretched.
John Milton’s “Lycidas” mourns the death of Edward King, whom the poet scarcely knew, and thus is somewhat impersonal. The poet finds consolation in imagining Lycidas’s life in heaven, from which he is now able to help others who face death (compare Tennyson’s final image of Hallam at the end of “In Memoriam”).
Thomas Grey’s “Elegy in a Country Churchyard” mourns death in general; the poet wanders in a churchyard, and imagines himself as a “youth to fortune and to fame unknown” buried there. But the unknown dead man will be remembered by the sympathetic Stranger, and will “rest in the bosom of his father and his God.”
Shelley’s “Adonais,” the finest romantic elegy, was written on the death of Keats. It contains a long funeral procession with consolation similar to Spenser’s--it is not death but life that is defilement, and the poet/speaker longs to join the deceased. The poet’s direct entry into the poem is an important strategy for confronting grief: death is so rupturing that one must act in response to it.
Tennyson’s elegy is unique in the specificity of its mourning of death, however. The poet attempts a consolation in which something of human presence remains--the loved person’s transcendence in heaven retains some of the qualities of the individual human being, and is thus his is one of the more realistic and comprehensive of elegies.
In my opinion “In Memoriam” is one of the greatest poems in the English language, and one of the finest love poems, in this case, with what would have been somewhat controversial homoerotic overtones. In a meditative sequence originally titled, “The Way of the Soul,” the speaker moves through stages of grief over the death of his young and talented friend Arthur Hallam, who had been engaged to Tennyson’s sister and was thus his prospective brother-in-law. This remains one of the best nineteenth-century elegies because it deals with the process of learning to live with death; it is not chiefly a theodicy or defense of God’s ways to man but a history of how one person learned to accept bereavement.
The themes of romantic attachment and heterosexual love were often difficult for writers to portray without evasion, sentimentalization, or mistrust (as in Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall” and “The Princess”); and overtly homoerotic emotions were a completely tabooed theme (though one might argue that the era’s “hero worship” in some contexts represented homoeroticism in sublimated form). It may be just as well, therefore, that Tennyson avoided the conventional Victorian settings of romance and conventional marriage in order to write his most serious extended confrontation with the loss of a beloved dead friend.
“In Memoriam” is a religious poem, which despite its use of Christian terms and imagery, presents a highly unorthodox recasting of religious orthodoxy in terms directly applicable to grief for an individual loss, identifying the lost dead one as the Christ of a new evolutionary order. After Hallam’s death, for the rest of his life Tennyson wrote a series of poems reflecting on a lost, benign Arthur figure transmuted into a spirit, and for a poet who spent much of his life in perceiving a single vision, it was perhaps natural to assume that he might be granted it once again after death.
The Effect of Arthur Hallam's Death on Tennyson
His friendship with and love for Arthur Hallam seems to have been the central experience of Tennyson's life, or more accurately, his bereaved love after Hallam's death.
Arthur Hallam's friendship had been a source of comfort against a series of acute problems and anxieties which intensified in Tennyson's late adolescence and early twenties, and Hallam's death in 1833 externalized his deepest fears and helped determine the character of virtually all his significant poetry written after that date.
The Tennyson family life was unstable. A neurasthenic, violent man of disappointed intellectual ambitions, Tennyson's father had resented losing the rights of primogeniture to his father's landed estate. Forced to become a cleric, he had found this occupation uncongenial and resented the expenses of raising his ten children. Family violence made the home unliveable, and Tennyson tried to absent himself from Somersby whenever possible. Neighbors found the family behavior frightening, and by 1829, the year in which Tennyson met Hallam, his father's threatening rages had caused his mother to flee the parsonage with her remaining children.
The problem of the father was compounded by the emotional problems of the children; at least two of the Tennyson children were mentally ill for their entire lives, and several others shared signs of instability (Charles, for example, became permanently deranged in 1832). Hereditarian theories of "insanity" weighed heavily in the nineteenth century, and Tennyson, early prone to depression, feared for his own mental health while suffering the effects of his family's melancholia (Ricks, 65). In 1834 he commented on the need of his brother Septimus, then heavily depressed, for cheerful diversion, a prescription of what he himself in fact needed (64).
Tennyson entered Cambridge University in 1827 at the age of 18. He disliked life at the university and although he joined the eminent "Cambridge Apostles," was never centrally interested in their debates. He was conscious of economic pressures to earn his living, although he wished to be a poet instead. On the one hand he feared to fail in his aspiration to become a poet; but since even this wouldn't support him, he felt pressed to become a clergyman, a distasteful thought compounded by his own uncertainty as to whether he could accept the Thirty-Nine Articles without reservations.
In 1829, two years after beginning at Cambridge he met Arthur Hallam, of an aristocratic and intellectual family (his father was a prominent European historian), who by the testimony of all his contemporaries was a gifted and winning young man (855). Hallam was also lonely, for most of his friends had gone to Oxford. Also interested in poetry and in intellectual debates, he was more assertive and politically inclined than Tennyson. And although his family was much wealthier, he shared Tennyson's sense of aggrieved pride in the face of a tyrannical father, his religious doubts, and his depressions, so that the two friends shared a concern for each other's mental health (37, 38). One of the last poems Hallam wrote before his death questions whether life has a purpose.
Arthur visited Somersby at Christmas, 1829 and fell in love with Emily Tennyson, then unhappy about the family's prospective move from their parsonage. In reaction Hallam senior proscribed further visits, opposed the engagement on the grounds of the Tennysons' relative lesser wealth and social status, and refused to finance the marriage even upon his son's majority (Hallam was destined for the bar, a long slow road to economic independence). As an added insult, he opposed his son's joint publication of a volume of poems with Tennyson. The defensive Tennysons were grateful for Arthur Hallam's willingness to ally with their family.
Moreover Hallam believed that Tennyson was destined to become the greatest poet of his generation, and even of the century (32). He acted on his beliefs; he encouraged Tennyson to submit his poem on "Timbuctoo" to a university-wide contest; wrote a laudatory and perceptive review of Tennyson's 1830 Poems; pressed for the publication of the 1832 Poems and tended to the practical details of their publication; defended Tennyson in a praiseful review when the latter volume evoked the severity of critics on account of their allegedly lush, Keatsian and escapist style; and in general promoted Tennyson's work to friends and publishers.
The two men took a trip to the continent together in the summer of 1830, where they engaged in mild political activity. Then Tennyson's father died in 1831, prompting a period of poetic activity. Though his death might not of itself have been a cause for unmixed grief, it left his family in dire economic straits at the hand of Sir Charles Tennyson, who among other intrusions urged that Alfred become a clergyman. Constant family fighting continued, and to add to his anxieties, Tennyson experienced increased difficulties with his eyesight and feared he might become blind (cmp. "Tiresias").
His father's death prompted a period of poetic activity for Tennyson, and this poetry, written before Hallam's death, is notably concerned with themes of suicide and depression. For example, "The Two Voices" expresses the contrary impulses of a speaker contemplating and resisting suicide; and although the suicidal voice is not declared triumphant, the poem's best passages are those evoking death and languor. Uncannily, some early drafts anticipate a speaker's grief at the death of a best beloved friend.
Tennyson was gratified that the wealthy, talented, well-connected and empathetic Hallam had chosen to become engaged to Tennyson’s sister against his father’s opposition; and that Hallam had wholeheartedly supported Alfred’s controversial desire to become a poet. The tension of a forbidden engagement wore on Hallam, however, and he was ordered abroad, where in Vienna he died suddenly and unexpectedly in September, 1833 of “apoplexy" (brain hemorrhage).
Alfred was 24 at the time, and the death of the human being perhaps most able to sympathize with his anxieties about his future career, his uncertainties about religious faith, and his family’s many difficulties and griefs (including his financial and family problems) left him with a sense of isolation in the face of scathing reviews and an apparently limited future.
The period directly after Hallam's death, late 1833 and 1834, was the single most creative of Tennyson's life. During this period he wrote "Tithon," "Ulysses," "Morte d'Arthur," and the initial segments of "In Memoriam," of which, oddly, the early stanzas are among the most resolute, affirming the overcoming of grief, as does "Ulysses." Many of these poems are written in the voice of an old man--“Ulysses,” “Tithonus,” “Tiresias,” perhaps reflecting his sense that the loss of Hallam had prematurely blighted his hopes.
The genesis of “Ulysses” explains some of this poem’s unusual features, for although it proclaims itself a poem of struggle and ambition, yet the tone seems peculiarly sad and elegiac, one of grief, wastedness, and a sense of isolation.
He also began a series of poems evoking an idealized male figure, variously identified with the legendary Arthur or seen as belonging to a spiritual realm. The first of these was “Hark, the dogs do bark,” his first known draft for a poem after Arthur Hallam's death (555), the most physical of the series in its expression of love; and others included “Idylls of the King,” "Merlin and the Gleam," and "In the Valley of the Cauteretz" (1123). In the latter poem, for example, Tennyson's visit to the Valley evokes the voice of "one I loved" thirty two years ago; and Tennyson's biographer Robert Martin has noted that in the original manuscript the line read, "Arthur Hallam."
Tennyson also claimed that the experience of section XCV of "In Memoriam," in which the spirit of Hallam returns to and is inwound with that of Tennyson, had occurred to him several times throughout his life, not just once, but repeatedly. But even his final poem, which he wrote in 1889 and left behind to be published at the conclusion of his works, "Crossing the Bar," contains the now familiar pattern of boat/dying man/sea/sunset/evening star, and the final vision of a male face hovering above the persona and through the elements, though this time the author mourns, not the loss of another human life, but of his own identity (1458).
At this point Tennyson began the series of private poems on grief which were later expanded and arranged into a whole. The sequence was written over a seventeen year period--and not surprisingly the poems written earlier convey a more concrete sense of loss and are concerned with details such as the circumstances of Hallam’s death, the bringing back of the body, and his final burial in the church near his home. Among these early poems are 9, 17-19, 28, and 30-32. Tennyson's rearrangements to some degree disrupt the chronological order of composition; and after a trial publication in March, 1850, he added two poems on doubt, nos. 56 and 96.
Some of Tennyson's early reviewers noticed that seventeen years was a long period for mourning in the conventional sense. The sequence had originally been called "The Way of the Soul," reflecting the poem's preoccupation with the uses of grief for healing (note his statement that the poem is more hopeful than he is, 859).
In the poem's sequence, the speaker passes through the following stages:
The poem opens with the poet’s despair at the emptiness of Nature, and his protest against Nature’s indifference to the (human) spirit. He feels grief and the desire to (literally) reunite with his friend in death, and to see him properly buried.
He imagines Hallam in a new life and identifies with him there.
He dreams of Hallam until he seems to regain him again in an inner psychological world.
He revisits the scenes where they had been together, and feels increased calm.
Finally, he invokes Hallam’s spiritual presence, and experiences a vision of eternal union with him and with all things.
Assured of Hallam’s presence throughout time, life is sanctified to him and he anticipates a future in which the good represented by Hallam will be more generally present.
In a sense, then, the poem celebrates a private religion in which Hallam, dead and resurrected, becomes the deity of an evolving spirit within all things, a religion which resembles Christianity in its emphasis on the humanity and individuality of its deity and its inflection of the nineteenth-century faith in evolution. And in the context of Victorian evolutionary debates on man's relationship to the material world, the poem proclaims a primacy of spiritual values, not in contradiction to but apart from our physical origins.
According to Tennyson, the poem fell naturally into the following ten sections:
1-8, ending with a sense of hope;
9-20, ending with a sense of hope;
21-27, ending with a sense of hope;
28-49, ending with a sense of despair;
Questions for Discussion:
What is the sequence of events presented in the poem, as far as you can tell? Will Tennyson’s speaker finally receive comfort?
If you have read any of Tennyson’s early poems, do you find similarities in theme and language between some of these and “In Memoriam”? (e. g., “Ulysses,” “Tithonus”--as in “Ulysses,” attempts to mourn loss but also present reasons for continuing to live and hope in the present)
What are some connotations of the poem’s title? How would the reader’s expectations had shifted if Tennyson had retained the original title, “The Way of the Soul”? Which title do you prefer, and why?
What are some of the notable features of the poem’s language? How do the rhythm and abba stanza form help in creating an elegiac effect?
--liquidity of sounds
--constant parallelism and repetition, both a source of sadness but ultimately, comfort
What are some features of the traditional elegy which Tennyson uses? Do these become integral parts of the poem? (chorus of nature, weeping yew tree; waves and wind bring back the body, etc.)
Aside from Arthur Hallam’s death, what are some of the major themes of this poem?
--veracity of Christianity, a major concern of the period
--the nature of death and God
--evolution; marriage; friendship
--relation of science and fate
--depression and a sense of fatality
--fluctuations of cycle of mourning
What images of relationship are used to describe Hallam? (very Victorian to emphasize family relationships, contrast Shelley’s elegy “Adonais”)
--Hallam is all things to him--son, betrothed, lover, mother, husband--already possesses in the poet’s mind some of the omnipotent, omnipresent qualities of a divinity which he will assume later in the poem--“the man I held as half divine”
What are some other features of language and sound and their effect?
--use of liquid sounds
--use of balanced pairs, sense of duality
What are some of the poem’s repeated motifs and images?
--ships and the sea
--veil and shadow
--ruptured engagement and marriage
--stone, tree, earth
What is the effect of dividing a long poem into sections?
Does the experience of comfort come suddenly or is it anticipated?
Is there a progression in the first fifty sections? At what point in the poem does the speaker begin to feel a sense of comfort?
How does the image of Hallam change as the poem progresses, and what significance does this have?
Would this be a good poem for comforting a bereaved person? What are some of its more consolatory features?
Can you describe the sequence of the poet’s grief through the second part of the elegy? How does he finally come to a resolution, and freedom to continue his life?
Do you feel the poem’s themes are successfully unified in its conclusion?
In section 106, what is the connection between Hallam’s death and the ringing in of the new year?
What is added by the epilogue? Do you think it is necessary to provide closure to the poem’s themes?
Would the poem have benefited from less idealization of Hallam, or more details about his character and life? (would have made the poem less relevant as a meditation on death in general)
How might this poem have been different had it mourned the death of a husband or wife, or of an adult child? (in such cases specifics might have mattered more)
Why do you think this sequence, written over a seventeen-year period, does not focus more on the poet’s sense of his own aging and death? (he cannot live his life fully until he can understand and appropriate for some good use his overwhelming sorrow over his friend’s death)
How successful do you find this poem as an elegy or sequence of meditations on grief? Does it say what can be said on the topic of death?
Some poems for discussion: 7 “Dark House”, 11 “Calm is the morn”, *50, 51, *54-56 (confronts doubt), 59, 67, “When on my bed the moonlight falls,” 69, 74, 82, 88, “Wild bird,” 90-*95, 97, 103, 104, 106, 108, 109 (pendant to 7), 115-116, 119-124, esp. *121 and *123, 129, *130, 131, epilogue
The Sequence of the Poem:
Prologue: The poet confronts the paradox that a god of immortal love has also ordained death, and prays for the ability to trust that his dead friend lives in God.
1 Although we seek ultimate gain from sorrow, grief cannot be avoided or our selves would fall away.
2 The yew tree of the grave symbolizes the fixity of his grief (yet the image of a plant inevitably suggests hope).
3 Sorrow asserts the emptiness of all existence; the poet can either accept this claim or attempt violent repression.
4 His dreams are filled with loss, but as day begins he resolves to rise above his grief.
5 Even though words cannot convey grief satisfactorily, the poet believes words will sooth his pain.
6 His loss of a loved one is sadly similar to the bereavement of others who have unexpectedly lost a son, lover, or other loved one.
7 He visits Hallam's city home, now bereft of his friend, but "he is not here; but far away"; these lines evoke a sense of emptiness but also the possibility of resurrection.
8 Though he feels an irreparable loss, since Hallam had been pleased by his poetry he will compose it in his honor.
9 He bids good speed to the ship which bears Arthur's remains home to those who love him.
10 It comforts us that he should not be buried at sea but in the soil near his local church.
11 Calm is the sea but dead calm is Hallam’s breast, both peaceful and troubling.
+12 Biblical imagery of the dove and ark attends the homecoming of his body; the poet’s heart is restless but the imagery is of hope.
+13 The speaker imagines that Hallam is a spirit. (anticipates the later resolution)
+14 Again, he fantasizes a living Hallam.
15 He seems to see Hallam flit by as a spirit--and feels a potential fiery horror of disbelief. (seems somewhat contradictory?)
16 The speaker asks himself if he has been stunned into purposelessness.
17 The ship with Hallam’s body arrives; the speaker blesses the ship; the kind office of care for the dead is done.
+18 ‘Tis something--the poet slowly forms a firmer mind.
19 The poet is able to speak, and he experiences the natural process of swelling “grief” and its remission.
+20 Grief may be alternately lesser and greater; in an ebb, he returns to the familial scene by the hearth, is comforted because others still also love Hallam.
There seems to be a rise at the end of this section.
21 He sings to the dead, for grief is an inevitable process.
22 They were companions but death took Hallam and now awaits the poet--a thought which brings mixed terror and comfort.
23 He remembers the happier past.
24 Can it be that perhaps the past seems even better in retrospect?
25 No, life was then a burden shared with his friend..
26 He longs to prove the enduring quality of his love--death will save him from the scorn of being proven wrong.
27 Still despite his loss, it is better to have loved.
Yet another affirmation ends a section.
He then progresses through the discovery of different forms of consolation:
28 The Christmas bells remind him of the melancholic nature of joy.
29 Others need conventional holidays to cheer them; but they too will die--affectionate comfort and alienation mingle in his responses.
+ 30 Together they sing and testify to the spirit of Hallam.
31 The example of Lazarus’s rising from the dead remains an emblem of hope but also of mystery.
32 Lazarus’s sister had complete faith.
33 This sister is a type of faith; her simplicity should not be condemned.
-34 His agnosticism could yield despair.
-35 The knowledge of death seems to defeat life’s meaning.
+36 Our humanity is transcended in divine Man.
+37 Even human grief can join philosophy (that is, be mitigated).
+38 Yet Hallam may listen to us from the spirit world.
-39 My grief remains within, virtually unchanging. (one of the least qualified and most sorrowful poems)
40 Hallam is not like one who marries; he won’t come back, yet has gone to new lands.
+41 The poem yearns to follow after him.
+42 At this time they will experience the joy of mutual tutelage.
+43 Love will rule in death as in sleep.
Watching others grieves seems to help--it distances his own grief, and their comfort troubles but ultimately soothes him.
+44 How are the dead? (their continued existence now seems more certain) Possibly he can speak to Hallam.
+45 This life prepares for the next.
+46 Love’s journey continues beyond earth’s fields.
47 Love seeks some final recognition beyond death.
+48 These songs deal with lighter aspects of sorrow.
49 But underneath all lies sorrow.
At this point, he moves to the deepest considerations of doubt:
+50 Faith sickens, yet prayer remains a final suggestion of hope.
51 He ponders the implications of literal belief in the closeness of the dead, but assumes that if the dead watch us they will allow for frailties.
52 His love will serve its purpose.
53 Yet there is no reason to cherish his inadequacies.
*54 An infant can only cry out for the good, as does the poet; “Oh yet we trust that somehow good . . . and with no language but a cry.” [At this point he seems to decline into a despairing intensity.]
55 Hope falters but still feels a faint trust.
56 Nature is red in tooth and claw, ”so careful of the type” yet heedless of the individual; yet we hope for a benign divine presence behind the veil.
--The final image of “thy voice” merges suggestions of Hallam and God. Ironically one of the most bitter and painful sections suggests hope.
*57 At least he finds a continuity in grief, for he is able to remember the loved one.
--emphasis shifts to the poet’s ability to remember and mourn, “When on my bed the moonlight falls . . . .”
58 He anticipates that after a further period of grief his art will “take a nobler leave”; that is, with time he will affirm a higher resolution.
Again the end of a section prophesies some consolation.
Sections 59-71: He meditates on the spiritual existence of the dead beloved and sees him return in his dreams.
59 Sorrow will be the poet’s constant and even soothing companion--again the marriage metaphor is evoked. In contrast to his earlier statements on grief’s ebb and flow, here he seeks soothing and comfort.
60 He feels shyly that he is in a lower sphere than Hallam, yet this by implication reminds of Hallam’s apotheosis--again he likens himself to a female beloved responding to her lover.
61 He rises to assert the full humanity of his love--his art makes him worthy of Shakespeare, perhaps, and he is at one with the latter in declaring his love. This gives his art a further purpose as a testimony to his love.
62 Yet if Hallam’s life is truly above his own, he would not diminish him by demanding reciprocity.
63 Yet surely as the higher can appreciate the lower, it is likely that Hallam can bless his sorrow from above.
64 Hallam and the poet are compared to a now-powerful man who remembers and is remembered by his humble friend. (compare Tennyson’s consistent idealization of [King] Arthur)
+65 And in reverse, Tennyson may also share a spiritual existence with the apotheosized Hallam.
66 The poet’s sorrow has humanized him and rendered him kindly, but the gain is balanced by his continuing “night of loss.”
+*67 The veil is removed from Hallam’s tomb in the moonlight--the muting and chastening of an earlier melancholy of setting--and his tomb is revealed to the dawn.
68 The identities of poet and loved one seem to fuse as the poet dreams of a Hallam who shares his grief for Hallam--shares his sense of loss.
*69 After a dream of dearth and waste--“I dreamed there would be spring no more”--he sees a vision of Hallam as an “angel of night” who extends his hand to him, and sympathizes and approves of his grief. The voice that speaks is not however one of grief--sorrow has been transmuted.
70 He struggles with his difficulty in imagining Hallam’s face, but then it comes, and Hallam seems to look down on him through the window.
71 He returns in his dream to a past journey with Hallam, and again experiences a full reunion.
In this section, then, the speaker moves closer to a comforting sense of Hallam’s spiritual presence.
72-98: Hallam attains divinity and returns to Tennyson to confer it on him.
72 The speaker marks the anniversary of Hallam’s death as shameful, and abjures it to hide itself.
73 Although Hallam gained no fame in his lifetime, this was transitory after all; instead the speaker’s soul enfolds his memory in possessive love.
74 Death has made darkness beautiful with Hallam; he feels a softening in his sense of death because it has taken Hallam.
75 Even his own poetry is inadequate; Hallam’s merits can be expressed only in another life. (Here Hallam seems a divinity.)
76 His songs are too transient to commemorate so great a vastness [as was Hallam’s spirit].
77 Still, to utter love is a happiness in itself, and his songs are the tribute of love.
78 He and his family’s tears are dry this Christmas, yet this is no cause for regret for sorrow continues its deep relationship with the soul (grief has now truly become a beloved wife).
79 We were two most kindred spirits, but Hallam was above me.
80 Had Tennyson died first, Arthur would have used his grief to inspire good deeds, so the speaker must likewise energize himself and receive comfort.
81 When he worries he might have loved more, he is comforted that death created the full intensity of love at once. [What he desires is less Hallam’s presence in life than a fullness of love.]
82 The speaker has accepted death’s physical decay (a contrast with the early sections), but he yearns only to hear Hallam’s voice.
83 The speaker desires a new year for a new song, one both sorrowful and comforting.
84 He remembers that he had hoped to live and die near Hallam.
85 In answer to a reproach that his grief is too long-continued, he recounts his continued sense of Hallam’s presence, and asserts that friendship still masters time; though he is able to form other friendships, these are lesser ones.
86 He experiences a sense of peace after showers.
+87 He returns to college and remembers the divinity of Hallam’s manner and his artistic countenance.
*88 Even when he desires to mourn, a glory flashes through his song. (image of wild bird and the clasping of joy by passion, an involuntary happiness; imagery seems to reflect Keats)
89 Again, happy memories of their fellowship at Somersby return to the poet.
90 Others are faithless to the dead, but the speaker calls for his return, again using the metaphor of wife. [This call would seem to be a turning point in the sequence.]
91 He calls to him to come in the light.
92 He would doubt his vision even if it prophesied accurately (of Arthur’s return).
*93 He moves from acceptance of love to hope that he will see Hallam in the spirit--“I shall not see thee.” In a state of anticipation in which his senses are muted, he prays Arthur’s spirit to descend, touch and enter--a wish beyond speech.
94 The spirit of Arthur will come only to a silent and waiting Tennyson.
*95 He returns to the home where Hallam had been a guest, and in reading his letters he has a sense that Arthur’s soul interfuses with his own and that both are gathered to a timeless world, after which his vision fades into the dawn.
96 Hallam had conquered his own doubt, leaving the example of his performance of a harder task than that of maintaining simple belief.
97 The speaker’s spirit is a humble, trusting wife to Hallam’s spiritual fusion with all nature.
98 The speaker doesn’t wish to visit Vienna where Hallam had died, though Hallam had loved its magnificence.
After this section, the poet will bear with him a sense of Hallam’s continued presence.
99-103: The poet leaves the home associated with his deepest memories of Hallam after a dream vision in which a spiritualized Hallam sails with him to another, transearthly realm.
99 The anniversary of Hallam’s death suggests all the others who also mourn with him on that day. (There is less sense of protest that they may not feel as deeply as he than on the previous anniversary.)
100 All familiar nature speaks of Hallam, yet his absence grieves again.
101 Other associations will arise as our memories fade from nature.
102 He misses the home of his boyhood equally because it had been shared with Hallam, yet the image of an embrace suggests comfort.
*103 The night before he leaves the old home [the Tennysons had been forced to move for financial reasons], in a dream he meets Hallam after death and sails with him in a voyage to the sunset (in contrast to earlier dreams in which he had joined Hallam on earth).
104 to end:
104 Church bells ring in a new place.
105 The usual Christmas celebration no longer evokes Hallam, but the poet remembers and sees dawn as a symbol of Arthur and the good forces within nature.
106 Ring out past evil, ring in the Christ that is to be! (There seems hope for the future.) He takes leave of his own grief and awaits the larger future man.
107 Despite the inclement weather, they remember Hallam’s birthday with good cheer (not grief).
108 Even mourning prompts kinship with humanity; the poet will choose a human life with sorrow and its wisdom.
109 The poet celebrates Hallam’s qualities and his own wisdom in admiring them.
110 He had admired Hallam and now is stirred to imitate him.
111 Hallam had been truly gracious and gentlemanly.
112 Hallam had been above all others in “some novel power.”
113 Hallam would have been a great statesman, a force of stability and calm.
114 Knowledge is secondary to wisdom and love, and these were exemplied in Hallam.
115 The landscape now suggests a grief that blossoms into the future.
116 He feels less regret for the past than longing for the future bond with Hallam.
117 He must learn from separation the fullness of his future union with Hallam.
118 Man rose as a signal that life must fight its way to good above sensuality.
119 He returns to Hallam’s former home--“Doors, where my heart was used to beat”--and is comforted to know that Hallam had joined knowledge with reverence and love.
120 He denies doubt as an inferior heritage.
*121 The night moves from Hesper to dawn--“Sad Hesper o’er the buried sun,” cmp. 11; these two are an identity, and in hopefulness he experiences the other face of grief.
122 [the speaker prays:] As you were with me before in my night of struggle, Hallam, return again to renew my spirit so that I may experience an epiphany of perception.
--“Oh, wast thou with me. . . .”; what was this experience?
123 “There rolls the deep where grew the tree,” but changes of nature do not create a final ending for life.
*124 I feel the sum of things not in external nature but in the heart’s instinctive emotions and a responsive force embodied in non-human hands--“That which we dare invoke to bless.”
125 Love has caused the speaker to sing of both loss and consolation.
126 Love dominates his existence, and even though the poet remains on earth, he knows he is securely in his care.
127 Hallam watches calmly above human strife and perturbation.
128 Daily life is also necessary to achieve spiritual progress.
*129 He celebrates his constant love for his friend who embodies an undying dream of good; in this sense Hallam cannot die.
*130 “Thy voice is on the rolling air”--Hallam is everywhere and cannot be lost through death.
131 He prays to the “living will” to sustain us until our union with our origins.
A child will be born who embodies the higher type which Hallam had foreshadowed and toward which the creation moves. The poet wills this future (a sign that he has at last ceased to grieve the past).
Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” and Wordsworth
Tennyson learned a great deal from at least four of the Romantic poets--Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, and Wordsworth. The latter relationship is worth remark, for Wordsworth seems to anticipate the Victorians in fundamental ways.
1. obsession with a lost past--
When we first meet Wordsworth in “Tintern Abbey,” he is torn by the sense that a fundamental part of his being--his direct participation in nature--has been irretrievably lost, and the “Intimations Ode,” “The Prelude,” “Elegiac Stanzas,” and others return again and again to the task of calming a basic rupture at the heart of things. Both Wordsworth’s preoccupation with recounting his past and his pain that an essential past unitive or ideal experience has left seem akin to Tennyson’s sensibility.
In Wordsworth’s poetry the grief is for one’s own lost self, but in Tennyson’s sequence the grief is more social and theological, the sense of a lost love and sense of purpose.
In “Intimations” Wordsworth speaks of “the years” which “bring the inevitable yoke,” wherein shall:
. . . custom lie upon upon thee with a weight,
heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!
Or again, the conclusion of the ode may bring a message of return to the immortal consciousness, but the lines:
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
also suggest a settled loss, analogous to what Tennyson expresses in portions of “Tears, Idle Tears,” (st. 1) or throughout “In Memoriam,” as in section 11 (sts. 1 and 4).
In his “Preface to Lyrical Ballads,” Wordsworth formulated what has become one of the most famous descriptions of poetry, “emotion recollected in tranquility.” One senses that in both poets the urgency of the need to attain tranquility results from the uncontrollable nature and depth of the emotions being recollected. There is thus a creative tension between the sense of psychological deprivation (imposed on the past) and the calming quietude which the poet has imposed on present landscapes.
2. Wordsworth’s full and sonorous lines provide a model for some of the dignified amplitude of Tennysonian blank verse such as appears in “Morte d’Arthur”; e. g., the expansive sea image and rolling waters at the conclusion of st. 9 or the “Ode on Intimations” anticipate a kind of effect Tennyson was to achieve repeatedly.
3. Analogies between their perception of a unitive experience:
In Wordsworth this type of experience can occur in two ways; in the “Lucy” poems, something or someone called “my spirit” is fused with the cycles of nature (sts. 1 and 2). In the Prelude he experiences repeated moments of heightened perception in which “the light of sense goes out” and in a flash he experiences his own identity with the progression of an infinite world (Bk. 6, ll. 599-608). Or again, in describing a shepherd in the Prelude whose human form is magnified by appearing alone in the sunset, Wordsworth sees the human figure much as Tennyson will perceive the vision of Hallam:
His form hath flashed upon me, glorified
By the deep radiance of the setting sun. (Bk. 8)
Compare this fusion with the experience of section 95 of “In Memoriam,” also a twilight scene where “the light of sense goes out” with a sense of flashing and interfused identity. Alone on the dark lawn, Tennyson reads Hallam’s letters, Hallam’s living spirit flashes on him, and his “soul in this was wound,” ll. 33-44.
4. Wordsworth also anticipates Tennyson’s belief that he poet’s mission is to teach; for both poetry has a self-consciously didactic function. This had certainly not been the view of the young poet of “Lyrical Ballads,” the poet of “Expostulation and Reply” who affirmed a “wise passiveness.” But by the final passage of The Prelude Wordsworth has decided that his experiences give him a didactic mission (ll. 445 ff.)--“we will teach them how.”
This view of the artist’s rights and mission is not uncontroversial, and it is highly Victorian. It moves toward the sermonic persona of John Ruskin’s Stones of Venice or Thomas Carlyle’s On Heroes and Hero Worship, toward Tennyson’s later claim that the poet is a teacher, and toward the moral urgency which caused Tennyson to frame the almost completed “In Memoriam” with a prologue and epilogue affirming a religious certainty often questioned within the central sections of the poem.
Another study could be made of Tennyson’s relationship to Keats. For example, compare st. 3 of “Tears, Idle Tears” with sts. 6-8 of “Ode to a Nightingale,” an instance of a kindred sensibility rearranging a striking image according to its own patterns.
Discussion Questions “In Memoriam”: 7, 11, 50, 54 and 56
VII-How are sounds used to create the mood in this section? Do these create comfort or pain and despair?
What is the “dark house”? What images are used to describe his friend and himself?
What allusions or echoes help structure this section? What final images determine the poet’s thoughts? Is resurrection likely in the modern world?
XI—Again, what effect do repeated sounds serve in the poem? What use is made of color imagery? Of landscape?
What is the poet’s mood? What type of motion is possible in the poem’s mental world?
Do you think this is a good poem? Do any of its features suggest a future hope?
L-Whom is the speaker addressing?
What is the writer’s physical state and mood? What imagery does he choose, and does this suggest any traditional/Biblical echoes?
What forms of personification are used? What images are used for human life?
What significant change occurs in the final stanza? To what degree does the poet/poem convey a sense of hope?
LIV-What points are made by this section? How may it be influenced by the recent theories of evolution?
For what does the poet wish? What implications are created by the claim that he is an infant crying in the night? By the claim that he has no language but a cry?
LVI-What does Nature cry to the poet? How may this reflect recent views of evolution, as derived from geological researches?
What most troubles the poet? If mankind experiences annihilation, what does the poet believe will have happened to the meaning of his existence?
Is there a hope of answer or redress? Is the image of “beyond the veil” comforting or troubling”? Does it resemble other images found in the sequence thus far?
Thus far, what have been the themes of the sequence? Can you predict how it will end?
Discussion Questions, “In Memoriam,” final section
This section occurs directly after the speaker and his family have moved from their former home in Somersby, and so they celebrate the third Christmas eve after Hallam’s death in a new place (though not yet in their new home).
What are some features of the rhythms and verbal patterns in this section? Do you recognize familiar images?
What is the effect of the speaker’s command that the church bells ring in a new year (when presumably they would ring out without him in any case)?
What emotions/problems does he hope to set to rest with the dying of the old year? What does he desire from the new one? Are these personal desires, and if not, what seems to have changed?
What seems meant when he asks the bells to “ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes / But ring the fuller minstrel in”?
How does the rhetoric of this section reflect the season? Does the hope for “the Christ that is to be” suggest something more than (or other than) the Christian commemoration of the birth of Christ?
How are the emotions of this section related to Tennyson’s changing grief for his dead friend?
What has happened to nature in this section? How does its imagery compare with similar images in earlier sections (e. g., section 11)? What has happened to the poet's grief?
How does the speaker now view the process of evolution? How have his thoughts changed since the despairing section 56? ("Nature red in tooth and claw / With ravine, shrieked against his creed")
What hopes does Tennyson have for a future human race? Does he clarify whether humans themselves will be able to contribute to this process?
What does the speaker experience when he returns to visit Hallam's former London home? In particular, how have his emotions/reactions changed since his first visit in section 7? In what ways does he experience the presnce of Hamllam's spirit?
What mood is created by the sounds and diction of this section?
In section 122 the poet calls for Hallam's spirit to "be with me now/ And enter in at breast and brow."
123 What physical transformations has the earth undergone over time? How will the poet respond to the obliteration of physical phenomena? (shouting like a man, crying like a child)
124 Where has the poem come to locate his deepest values? What alternatives has he rejected? (sts. 2 and 3)
With what pronouns/ descriptors does he denominate divinity? Does this leave room for different interpretations?
What metaphors does he use for his personal response to doubt and despair? What is expressed by each comparison?
What response does he believe comes from the world of "darkness," "which no man understands"? What are some implications of this metaphor?
What do you notice about the sounds in this section?
What paradoxes does he find in his response to his “dear friend”? What does he mean by saying that he loves his friend most “when most I feel / there is a lower and a higher”? Why would this bring comfort?
What is the effect of speaking indirectly of “sweet human hand and lips and eye”?
What causes him to make the assertion that Hallam can’t die? That he belongs to the speaker?
Do you find echoes of any traditional sources in some of the poem’s expressions, such as “past, present, and to be”?
What are the implications of the fact that he experiences his friend in a “dream of good” rather than directly? What has changed about his perception of Hallam’s presence since the latter’s death?
What are some important features of the imagery in this section? How have the natural images which represent his friend been chosen?
Why does he feel his love has been strengthened? Is this process psychologically convincing? How would you describe his final relationship to his dead friend?
Is this a religious experience? Or blasphemous, in that the dead friend partakes in the spirit of divinity/becomes a divinity? If it is religious/spiritual, what type of religion does it represent?
Epilogue: What happens in the epilogue, and what relationship do its events bear to the main sequence?
What is Tennyson's relationship to the married couple? (Cecilia Tennyson and Edmund Lushington) What will be the result of their union? How will their child be related to Hallam, and to the future?
Could the epilogue have been omitted from the sequence without loss, or does it add closure?
Final Questions: How have nineteenth-century notions of development and evolution affected the ways in which Tennyson’s speaker has worked out his grief?
Do you think this is a successful sequence in that it addresses many of the intellectual and emotional stages of grief? Can you think of anything Tennyson left out?
Date of Composition for Sections of “In Memoriam”:
(Taken from Ricks' annotated critical edition, Poems of Tennyson)
1-8 Prologue 1849
1 probably after 1846
2 probably late
3 Ricks believes germ of it in 1833 notebook
6 probably 1840 or 1841
8 1850 (?)
9-20 9 1833
10 possibly 1833 or 1834
11 possibly 1833
12 possibly 1833
13 possibly 1833
14 possibly 1833
15 possibly 1833
21-27 26 probably late
28-49 28 begun 1833
32 begun 1833
39 1869 (added later)
50-58 51 1841
55 before 1844
56 late 1830’s
92-98 93 possibly 1841-42
98 possibly 1831
99-103 alludes to move from Somersby 1837
104-131 105 refers to Christmas 1837
121 just before 1850
123 probably early
Epilogue probably 1844-45