Alfred, Lord Tennyson's reflective elegiac poem In Memoriam A.H.H provides an account of the author's grief over the death of a friend and his attempts to find solace in a wavering religious conviction while also questioning larger philosophical issues. God's love, a mystical eternity, embodies the complement of nature, a physical existence with an end; the author struggles to believe in the faintness of the "larger hope" over the cruel but material, and therefore more readily believable, nature. In canto 54, Tennyson attempts to reconcile his emotional loss with the hope that some good comes of death, in the form of eternal paradise with God:

Oh yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

Tennyson goes on to speculate that perhaps life is not "aimless" or "in vain." However, the intensity of grief can easily overshadow this immaterial hope of religious intervention, and the author questions both his belief and his esteem:

Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last — far off — at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.

In the above stanzas Tennyson proposes that even if the hopes of humans, who know nothing, come to fruition, they shall be "far off." It is evident that the author's faith does not provide him with any immediate comfort. Tennyson suggests that faith is just a dream, but of what value, as he is but little on the celestial scale? The use of an infant's cry as a metaphor and the author's repetition seems to highlight the futility of his attempts.

Questions

Do Tennyson's conflicts reflect the common convictions of Victorian society? Although religion permeated the Victorian era, science also progressed greatly, and people generally accepted such technology, ideas, and innovation. Evolution in particular interested the Victorians, and some parts of In Memoriam seem to hint that God opposes nature, but was this actually an issue, since evolution itself did not upset Victorian society as much as many falsely believe? Does this poem provide evidence any effect of this opposition?

2. How do the above stanzas relate to the following stanzas of Browning's Rabbi Ben Ezra? There seem to be similar themes, but the tones of the poems are quite divergent. In Memoriam has a mourning tone, whereas "Rabbi Ben Ezra" is much more sing-song.

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all nor be afraid!"

For thence, — a paradox
Which comforts while it mocks, —
Shall life succeed in that it seems to fail:
What I aspired to be,
And was not, comforts me:
A brute I might have been, but would not sink i' the scale.

3. Why did Tennyson choose to write in many brief cantos of the same structure? How does this affect the overall impact of the poem? Was it a successful execution?

4. Tennyson used repetitive structures frequently in this poem — for example, "pangs of nature, sins of will/Defects of doubt, and taints of blood." What does this achieve in the poem?


Victorian Website Overview Alfred Lord Tennyson In Memoriam

Last modified 2 February 2009