In his poem, In Memoriam, Tennyson writes of the confusing, and often conflicting, emotions that he experiences while trying to deal with the death of his friend. In the fifth section, Tennyson describes the guilt he feels when writing of his grief. Perhaps he feels the guilt of using his friend's death as a catalyst for his writing. He goes on to say that despite his guilt, words are a way to numb his pain.

I sometimes hold it half a sin
     To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
     And half conceal the Soul within.

But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
     A use in measured language lies;
The sad mechanic exercise,
     Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.

In words, like weeds, I'll wrap me o'er,
     Like coarsest clothes against the cold:
But that large grief which these enfold
     Is given in outline and no more.

In the last stanza, Tennyson paints an image of wrapping himself in words as a way to protect himself from the cold that is his grief. He ends the section by saying that even though words help ease the pain, they only have the power to show others an outline of his grief and not the true extent of it.

Questions

1. In the first stanza of the section, Tennyson says I "sometimes hold it half a sin to put in words the grief I feel." How much does religion play a role in the guilt that Tennyson feels?

2. "For words, like Nature, half reveal and half conceal the Soul within." What does Tennyson mean by these lines? How can Nature half reveal and half conceal the soul? Why are these two words capitalized?

3. In the second section of the poem, Tennyson uses the yew tree as a comparison for himself. In the fifth section, he uses nature as a comparison for words. Why does Tennyson use nature as an example for his emotions?

4. Tennyson uses the phrase "unquiet heart and brain." What different emotions are he conveying by differentiating between an unquiet heart and an unquiet brain?

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Victorian Website Overview Alfred Lord Tennyson In Memoriam Leading Questions

Last modified 3 February 2009