In Memoriam is the articulation of two questions: first, how can one deal emotionally with the death of a loved one; and second, how can one deal religiously with the death of a loved one? This is a narrative of religious and emotional trauma and crisis. And though the emotional and the religious can be treated as two discrete aspects of mourning, Tennyson uses each to explore the other. He mobilizes his emotional pain to explore issues of religious belief and doubt and, conversely, works with ideas of religious belief and doubt to survive the emotional trauma of his friend's death. In the following passage, Tennyson works with a model of religious knowledge and belief that will have a profound effect on the manner in which he mourns for Arthur Hallam.
Thro' truths in manhood darkly join,
Deep-seated in our mystic frame,
We yield all blessing to the name
Of Him that made them current coin;
For Wisdom dealt with mortal powers,
Where truth in closest words shall fail,
When truth embodied in a tale
Shall enter in at lowly doors.
And so the word had breath, and wrought
With human hands the creed of creeds
In loveliness of perfect deeds,
More strong than all poetic thought;
Which he may read that binds the sheaf,
Or builds the house, or digs the grave,
And those wild eyes that watch the wave
In roarings round the coral reef. [In Memoriam, XXXVI]
1. In the first stanza, Tennyson sets the truths of Christianity as intuitively realized. Christ's role lies in making these intuitive understandings "current coin." What can we say about Christ's role being expressed in the language of monetary currency and value? Does this represent a positioning of Christ within nineteenth-century commodity culture? Speaking more broadly, what kind of relationship does Tennyson seem to think exists between religious truth and the nineteenth-century social world?
2. In regard to the second stanza, Tennyson writes: "For divine wisdom had to deal with the limited powers of humanity, to which truth logically argued would be ineffectual, whereas truth coming in the story of the Gospel can influence the poorest." Taking this passage, along with the entirety of In Memoriam, into consideration, what can we say about Tennyson's feeling for the role of narrative in the telling of truth, especially religious truth?
3. In Memoriam presents the reader with a series of images that, when read together, become particularly rich for interpretation. On the one hand, this stanza seems egalitarian in its idea of religious belief as intuitive. On the other hand, Tennyson represents himself as emotionally, and even socially, isolated in his mourning. What do these shifting imageries of religious unity and emotional isolation indicate about Tennyson's feelings about the relationship between religion and emotion?
4. As we can see in the line "Thro' truths in manhood darkly join," Tennyson often seems to focus on shadows and darkness, not necessarily as the negation of truth and knowledge, but as one of its sources. Here, Tennyson turns religious imagery on its head, complicating the dichotomous relationship between knowledge and ignorance, light and dark. What significance might Tennyson's work with darkness as a source of knowledge have on this thematic structure of the text?
5. The religious doubt expressed in parts of In Memoriam is absent in this passage. So how can we position this passage within the framework of Tennyson's shifting relationship — sometimes doubting, sometimes believing — with religion?
Last modified 8 November 2004