Throughout In Memoriam Tennyson explores the interaction between two figures: the speaker and the absent figure of his dead friend. Contemplating the various occasions of day-to-day life the speaker constantly returns to his lost friendship and the sorrow of that loss, with tones ranging from utter desolation to a redemptive, if impossible, love. In section 95 the two figures become intertwined, as the speaker reads a language in the dawn:
Of that glad year which once had been,
In those fall'n leaves which kept their green,
The noble letters of the dead:
And strangely on the silence broke
The silent-speaking words, and strange
Was love's dumb cry defying change
To test his worth; and strangely spoke
The faith, the vigour, bold to dwell
On doubts that drive the coward back
And keen thro' worldly snares to track
Suggestion to her inmost cell.
So word by word, and line by line,
The dead man touch'd me from the past,
And all at once it seem'd at last
The living soul was flash'd on mine,
And mine in his was wound, and whirl'd
About empyreal heights of thought,
And came on that which is, and caught
The deep pulsations of the world. [95.21-40]
Tennyson puts this union of souls in terms of the creation of "words" out of "silence," but the speaker (unlike the poet?) seems to be entirely passive, overwhelmed by a sudden awareness of his lost friend. What does this imply about Tennyson's understanding of poetic inspiration? Would he agree with Carlyle's argument that genius comes primarily from nature? Is the speaker here a kind of prophet in Carlyle's terms? In what ways does Tennyson disagree with Carlyle's theories? How would his individualistic speaker fit into Carlyle's political and social frameworks for understanding the hero?
What role does Tennyson's strict quatrain form play in conveying the meaning of his poem? How does Tennyson relate his poem to the poetic tradition he inherits? What does it mean that the speaker is "touch'd . . . from the past" at the same time as he discovers "that which is . . . and the deep pulsations of the world?" How is his relationship to poetic tradition different than that of other Victorians, like Brontë?
What is the significance of the juxtaposition of corporeal nouns like "cell," "dead man" and "touched" with the spiritual connotations of "faith," "flash'd," and "empyrial heights?" What is Tennyson's relationship to religion? Are there times when he places poetry above organized religion? How does the poem's strict form relate to this conflict of body and soul? Is a sense of sexuality expressed in the corporeal imagery throughout the poem?
Last modified 5 April 2004