In section 84 of In Memoriam, Tennyson recalls A.H.H. and reminisces about how their relationship used to be. The passage is filled with visions of home and the possibility of two homes interwoven (via marriage). Ridden with nostalgia, and ideals about familial connection, Tennyson reflects on the fondness of sharing moments with another person and then the relative tragedy of that person’s loss. Tennyson speaks with a strange mix of religious faith and lack thereof.
A central warmth diffusing bliss
In glance and smile, and clasp and kiss,
On all the branches of thy blood;
Thy blood, my friend, and partly mine;
For now the day was drawing on,
When thou should'st link thy life with one
Of mine own house, and boys of thine
The religious imagery in the passage both questions faith while giving A.H.H. heavenly feeling. This initial image of being “crown’d with good” , for example, paints a godly image of Hallam. The symbol of a crown for goodness seems indicative of an angel’s halo. Therefore, initially Hallam is painted as an angelic figure. Yet then the image of the “branches” comes in, carrying through with the “cypress” and “earth” images forthcoming. In the body he is “diffusing bliss,” yet inherent in death is the loss of the body. So the reference to “blood” provides some confusion regarding this initially angelic-type figure. If A.H.H. is a spirit than his blood should not be what is called to question as being angelic. Tennyson goes on to suggest the similarity in the two — the merging of “blood.” . This interim stanza goes from discussing the seemingly heavenly to focusing upon the very earthly memory. Tennyson is caught in this place between remembering his friend alive and imagining how he now must be.
In the third stanza considered, he merges these two looks at reflecting upon the dead as heavenly and earthly. The reference to “cypress” here appears Biblically significant. Cypress is a Biblical tree, and specifically is believed to have been used to build Noah’s arc. [This is a memory from my Sunday School experience] That specific use is quite significant because of the arc’s symbolism as a vessel that saved, that allowed for life to be continued and reborn that — had it really existed — would have been both earthly and heavenly. The text references “cypress” as “a symbol of mourning.” This dual context of “cypress” make it interesting — perhaps it is both a symbol of mourning and of potential re-birth. While at the end of the stanza Tennyson does not draw to conclusion about heavenly power — since he suggests the body has gone into the “earth,” and that “hope” is “despair.” He still seems quite conflicted, but in the initial heavenly, angelic symbol and that of “cypress.”
1. Is Tennyson questioning faith in the eternal life with God in this passage?
2. Is he suggesting that death makes us call to question our faith? That essential in mourning is this concern that the earthly might be all we have?
3. Is the cypress here significant of death and eternal life both? Could it be?
4. Can nostalgia and faith co-exist? Can missing someone be justified? Does grief overwhelm faith? Is it sacrilege to miss someone so greatly you question the value of, or even the existence at all of, their eternal life with God?
Last modified 8 April 2011