Whereas most of In Memoriam sets up Hallam as the ideal, Tennyson momentarily presents himself as a type of Christ in LXIX. In this fragment focusing on himself and others’ reactions to him, he takes up a crown of thorns much like Christ’s. He is met with ridicule, just as Christ himself faced mockery when presented as the King of the Jews with his crown. But there is no continuation of Tennyson as a type of Christ; an angel transforms the thorns into painless leaves and the comparison ends, without clear death and rebirth on Tennyson’s part or a redeeming by Tennyson, rather than Hallam, of the human race.
I dream'd there would be Spring no more,
That Nature's ancient power was lost:
The streets were black with smoke and frost,
They chatter'd trifles at the door:
I wander'd from the noisy town,
I found a wood with thorny boughs:
I took the thorns to bind my brows,
I wore them like a civic crown:
I met with scoffs, I met with scorns
From youth and babe and hoary hairs:
They call'd me in the public squares
The fool that wears a crown of thorns:
They call'd me fool, they call'd me child:
I found an angel of the night;
The voice was low, the look was bright;
He look'd upon my crown and smiled:
He reach'd the glory of a hand,
That seem'd to touch it into leaf:
The voice was not the voice of grief,
The words were hard to understand.
1. Does Tennyson mean himself to be a true type of Christ, or a rather pitiful, foolish figure? If a true type of Christ, how else does he parallel Christ in other fragments? If not, what purpose does his imitation of Christ’s humiliation and pain serve, and why would the angel smile at it?
2. Is the crown of thorns metaphorically Tennyson’s grief, which people accuse him of carrying too long? If this is the case, how does the angel’s appearance affect Tennyson’s spiritual state?
3. As punishment after the Fall of Man, God curses the ground for Adam. Part of this is that ̉thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee” (Genesis 3:18). Could these thorns, particularly with the bleak landscape pictured at the start of this fragment, refer to that?
5. If the thorns do in part refer to Genesis, how does their mutation into leaves and the tranquility Tennyson finds tie into his ideas of mankind’s improvement through the ages as a biological type?
Last modified 5 April 2011