Decorative Initial Section 54 of Tennyson's "In Memoriam"(1830 -1849) portrays many images that depict the connection between order and chaos, two seemingly distinct concepts. The passage mixes the two so that the distinction becomes unclear. In the second stanza, the narrator makes logical statements like "nothing walks with aimless feet" and then in a later stanza the reader sees chaos and then order.

Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last — far off — at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.

The narrator states that we — "we" being an inclusive word and encompassing everything — do not know anything at all, and yet two lines later trusts that "every winter change to spring." In the last stanza the narrator presents himself as an infant crying in the night, with "no language but a cry". All of these unconnected images depict the uncertainty of order and the certainty of chaos.

The contradictory relation between chaos and order appears in Jane Eyre as well. For example, the night that Rochester and Jane are in the garden at Thornfield and he has just proposed to her for the first time, nature displays its power. In the midst of a chaotic storm, the chestnut tree "writhed and groaned; while the wind roared in the laurel walk" (225). That next morning, despite the "fresh and fragrant breeze" that blew in the open glass door, nature had left its mark in the split chestnut tree. Using this image of nature's elements and their interaction, the reader senses order with the calm breeze yet senses the underlying chaos with the split chestnut tree.

As a result of the confusion between chaos and order, doubt and despair linger in this passage from Tennyson. Faith and belief in God is supposed to solve this confusion and eliminate the despair, however, Tennyson appears to struggle with this notion of God and Christian doctrine. Spiritualism, or "Natural Religion," was a religious thought that appeared in the Victorian Age and it is from this movement that rejects the doctrines of Christianity in lew of a belief in a "supreme being." The images in this passage that convey a sense of order are those such as walking feet and the changing of seasons. Tennyson's images of natural order possibly suggest a wavering toward this mode of thought.


Victorian Website Overview Alfred Lord Tennyson In Memoriam

Last modified 1994