In Alfred, Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam, the poet tries to justify the death of his dear friend Arthur Henry Hallam. The poem explores death's effect on many aspects of the human condition. The main area that Tennyson seems to focus on is religion — he devotes many sections of his poem to his own struggle with religion after the death of someone so dear to him — but he also frequently returns to the role of poetry. In this selection, he contrasts Urania, the muse of divine poetry, with Melpomene, the muse of lesser, lyric poetry.
Urania speaks with darken'd brow:
"Thou pratest here where thou art least;
This faith has many a purer priest,
And many an abler voice than thou.
"Go down beside thy native rill,
On thy Parnassus set thy feet,
And hear thy laurel whisper sweet
About the ledges of the hill."
And my Melpomene replies,
A touch of shame upon her cheek:
"I am not worthy ev'n to speak
Of thy prevailing mysteries;
"For I am but an earthly Muse,
And owning but a little art
To lull with song an aching heart,
And render human love his dues;
"But brooding on the dear one dead,
And all he said of things divine,
(And dear to me as sacred wine
To dying lips is all he said),
"I murmur'd, as I came along,
Of comfort clasp'd in truth reveal'd;
And loiter'd in the master's field,
And darken'd sanctities with song." [Section 37]
1. Throughout this section, Tennyson is talking of — and to — the muses of the Greco-Roman pagan religion. Does he contrast the Christian muses, or does he group them together?
2. What does he mean by "thy Parnassus?" Where does he place himself in the scheme of religion? In the scheme of poetry?
3. There seems to be a change of tone in the final stanza. He says he finds comfort in the truth revealed. Where does he find this truth?
4. How does this section contrast to the statements about poetry in the rest of In Memoriam?
Last modified 13 May 2004