The coming of winter brings blankets of snow, animal hibernations, and silent forests. Flowers die, trees become bare, and time stands still. No matter how long winter pervades it eventually leaves, bringing spring: a new life, a new beginning. By observing nature Tennyson finds solace. He discovers the purpose of life, re-establishes faith in a greater power, copes, and comes to terms with the passing of his best friend.

As Tennyson grapples the feat of losing someone he loves, he separates himself from the arbitrary activities of life, instead, focusing and observing the simplistic processes and natural environment. He realizes

That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivell'd in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another's gain.

The significance he finds in the life of a worm and moth, a slimy animal and pesty insect, infers monumental significance to the worth of human life. If one believes that a worm and moth do not "shrivell'd in a fruitless fire" infers that all living species have a purpose, no matter how small, insignificant, or undesirable. Nature presents itself in his employment of metaphors. When he makes the comparison that lives hold significance despite the struggles, heart aches, and obstacles he uses diction such as "fruitless," "fire," "shrivell'd," all words associated with natural processes and occurrences. He continues by saying we do not "subserves another's gain" connoting that we all have our own will, to live the way we choose. No man or creature has superior power or authority to which we adhere to. This discovered conviction that our lives hold a higher purpose and that we control our lives as opposed to meaningless pawns serving the goals of others allows Tennyson to see death as not the absolute end of existence. He realizes his friend's life did have an impact, and the memories and lives he touched will keep his life forever present despite the physical departing of his soul.

His word choices subtly allude to the presence of an unworldly power, a power beyond our understanding that tangibly surrounds us. Tennyson begins to explore the spiritual realm and its relationship witthe physical realm:

Oh, yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroy'd,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;

This "trust" he has "that somehow good/will be the final goal of ill" implies he believes a higher purpose exists in both the good and bad that occurs in life and despite the "pangs of nature, sins of will,/defects of doubt, and taints of blood" he believes a greater purpose will result. This blind trust subtly alludes to the belief in a greater entity, one depending on the highest form of trust imaginable, faith. To say we do not walk "with aimless feet" suggests we have a path, whether a higher entity paved the path or those along our life journey help guide us, this path and its value prove that "not one life shall be destroyed," inferring that lives will end on their own terms and not on the terms of someone else. He declares that not one life shall be "cast as rubbish to the void," again, emphasizing our souls do not enter a place of meaningly emptiness, characteristic of a void, but rather "God hath made the pile complete," creating a new community of loved ones, a place outside this physical reality.

Questions

1.Nature occurs time and time again as a recurring theme in many literary works, including but not limited to, Alice in Wonderland, Phantastes, Jane Eyre. What about nature makes it such a universal literary device and mode of expression? Can one think of any examples of when an author does not use nature to evoke emotion, spirituality, or something intangible?

2. Consider the last two stanzas of this section:

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.

So runs my dream: but what am I? An infant crying in the night: An infant crying for the light: And with no language but a cry.

Does one feel a difference in tone in these two stanzas in comparison to the stanzas that precede it? If so, what could be the reason behind this conscious choice?

3. The stylistic composition of In Memoriam resembles the organization of many different trains of thought and differs from the stylistic composition of other Tennyson works such as The Coming of Arthur. What purpose does this stylistic composition serve to the purpose of the work as a whole, if any?


Victorian Website Overview Alfred Lord Tennyson In Memoriam Leading Questions

Last modified 15 April 2009