Tennyson composed In Memoriam as an elegy to his friend, Hallam, who died at the age of 22 from a fever. In Memoriam consists of many smaller poems, written in iambic tetrameter with an ABBA rhyme scheme. This rhyme scheme closes each stanza, seemingly containing it within itself, thus making the work difficult to read in a flowing fashion. Rather, the work requires that the reader move through the verses, though unnatural and often forced. This style of writing reflects Tennyson's difficulty accepting his Hallam's absence. Grief often closes one off from the world, making it difficult to move forward with life, as seen in In Memoriam. Despite this contained style, the poems progress from descriptions of grief to transcendence. Tennyson concludes In Memoriam with the realization that his friend lives in higher forms, symbolized by the marriage described in the Epilogue. He connects the ideas of life and death in a cyclical fashion — death eventually brings rebirth and the possibility for life to emerge. Tennyson isolates himself and his heart, unable to comprehend how someone so dear to him can be taken from this earth. He suggests however, that his isolation and sadness is temporary, and that he intends to fall in love or experience companionship again.

For which be they that hold apart
     The promise of the golden hours?
     First love, first friendship, equal powers,
That marry with the virgin heart.

Still mine, that cannot but deplore,
     That beats within a lonely place,
     That yet remembers his embrace,
But at his footstep leaps no more,

My heart, tho' widow'd may not rest
     Quiet in the love of what is gone,
     But seeks to beat in time with one
That warms another living breast. [85:105-116]

The marriage at the end of In Memoriam continues the cycle of grief. Tennyson, finally able to cope and comprehend his friend's death, enjoys witnessing the marriage between two individuals. This moment of life and vivacity suggests that from every dark tunnel emerges light.

Today the grave is bright for me,
     For them the light of life increased,
     Who stay to share the morning feast,
Who rest to-night beside the sea

Let all my genial spirits advance
     To meet and greet a whiter sun;
     My drooping memory will not shun
The foaming grape of eastern France.

It circles round, and fancy plays,
     And hearts are warm'd and faces bloom,
     As drinking health to bride and groom
We wish them store of happy days. [73-84]

Questions

Does Tennyson understand from the beginning that in order to overcome grief, he must allow himself to grow close to other human beings? How does his epilogue concerning marriage connect to this idea of love emerging from death?

Death and marriage symbolize different life stages, one as solitary, the other as a unification. If these are clearly defined moments in one's life, what role does grief assume? Is this an intermediary process between the more definite moments in one's live? Does it lead to definite occurrences? Is grief temporary?

How do natural images play a role in the discuss of death and marriage? Tennyson uses diction such as "bloom", "bright" and "drooping", and in other passages mentions flowers and such. Are these natural images more prevalent in the epilogue, symbolizing growth and rebirth?

The Norton Critical edition of this text mentions that critics did not enjoy the epilogue because of its "minimal poetic merit". They also suggest that it fails to "harmonize with the high solemnity of the sections which have just preceded it" (86). What differs in the epilogue? Are there stylistic differences? Do the existent differences suggest that Tennyson has completely coped with Hallam's death, and thus writes differently because he is not so grief stricken? Is the constricting ABBA rhyme scheme less apparent and halting?


Victorian Website Overview Alfred Lord Tennyson In Memoriam Leading Questions

Last modified 5 April 2004