In his elegy, In Memoriam, Tennyson raises the question of whether anything worthwhile or productive can come out of grief and loss. The actual writing of In Memoriam becomes for Tennyson a formal way of encountering and "hedging in grief" (Landow). Tennyson is worried that by writing poetry about Hallam, he is avoiding the grieving process and cheapening the emotion. As he writes the poem, the speaker fears that his representation of Hallam is inaccurate, because his memories are now distorted by the "haze of grief" which consumes him. The speaker acknowledges that past experiences can easily become idealized and romanticized when viewed from the space of reflection and distance. The representation of Hallam that he is creating is not only filtered through time, but through the subjective lenses of his own imagination.
And was the day of my delight
As pure and perfect as I say?
The very source and fount of day
Is dash'd with wandering isles of night . . .
Makes former gladness loom so great?
The lowness of the present state,
That sets the past in this relief?
Or that the past will always win
A glory from its being far,
And orb into the perfect star
We saw not when we moved therein? [24.1-16]
How does the speaker convey his doubt and uncertainty about his emotions? Does this doubt affect our perception of him and the validity of his feelings?
Does the speaker accept the fact that memory is a selective, filtering experience? What is doing the filtering? (time, distance, grief, the comparison of present and former states of mind)?
In the last stanza, is the speaker actually saying that he only fully appreciates Hallam now that he is dead?
Last modified 16 September 2003