But there is more than I can see,
And what I see I leave unsaid,
Nor speak it, knowing Death has made
His darkness beautiful with thee. [sect. 74, ll. 9 -12]
ts faith is a poor thing, but its doubt is a very intense experience” (Eliot, pp. 200-01). T. S. Eliot's famous judgment has a nagging persistence about it. Everyone quarrels with it, but no one lays it to rest. Of course the terms are useful: “faith” and “doubt” invoke issues both larger and more basic than religious faith or ponderings about the existence of God. The poem is, as Basil Willey says, concerned with questions that antedate Christianity, those which confront “the natural man” (p. 81). The real problem is not the connection between God and man but the nature of connection itself; Tennyson searches not so much for religious continuity as for any continuity. In Memoriam goes behind religion to the comic myth that informs and contains, religion. But Eliot's comment suggests that the poem fails to locate that comedy effectively, that somehow the poem remains badly divided, unable satisfactorily to complete the two-part form it had set for itself.
Tennyson seeks to extend here the solution presented in The Princess. Both poems combine the traditions of the pastoral and of domestic comedy, and both are concerned with the isolation if the hero and his subsequent return to social acceptance. In each poem the central problem is the preservation of personality. But the enemies are very different. These differences-between the social enemies of convention, bigotry, and primitivism stressed in The Princess, and the cosmic ones of space, time, and death in In Memoriam [80/81] — indicate to what extent the latter poem radically modifies the very convention it is, at the same time, accepting.
For one thing, the comedy of In Memoriamis much more venerable than that of The Princess. In place of the modern tradition of the comedy of manners, Tennyson looks to the firm order and values of medieval comedy. In Memoriam, he said , “was meant to be a kind of Divina Commedia,” (Memoir, I:304; Gordon D. Hirsch gives a detailed comparison of the two works, arguing that In Memoriamis “an embodiment of the Dantean theories of Arthur Hallam” [p. 98]). On the surface, In Memoriamis at the opposite pole from Dante's rational and ordered world: the occasion for Tennyson's poem appears to be the collapse of the very coherence that had sustained the earlier poem. Dante shows how the Inferno is itself a manifestation of God, is, in fact, contained in Him. The careful ordering and control of sinners and punishments gives continual evidence of the exercise of reason and justice. Paradise is implied by Inferno; it is its logical and certain complement. Since it is just this harmonious superstructure of accepted cosmological certainty that Tennyson lacks, he must find a new way to order the vision of his new and modern hell. He does so by creating a comparable argument that shows solution in the midst of dissolution-more specifically, — that faith lives in and is assured by doubt, that death leads to life. The affirmations do not transcend the negations but grow through them. All of life is a single and coherent unity.
The point is stated most argumentatively and directly in section 96, added very late, even after the trial edition of March 1850. Here the poet summarizes and explains the basis for the climactic vision recorded in the previous lyric and for the positive resolution of the poem:
And Power was with him in the night,
Which makes the darkness and the light,
And dwells not in the light alone,
But in the darkness and the cloud” [ll. 18-21].
It is necessary to the poem's solution that the unity should come not merely from a happy ending that shows “light” triumphant but from a coalition of the two opposites. The predominant darkness must yield to the light, but the light must be shown to proceed directly from the darkness. The despair of the first half of the poem must contain within it the-hope of the conclusion. It is customary to cite as somehow cogent Henry Sidgwick's comment, recorded in the Memoir, that “the [81/82] whole truth is that assurance and doubt must alternate.” (Memoir, I:304) But In Memoriam is an attempt to go beyond alternations or the suspended, doubtful comedy of poems like “The Two Voices,” into complete assurance. The two alternatives be made one, and this unity must be implied from the first dark lyric. This, then, is In Memoriam's debt to The Divine Comedy: Tennyson is attempting to rebuild a world of meaning by rebuilding medieval comedy.
He substitutes for the implied structural logic of this medieval form a new and profound generic argument, whereby the absence of order is made a necessary antecedent to order. The causelessness mirrored in the first half of the poem and its parody of tragic values are made part of a larger system of confirmed and settled values, a system that does not escape but includes its own rejection. By treating Hallam's death not as a tragedy but as a grotesque mockery of-life itself, the early sections of the poems establish a viewpoint that is explicitly ironic. The irony is defined, however, as always, in reference to a competing order. Here the arguments of life and happiness, the symbols of rebirth in nature, the lures of friendship and communion-in short, all the components of comedy-are used in the first half of the poem to show, how futile and pointless the narrator's griefs and hopes are. That is, the comic images create by their concurrent power and remoteness the narrator's ironic bondage.
Tennyson is careful always to present the positive values with some measure of validity; they themselves are never mocked. What is mocked is the human tendency to live by a system of promises that is now rendered irrelevant. The momentum of comedy continues long after its true substance has been lost and appears to make a dupe of hopeful man. The irony thus holds comedy in suspension; it makes it one half of its argument. The early lyrics derive their power from an evocation of the distance between the narrator and a very real and promising order. From the very first lyric we are made aware of the solution. These inescapable [82/83] connections between comedy and irony often proved very troublesome for Tennyson, shadowing and disrupting his attempted affirmations, but here he attempts to use these same connections to assure the validity of those affirmations.5
It is more proper, then, to speak of the poem's organization than its structure. In Memoriam mirrors the absence of a structured world in its deliberate discontinuities, its utterances that refuse to connect easily or logically. The poem explores how man can live in a world that is denied easily perceived structure, one where human experience can no longer be explained by analogy with linear mathematics. Attempts to divide the poem into integral parts, whether based on the Christmas sections, the anniversary poems, or Tennyson's own nine-part scheme, depend upon notions of and regularity that the poem regards as no longer valid; yhat the poem's structure is not architectural but developmental is supported by Alan Sinfeld's brilliant work. See also Mason and John D. Boyd.
The poem is determined, I believe, by the dynamics of the opposition between comedy and irony, a counterplay that is progressive but irregular. Though the irony gradually moves toward comedy, the movement is not fully continuous there are lapses, pauses, even doublings-back-nor is it completed. Nonetheless, there is a pivotal section where, at the climax of the nihilistic fury, the narrator suddenly stops and effects by the power of his willa change in mood and attitude.7 Irony does not gradually diminish and then melt into comedy; it increases, becomes more and more powerful, until, just at its height, it seems for a time to disappear. Though irony later reappears, one can see the poem trying to move decisively away from the Inferno.
Just after the climactic statement of cosmic trickery in section 56, [83/84] where man, “who seemed so fair,” becomes “a monster,” “a dream,/A discord” (ll. 21-22), Tennyson attempts to mark a division and to begin developing the new hope that comes from the darkness:
Peace; come away: the song of woe
is after all an earthly song:
Peace; come away: we do him wrong
To sing so wildly: let us go.
Come; let us go: your cheeks are pale;
But half my life I leave behind:
Methinks my friend is richly shrined;
But I shall pass; my work will fail.
Yet in these ears, till hearing dies,
One set slow bell will seem to toll
The passing of the sweetest soul That ever looked with human eyes.
I hear it now, and o'er and o'er,
Eternal greetings to the dead;
And 'Ave, Ave, Ave,' said,
'Adieu, adieu' for evermore. [sect. 57]
The “Peace” with which the section opens forecasts the “All is well” that closes the entire poem. The peace is apparently uncaused, a relaxation from the previous strain into a great simplicity. The horrible dilemmas that had occupied the poet up to this point are, “after all,” only “earthly,” a dismissal which seems to work precisely because it refuses detailed explanations. He has somehow evolved or willed a new perspective, one that is not yet clearly defined, except that it depends upon something other than the “earthly.“
The section's sad tone, of course, includes the earlier despair; it really does not dismiss it. But this section also faces death more directly and personally than any lyric so far. The simplicity of “The passing of the sweetest soul / That ever looked with human eyes” (ll. 11-12) implies a new, unexaggerated acceptance. The fact of death is now confirmed as it had not been before., almost suggesting a mastering of that fact. Even the control of diction and phrasing implies a newly gained mastery. The second stanza does express [84/85] concern about himself and his poetry, but such matters are quickly cast aside. The language of poetry is no longer, as it was, a shield against the terror of death but a means of controlling and understanding it. Death could earlier be admitted only as a force from personality. If love could survive, the poet had argued, it must survive in a preservation of personality.
As long as death is seen as annihilation, then, it could never be allowed to have touched the essential person. Death and personality are joined now for the first time, and the potential solution is thus foreshadowed. Those “terribly pathetic lines” from Catullus — Tennyson's own description of ave atque vale (see Ricks, p. 913) — which end the lyric evoke a sad continuity through time, a union of all who have been left desolate by death and who could yet summon will and energy to continue. His benediction summarizes the poem to this point by concluding the meditation on death; it also points the way forward by evoking a new power of controlled articulation that is bound to find a new form in which to express itself. With section 57 we are at the planned center of the poem. The negative issues have presumably been resolved, and the rest of the poem should image the rehabilitation of the narrator and give form to the comic values already there by implication.
While it is true that the irony is never quite contained by the comedy, one can see the dualistic pattern at least in the process of developing, both in theme and technique. The general tension between assured technique and high tentative statement in the first half of the poem is generally dissolved in the second half; Gransden, p, 44, demonstrates this point admirably, though he treats as valid for the whole poem what seems to me true only for the first half. The tentativeness is still sometimes there, but it is no longer covered or submerged; where there is shifting or hesitancy it is on the surface and more often expresses not doubt but a search for the most honest and precise expression. Ideas are not tested and rejected in the second half, but refined; certainties are not discarded, but rephrased.
The same principle of reversal between the first and second halves applies as well to most of the key themes of the poem. Nature, for instance, whose evidences of waste and purposeless -slaughter provide such an apt and inescapable analogy to his despair, develops in the second half into an image of peace and [85/86] hope. It becomes, as James Benziger says, an “imaginative counterpart” (p. 147) to the logical argument from design; so that, though rejecting the argument, the poet can accept the intuition. Also, as he himself comes to life, he brings nature back to life with him. The traditional pastoral element in the poem, then, though muted, is not at all incidental. It is used in the first half to indicate what is missing from the poet's condition and from his world,” so that in the second half the pastoral values may be affirmed. The continuous presence of nature's hope for restoration and rebirth, even in parody, foreshadows the narrator's planned restoration.
The plan, then, is that the solution be embedded in the presentation of the problem. The problem is occasioned by death and exacerbated by science but it is not centered in either of these; rather, the poem accepts a less pretentious and more difficult subject:
I long to prove
No lapse of moons can canker Love,
Whatever fickle tongues may say” [Sect. 26, ll. 2-4]
Proving, of course, involves the question of the nature of knowledge and the conflict between empirical and imaginative ways of knowing. Once he finds out how to prove, the answers are much easier to find. The other important components, of the poem — love, time, self (“I long to prove“) — are all suggested here. He is out to demonstrate the validity of his own self and the human personality generally by establishing that its primary value-love-has permanence. Love guarantees the authenticity of the self in time, and the rediscovered self proves the supremacy of love: the terms of the problems move toward mutual solution. Time, the “lapse of moons,” suggests all motion and change, not just death, and becomes the active agent in the equation, the catalyst of the poem. It first separates the self and love and thus renders them both suspect; it later brings them together in a new and more permanent harmony.
One final important element of the problem is also suggested in the line “Whatever fickle tongues may say.” These fickle tongues suggest the denials voiced by irony, faithless to him and to [86/87] themselves, refusing to provide even the constancy of negation. But they also represent outside voices, an external society that first alienates and then welcomes the narrator. He must try to find a solution that first brings into accord the self and its essential principle of love and then moves this unified self out of its privacy and into social being. To do this he must come to terms with time (including death), the natures of self and of love, and the connection between his private and public selves.
These are not, of course, four problems, but one, and the solution likewise is a single one. It is provided by the experience of love, but love of a special sort. It is not a self-denying, ascetic, or exalted love, but a love based on a vivid realization of common life. and a full participation in it. Valerie Pitt calls this love simply “friendship,” (p. 115) which describes it very well. Tennyson is drawn away from philosophical and theological argument, even from the ecstatic spiritual love that is celebrated in his model, The Divine Comedy. As in The Princess, the “azure pillars of the hearth” are sweeter and more real than heroic isolation. The guarantee of love's perpetuation is its existence in him, not in Hallam; in life, not in or beyond death. In Memoriam leaves its ostensible subject further behind than the most disengaged elegy. It is highly personal, of course, but in the end it sacrifices the unique personality of Hallam for that of the narrator. The values of domestic comedy, of friendship and unremarkable love, are substantiated and win out over the arguments of philosophy, science, personal grief, and the ironic perspective.
Almost, that is. If, as I have argued, the solution is contained in the form of the problem, if the irony is really forced to give way to comedy, then the power of the affirmation ought to be in direct proportion to the power of its negations. If the doubt is indeed “a very intense experience,” as Eliot says, how can the faith be “a poor thing“? The fact is that comedy's move to dominate the poem is blocked by several very large problems: the nature of the narrator's particular demands; the dangerous movement toward vague abstraction in the solution; and, most important, a clear breakdown in the comic machinery, a disturbance of the solution at section too which continues, more or less, until the end of the poem. The existence of these problems means that the pattern of the poem is [87/88] never quite completed; the counterplay between comedy and irony is never entirely resolved.
Perhaps the most obtrusive of these problems is the early insistence that any sort of rehabilitation would mean the death of love. He ties himself so closely to the figure of Hallam that a cleat, dilemma occurs; insofar as he remembers that half his life is left behind with Hallam, he has little chance to develop, to master, or even to understand his grief, insofar as he does grow, he is disproving what he set out to prove, that “no lapse of moons can canker Love.” There are ways out of this problem, but Tennyson seems uncomfortable with any one of them; so he gives several, As a result, none seems very convincing: many seem too general (the evolutionary argument, for instance) or too flippant.
The most persuasive argument is based on the experience of transitory but very intense imaginative or mystical visions. During these visions, love is made permanent and the poet understands and affirms his own real self Though the visions themselves do not last, their authenticity is secured by memory, so that the child, even though crying, senses that help and security are nearby, in his father- But this argument from memory is not quite enough to override the loss of the enthusiasm which is present only during the fleeting moments of visionary experience. Full certainty, therefore, is withheld.
Also, as Tennyson moves away from Hallam — and the solution of the poem demands that he must do so — the love that he talks about tends to become more and more generalized and abstract. In Memoriam really needs a Beatrice, and we can see Tennyson searching for substitutes among his relatives. The poem becomes a romantic comedy with no romance. “Friendship” does seem to provide the implied solution, but where is that friendship bodied forth?
This lack of concreteness is made doubly important by the poet's refusal, early in the poem, to accept any form of the continuation of life other than the highly concrete preservation of the individual personality. In a powerful and almost primitive way that explains much of the poem's appeal and authority, he insisted that only the survival of the unique ego had meaning. The concept that the fragmented soul is reunited in death with the great “general Soul” he bluntly called “vague,” grandly asserting that in the afterlife “Eternal form shall still divide / The eternal soul from all beside” [88/89] (47, ll. 6-7) — The fact that at the end of the poem the poet sees Hallam as a “diffusive power” (130,1. 7) does not necessarily imply a contradiction: it may simply be the result of his new development. But the development, in that case, is from the concrete to the abstract — an unusual and difficult direction for comedy to take. Eliot's feeling that the abstraction was “a poor thing” may be due in part to private aesthetic preferences to which we may refuse to grant any authority, but it is almost certain that he felt, as well, the violation of the comic tradition in which Tennyson was writing.
These qualifications would not, perhaps, amount to much if it were not for the sudden buckling of the comic solution with section 100 and beyond. Tennyson turned all his art — even the power of his ironic vision — to the defeat of irony. But it could not be done.
The first half of In Memoriam, up to lyric 56, presents the poem's affirmations by inversion. The vision in this part mocks comedy so continuously that the solutions are held in suspension; they are so nearly fully developed that they should only need to be released in the second half of the poem. The poem begins in the first lyric by explicitly rejecting one form of what it will later accept: the rejuvenation of self and the rebuilding of something out of nothing, the doctrine “That men may rise on stepping-stones / Of their dead selves to higher things” (ll. 3-4). Such a consolation now seems callously abstract, a superficial matter of “loss” and “gain,” mere monetary “interest” (ll. 6, 8) that cannot touch the depth of the narrator's grief. All assurances, even the most profound ones, are irrelevant. They point to the future, and the future, though it will later hold all promise, now presents the greatest threat. “Let Love clasp Grief' (l. 9), he cries, voicing what is now only an emotional need but forecasting the uniting of affirmative love and negative grief, of faith and doubt.
The first lyric evokes a fear not of pain but of the absence of feeling, of a detachment that will finally be a necessary prelude to restoration. The early poems are not so much unwilling displays of emotion as deliberate proofs of it. The narrator begins by struggling against the solution that is there before him. He does all he can to solidify his negative, dead love, to nurse his self-absorbed and static being, and to resist the pull of expansive, outgoing love and a growth into new being. The strength with which the comic generalizations are rejected anticipates their later acceptance. [89/90]
The second lyric, “Old Yew, which graspest at the stones,” similarly presents to us a negative image of hope and beauty by inverting the values of the pastoral. The Romantic dream of imaginative identification with nature is accomplished — and turned into a nightmare. Time, whose cycles bring life to nature — “The seasons bring the flower again, / And bring the firstling to the flock” (ll. 5-6) — also operates linearly, bringing only destruction to man: “And in the dusk of thee, the clock / Beats out the little lives of men” (ll. 7-8). The cycles of nature are cruel deceptions, mocking the narrator and forcing on him a consciousness of his own eventual annihilation. The parody of comic rebirth is reinforced by the fine section 7, "Dark house, by which once more I stand," where the "noise of life" breaks on his terrible solitude, not to bring a return to normal human bustle and activity, but only the "ghastly rain" and an image of nothingness: "On the bald street breaks the blank day." So he turns to the yew, whose “fibres net the dreamless head” (l. 3), as a symbol of stasis, a form that is so incorporated with death that it “changest not in any gale” (l. 10). The one stable image is of grief; the one natural symbol that remains constant does so only because it is fed by death, in turn the only immutable fact of existence. At the climax of the lyric the poet achieves a union with the plant, grimly burlesquing the true imaginative act. He finds not liberation but ironic paralysis: “I seem to fail from out my blood” (1. 15)
Lyric 39 returns to the image of the yew to cap this irony. The narrator recognizes that the plant does, after all, partake of nature's cycles, flowering and sending forth its “fruitful cloud and living smoke” (l 3). It is part of spring's renewal: “To thee too comes the golden hour / When flower is feeling after flower” (ll. 6-7). But the voice of Sorrow disrupts the idyllic reflection with the dark suggestion that the flowering of the yew involves no real change but a simple succession of gloom and death, paralleling the poet's change, which is no change: “Thy gloom is kindled at the tips, / And passes into gloom again” (ll. 11-12).
Though it has earlier been established (3, l. 4) that Sorrow lies, Sorrow is the informing voice of the poem at this point. The ambiguous lying does allow us to perceive that the fruitfulness of nature and its power to create life out of death are never questioned. In fact, they are presented vividly and feelingly precisely because they are so real and so distant from man. Furthermore, even in lyric 39, where the tone becomes particularly [90/91] sardonic and where the narrator is caught between the alternate traps of everlasting change and everlasting death, the eventual answer is given: a stability that contains all variability. He had identified (in 3) with what he had assumed was the constant yew but now finds himself caught up in a process of growth. He is now tempted to see that growth as sheer chaos, but out of these ironic perceptions can come comic ones. By associating with paralytic grief, he can find rehabilitation. Out of death, then, comes life, just as the yew itself symbolizes a great vital constancy that pervades and controls all seeming change.
In the first phase of the poem similar images of nature are always kept before us. Nature's power is seen as deceptive; it can restore, but man appears somehow to be excluded from the restoration. Though it is evoked with great bitterness, this constant acknowledgment of nature's potency is a way of building a solution as well as solidifying the irony. Even in the most ironic of these lyrics, nature mocks man only with its manifestly authentic powers, In 11, “Calm is the morn without a sound,” for instance, nature is allowed the ability to create a unity of all divine elements —
Calm and still light on yon great plain
That sweeps with all its autumn bowers,
And crowded farms and lessening towers,
To mingle with the bounding main” [ll. 9-12)]
It is just this unity, reinforced by the repetition of calm, that makes for the shock that comes at the end:15
Calm on the seas, and silver steep,
And waves that sway themselves in rest,
And dead calm in that noble breast
Which heaves but with the heaving deep” [ll. 17-20]
The mellifluous flow is halted abruptly in the next-to-last line, only to return again in the ending line, with a new and startling force.
Even more subtle is the combined attack on and support of nature in the famous “The Danube to the Severn gave,” section 19. It begins with nearly the same bitter tone that had marked the close of 11:
The Danube to the Severn gave
The darkened heart that beat no more;
They laid him by the pleasant shore,
And in the hearing of the wave.
There are clear specific ironies in pleasant and [91/92] in the presumed life-giving quality of the waves, conveniently within “hearing,” if only the corpse could hear. The salt water that hushes the Wye (ll. 5-8) kills off the babbling joy of the river and parallels the unfruitful condition of the narrator's deepest grief. The tide does go out, of course, but it releases only grief, a song of pain. The movements of nature thus seem elaborately and completely parodied. But the facts that the poet's state does change — “My deeper anguish also falls” (l. 15) — and that he gets even a “little” relief (1. 16) suggest that these cycles are not exactly pointless and that perhaps nature can effect more permanent and lasting changes as well. For all the varieties of irony Tennyson uses in this first section, he almost always shuns the conclusive final ironies of, say, Clough, preferring a more tentative and ambiguous form that is generically less stable but more profound.
The refusal to rest with definite conclusions is itself an ironic tendency, but it is a slippery characteristic which, however powerful in its support of irony, can be used against irony itself. It can, as Tennyson had displayed in the 1842 Poems, work against ironic conclusions as well as any other, and when tentative skepticism is established as a firm principle, it really points the way out of irony. This is especially true when it is used in conjunction with the further ambiguous symbol of nature. In section 23, “Now, sometimes in my sorrow shut,” the narrator imagines a time in the past when he and Hallam were in full accord with each other and with all of natural life:
And all the secret of the Spring
Moved in the chambers of the blood. [ll. 19-20]
The past is presented as a fully realized pastoral in order to emphasize the completeness of his present desolation. The following section, then, by questioning the accuracy of this vision of the past — “and was the day of my delight / As pure and perfect as I say?” (24, ll. 1-2) — both increases and decreases the pain. If even memory lies, then the dead one is yet further removed; but if the past were not Edenic the present is in some sense less horrible and perhaps more endurable. Though it is terrible to doubt that past, the perception that “The very source and fount of Day / Is dashed with wandering isles of night” (24, ll. 3-4) is central to his recovery. At the heart of day is night, just as despair lies at the beginnings of hope.
Occasionally, even in the early sections of In Memoriam, the comedy does not lie hidden within the irony but exists side by side with it. Most of the utterances on the function of poetry, for [92/93] instance, are, overtly ambiguous: “For words, like Nature, half reveal / And half conceal the Soul within” (5, ll. 3-4). Language, which is here used consciously as a protection — “In words, like weeds, I'll wrap me o'er, / Like coarsest clothes against the cold” (5, ll. 9-10) also acts, by its very nature, to reveal, to formulate and clarify. In the process of evading the unknown, then, he is discovering it; by seeking to bury himself in the past, he is unconsciously penetrating into the future, creating a new self while biding in the old one.
A good many of the early poems really constitute direct statements on this use of irony both to contain and to release. In Memoriam openly manifests a concern with its own form. The controlling tones of Sorrow, the commanding voice of the first part of the poem, are explicitly the tones of irony:
'The stars,' she whispers, 'blindly run;
A web is woven across the sky;
From out waste places comes a cry,
And murmurs from the dying sun'” [3, ll. 5-8]
The narrator's response to this voice is, characteristically, uncertain Sorrow offers “fellowship” (l. 1), but it is a “cruel fellowship;” her voice is “sweet and bitter in a breath” (1. 3). These oxymorons lead the poet to a frozen attitude:
And shall I take a thing so blind,
Embrace her as my natural good;
Or crush her, like a vice of blood,
Upon the threshold of the mind?” [ll. 13-16]
The narrator is caught by the ironic voice, suspended between impossibilities, and unable to accept or reject it.
But there are wheels within wheels in irony, and the strategy of caving in foundations can operate endlessly. Since Sorrow's voice might be withstood by employing detachment, Sorrow is made subject to mutability. A constant predictable urge could never operate in a relativistic world; therefore, Sorrow itself changes: can “sorrow such a changeling be?” (16, 1. 4). Even her changefulness is not certain; perhaps she only “seem[s] to take / The touch of change” (ll. 5-6) and actually has the deep constancy of “some dead lake” (1. 8). Thus, Sorrow is not so easily defeated, and the narrator is left, as he says, like a ship that “staggers blindly ere she sink” (l. 14). Sorrow's wiliness has “stunned me from my power to think / And all my knowledge of myself” (ll. 15-16). At the center of the poem is this destruction of self and a consequent rebuilding, a Process identical with the growth out of irony. As of now, he is held fast, and he is without any certainty at all, “delirious” (1. 17), one who “mingles all without a plan” (1. 20). [93/94]
“I do but sing because I must / And pipe but as the linnets sing” (21, ll. 23-24) suggests that the language follows its only possible form, the fragmented form of the early sections. The use of nature as a model also suggests, however, a movement away from disconnection and toward natural harmony. He sings of the fundamental facts of existence, those that now appear to be beneath the superficialities of public language, the assured and solid language of external purpose urged on him by the social world (21, ll. 5-20). But it is this natural, presumably private language that leads him to inevitable growth and participation in public life. Words not only conceal; they half reveal. This clarifying function allows for the development out of the sporadic, unjoined utterances of irony into the lucid, transparent diction of comedy.
For beneath all the change and destruction on the surface of nature lies the fundamental constancy of life, a solidity he senses even far below his deep despair. The Christmas bells and the hope they represent recall him from thoughts of suicide, overriding his anguish and mastering his spirit completely, “For they controlled me when a boy” (28, 1. 18). The clear instincts of childhood capture the adult and hold him away from negative solutions. “They bring me sorrow touched with joy” (l. 19), he says, an uncomfortable mixture, certainly, but one that maintains present life and gives some hope for the future.
The entire first section of In Memoriam, despite its full awareness of pain, is filled with a concurrent recognition that in this pain lies hope for a solution. Section 27 and its famous conclusion — ” 'Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all” (ll. 15-16) — is a welcoming of duality. Pain comes from the consciousness of loss, but that consciousness would never be present without love. Only one who has “tasted love with half his mind” (90, l. 1) — one, that is, who has never known the full power of contradiction can rest in comfortable negatives. The force of duality is finally the force of love, a love that is established only by loss. Section 27 specifically rejects releases from tension through either unconsciousness or an avoidance of feeling. He will shun neither the experience of love nor the prison that experience may build. It is this deliberate and heroic acceptance of irony that, in the end, neutralizes its destructive power.
All this is even more overtly stated in section 34: [94/95]
My own dim life should teach me this,
That life shall live for evermore,
Else earth is darkness at the core,
And dust and ashes all that is;
This round of green, this orb of flame,
Fantastic beauty; such as lurks
In some wild Poet, when he works
Without a conscience or an aim.
What then were God to such as I?
'Twere hardly worth my while to choose
Of things all mortal, or to use
A little patience ere I die;
'Twere best at once to sink to peace,
Like birds the charming serpent draws,
To drop head-foremost in the jaws
Of vacant darkness and to cease.
The argument is very straightforward: the ironic perspective, when seen clearly, provides sufficient cause for rejecting it. Though the negative force of the imagesis great indeed, at least the form of the argument is insistently positive. W. David Shaw interestingly argues that the poem's affirmations are carried by its images and metaphors and that its skepticism is put argumentatively (p. 89). It is a good perception of what happens in some of the early poems, of which this section (34) is only one exception. In the last half of the poem imagery and argument are generally conjoined. It is purely a poetic argument, but nonetheless appealing for that. It is based on a sense of proportion, on tact or perhaps even taste, suggesting that life itself (“My own dim life“) contains nothing that can justify the monstrously incongruous notion of extinction. If death means extinction, questions about the existence of God become absurd. Life itself would be pointless, and the poet would, in a term that parodies Keats's vision of sweet death, “cease.” But it is Life that gives the evidence against its own cessation and against irony.
The next section, “Yet if some voice that man could trust” (35), carries on the discussion of irony's form and limitations and, beneath that, a battle against its dominance. The poet considers what he could do if he heard from a reliable voice beyond the grave [95/96] argument is clearly developing toward its turning point: love has some validity or there would be no perception of irony. The fact of pain, then, is cause for hope.
This complex duality informs not only those poems which directly address the subject of form but also more indirect ones, even, or especially, those whose focus seems far removed from aesthetics, the domestic poems. No single metaphor is pervasive in In Memoriamthan that of the family and its attendant images:17 marriages, dinner parties, Christmas celebrations, handshakes. The principal charge against death is that he “broke our fair companionship” (22, l. 13), thus putting the case in the simple and familiar terms in which it must also be solved. The narrator views external disruptions — in science, theology, and the state — only as analogues to his private chaos. The single real
problem is the disruption of the family, the breaking of companionship. All the world falls apart as a result. But, by the same equation, as the narrator rebuilds the coherence of his private life and re-forms the family, he re-creates the world. The domestic values provide a concrete symbolic center for the poem.
The images of the family also help to assert a world of calm, settled values that is, at first, thrown off balance. The implied solidity of this world suggests, at the same time, that it is bound to right itself in the natural course of things. Further, the loss is made as common and as immediate as possible by deliberately putting it in the most recognizable language — the language of sentiment, nearly the language of platitudes. Tennyson manages to appeal to the broadest range of experience in these poems and, at the same time, to avoid superficiality by enclosing the sentiment within irony. Domestic values, potentially soft as they are, are given authority by the toughness surrounding them. The most striking domestic reference in the poem is the analogy of the narrator's state to that of a widow or widower, used partly to reinforce the intensity of the anguish by giving it a physical or sexual component, but also to evoke by far the most common experience of intense loss we know personally.
The language in these domestic sections strives for just this [96/97] evoke by far the most common experience of intense loss we know personally.
The language in these domestic sections strives for just this quality of shared expression. Fluent verbal expression, as lyric 20 argues, is distrusted as a sign of artificial, surface grief. The servants of a house whose master is dead may
speak their feeling as it is,
And weep the fulness from the mind:
'It will be hard,' they say, to find
Another service such as this' ” [ll. 5-8]
The degree of fluency in these biting lines is made directly proportionate to the absence of real feeling. The children can express grief only to themselves and only in the starkest and simplest terms: ” 'How good! how kind! and he is gone' ” (l. 20). It is often said that death proves the hopeless inadequacy of language, forcing us into the formulated meaninglessness of clichés, but here death acts to confirm the value of clichés and of the domestic simplicity supporting them.
But domesticity must initially be parodied. In the first half of In Memoriamit provides some of the most important subjects for irony, as in section 6:
O mother, praying God will save
Thy sailor, while thy head is bowed,
His heavy-shotted hammock-shroud
Drops in his vast and wandering grave. [ll. 13-16]
The malign trickery of nature and nature's God is given extra force here by being made to operate in a domestic framework that ordinarily excludes the absurd. Often the fact of death is made more immediate by understating it in this domestic context, comparing it not to the waste of continents but to simple loneliness, to deserted houses, parties ended, a lover “who 'lights and rings the gateway bell, / And learns her gone and far from home” (8, ll. 3-4).
In Memoriam comes close at times to “Enoch Arden.” Even section 10, “I hear the noise about thy keel,” moves for a moment out of the genre of pastoral elegy altogether and into the realm of melodrama or genre painting. It suggests, in feeling and form, something like Ford Madox Brown's The Last of England:
Thou bring'st the sailor to his wife,
And travelled men from foreign lands;
And letters unto trembling hands. [ll. 5-7]
The lyric is especially interesting, though, in its clear demonstration of how such a vision can be contained and given power. The opening lines exhibit an excited sense of assurance:
I hear the noise about thy keel;
I hear the bell struck in the night:
I see the cabin-window bright;
I see the sailor at the wheel. [ll. 1-4]
The reunion of man and wife, the [97/98] reestablishing of all bonds is prefaced by an assertion of life and, particularly, the power of self — I hear, I see.
But all this life and joy yields completely to the fact of death, the “dark freight” (1. 8) that the ship also carries. The poet can, at the end, find “comfort” only in the fact that Hallam is not in the “roaring wells” (l. 17), where
hands so often clasped in mine,
Should toss with tangle and with shells. [ll. 19-20]
This is a minimal comfort, but it is not parodied, nor is the lyric sentimental. The concreteness at both ends of the poem and the controlling ironic vision allow for the near-sentimentality at the center, the assertion of domestic values. Even the final dark image constitutes one half of the alternate domestic symbols: the empty and the joined hands. The alternatives of touch and emptiness are both maintained by the domestic focus; the empty hand demands a completion in such images as that of the family at Christmas “In a circle hand-in-hand” (30, l. 11).
The submerged force of domestic comedy is so strong that finally, in section 40, the poet makes a premature attempt to incorporate Hallam's death into the framework of domestic values. Hallam is compared to a bride on her wedding day, his death to her leaving for a new life. The analogy quickly breaks down, though — “Ay me, the difference I discern! / How often shall her old fireside / Be cheered with tidings of the bride” (ll. 21-23) — and the original cause for rejoicing becomes cause for additional pain. He sees his own life in very different terms: “My paths are in the fields I know, / And thine in undiscovered lands” (ll. 31-32). His problem is to extend the familiarity of the world of domestic comedy into the “undiscovered lands.“
These lyrics preceding section 40 are almost totally dominated by irony. The poem begins at such a low point that it cannot really become tonally darker, but the problems do tend to complicate themselves and make the immediate dilemma seem worse and worse. In the lyrics from 40 to 49, however, there is a curious lightening of the tone, a series of musings on much happier suggestions: death may be only a sleep; the dead may remember their friends; personality may be continued after death. Section 46 even hints that death may only be an opening onto the past, so that the five years of love, while in one sense encapsulated, are, in another sense, open and eternal:
O Love, thy province were not large,
A bounded field, nor stretching far;
Look also, Love, a [98/99] brooding star,
A rosy warmth from marge to marge. [ll. 13-16]
But these hopeful lyrics (40 to 49) represent a false and unsustained movement upward. There is no real support, and all the early confidence is here expended, wasted on an abortive and premature attempt to escape. The failure leads directly, in 50 to 56, to the most extreme bondage and despair, formed in Tennyson's most unrelieved and inclusive irony.
Section 50, “Be near me when my light is low,” immediately evokes paralysis. The slow cadence of the verse supports the image of stagnation and the argument that change is no change:
Be near me when my faith is dry,
And men the flies of latter spring,
That lay their eggs, and sting and sing
And weave their petty cells and die. [ll. 9-12]
Even here, though there is no real hope, the desire for hope, at least, is kept alive. The form of address — “Be near me” — suggests a litany and implies that comfort is possible; more important, the reiterated when quietly implies that this is not the only state or the only perception.
When, in 53, the narrator attempts again to give a statement of the solution, even the light domestic form cannot be supported, and the affirmation collapses. He suggests that since many good and sober men have grown from noisy and wild youths, perhaps,
had the wild oat not been sown,
The soil, left barren, scarce had grown
The grain by which a man may live. [ll. 6-8]]
This is a hesitant and mild form of the argument that finally controls the poem: that God dwells in darkness and light and that doubt is contained within faith. But here, because the conjunction between faith and doubt cannot be made, he has no defense.
Sections 54-56, the famous “evolution” lyrics, do all irony can to drive a wedge between the unities that man has created: between intellect and emotion, motive and act, God and nature, man and God. Lyric 54 puts all its powerful negative imagery in a positive frame, this to parody the weak, multiple-qualified formal assertions — “Oh yet we trust that somehow good / Will be the final goal of ill” (ll. 1-2). Though the affirmation tries to stagger on, it cannot stand long against the force of the images:
That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivelled in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another's gain. [ll. 9-12]
The beginning hope dwindles by the end of the poem to the helpless cry of an abandoned and benighted child.
The next section, 55, summons conclusive irony to question the [99/100] basis of intuition — that is, the basis of religion and of self. All the poet can receive finally is a faint trust, since nature not only gives factual evidence against the doctrine of controlling love but also “lends such evil dreams” (l. 6). It is not just the empirical judgment that is corrupted but the imagination as well. Nature gives intuitions too, it seems, and the dark power of these sections comes not from any split between intellect and emotion but from a more horrible division between a reality supported by reason andintuition, and a hope that seems totally unsupported. Section 56 presents the nadir of the experience of In Memoriam, a vision of hopelessness and waste. At the ironic center, the only coherent ruling power is that of “discord” (1. 22). The one cosmic principle is deception.
Then suddenly, with the vision of futility at its most climactic, the word peace is uttered and a change begins. The world and the Poet have been destroyed by an act of the imagination and must similarly be built anew. The construction of a new self and a new cosmos is the business of the second half of the poem. Or rather, of about half of the second half of the poem; for the developing solution progresses unsteadily and nearly collapses at about section 100. Before that, however, the comedy which had been held within the irony is released, and the faith that lives in doubt and grows from it begins to assert itself.
In its catharsis of grief and mastering of the fact of death, the transitional section 57 suggests an end to the entire poem. But what has been achieved is only a negative triumph; the fuller comedy begins to develop in section 58, in the announced decision to continue the poem and to work toward genuine affirmation. More important, even, the poet must develop a clear articulation of the triumph he has in part already won. The struggle to put into words the nature of his faith is partly a struggle to solidify that faith and define his new self, but it is also partly a response to a newly felt need to make his affirmations available to all. In order to realize his new self he must move out of himself and thereby release the social values implicit in domestic comedy. He decides, not to conclude the poem because his earlier exclamations of despair may have disturbed others and “broke[n] the peace / Of hearts that beat from day to day” (58, ll. 5-6).
It is this “day to day” life to which he must now respond, the new [100/101] call of his “brethren” (l. 10) that not only brings him social responsibility but allows him the social definition of being. The domestic focus is, therefore, reasserted at once:
My spirit loved and loves him yet,
Like some poor girl whose heart is set
On one whose rank exceeds her own. [60, ll. 2-4]
The imagery of these later domestic poems seems similar to that in the ironic poems, but there is a new tone and a new detachment. The poet seems able, in the poems from 60 to 70, to deal with Hallam much more personally and actually to experiment quite freely with domestic situations and images. There is a strong sense of liberation in this switch from hesitancy to creative freedom. Subjects and techniques shift rapidly, not necessarily because any one is unsatisfactory but because they are all satisfactory and give pleasure in the varieties of appropriateness they provide.
The poet first attempts the simple and undefensive “Love's too precious to be lost” (65, ll. 1-3). The phrase has so much power that he sings it
Till out of painful phases wrought
There flutters up a happy thought,
Self-balanced on a lightsome wing. [ll. 6-8]
. A delicate happiness is found in the midst of pain, and the image of the reemerging butterfly provides the type for his rehabilitation. He goes on, in 66, to state that his loss, which, in one sense, has turned all to fruitlessness and waste, making “a desert in my mind” (1. 6), has, at the same time, increased his fellow feeling. Robbing him of one life, it has caused him to be more alive, “kindly with my kind” (l. 7). He compares himself to a man whose physical sight is lost but whose imaginative powers are thereby strengthened: “His inner day can never die, / His night of loss is always there” (ll. 15- 16). The final symbol in 67, of Hallam's memorial tablet that “glimmers to the dawn” (l. 16) similarly uses a negative image to suggest positive effects, the sense of gain that comes from loss.
In one of the periodic summary sections, 69, “I dreamed there would be Spring no more,” the poet stops to review his progress to this point. The dream charts his development away from the depths of irony, the vision of a dead nature. Isolated by his grief from all men and their “noisy town” (l. 5), he takes from nature a crown of thorns, symbolic of the ugliest negations of beauty and rebirth. Wearing this (that is, enunciating in poetry the negative vision of irony), he thereby turns it into “a civic crown” (1. 8), a badge of the great public service he is rendering through his vocal anguish” By entering the world of nature's deceptions, he will be able to clarify [101/102] the meaning of life, rejuvenate nature herself, and bring life back to the world and to man. He sees himself as the suffering god who offers salvation. His purpose is misunderstood by men, who scorn him, but he is blessed by “an angel of the night” (l. 14), the divinity in Tennyson's hell, who brings the thorns “into leaf” (l. 18) and transforms death into life.
Though the words spoken by the angel “were hard to understand” (l. 20), and though the narrator is not yet able to explain exactly how it is that despair contains joy, the fact at least seems to be verified by the strongest experience. The thorns do come to life; the divine voice “was not the voice of grief ” (l. 19). Though he must now try to interpret, for himself and the people for whom he suffered, the divine voice, the experience temporarily confirms the pattern whereby irony leads to comedy.
He now has such inward assurance that he can even raise with impunity the old specters of time and destruction: his verses will eventually be reduced by time to book bindings, box linings, curl papers. “But what of that?” (77, l. 13), he says. The ironic perspective can be grandly brushed aside. As in 57's “Peace, come away,” the darkness is simply dismissed in the face of a “something else” (l. 11), which is again hard to understand but is certainly sweeter and truer. The sophistications of irony are opposed by the most unadorned simplicity.
Through these lyrics, Tennyson seems consistently to argue that his unhappiness is a matter of perspective, not a response to a unified, objective hopelessness. The anniversary of Hallam's death (section 72) again brings irony back, and with it a vision of the death of nature, but now there is at least a consciousness that nature only appears to be dead, or at least is dead only to him. Though the day is, in fact, stormy, he admits it might have
A chequer-work of beam and shade
Along the hills, yet looked the same. [ll. 14-16]
This admission of relativism is crucial, since, even in this bleak poem, it allows that nature's restorative powers are still there.
He soon manages a partial reconciliation with death, at least in the abstract. By imagining Hallam's reaction to his own death, he sees that his wise friend would have turned “his burthen into gain” (80, l. 12). With this imaginative distance now achieved, the narrator suddenly grasps liberation: “His credit thus shall set me free” (l. 13). Death becomes an agent of love, saying, “My sudden [102/103] frost was sudden gain, / And gave all ripeness to the grain, / It might have drawn from after-heat” (81, ll. 10-12). Death does not destroy love; it perfects it. Because of this general, if vague, assurance of gain, the narrator can reconcile himself to “Eternal process moving on” (82, l. 5) and to the fact that death does not mean waste or even destruction (82, ll. 9-12). But the comic momentum is suddenly checked:
For this alone on Death I wreak
The wrath that garners in my heart:
He put our lives so far apart
We cannot hear each other speak. [82, ll. 13-16]
All the reassurances, it seems, are still too abstract. The inescapable insistence on personality keeps intruding, even here in the center of renewal. The deliberate honesty of In Memoriam holds it back from solutions that seem even the slightest bit facile.
As always in this second half of the poem, when the comedy falters and irony threatens to reappear, Tennyson turns to images in nature to renew confidence and reform the energies of the poem. In 83, “Dip down upon the northern shore,” and especially in 86, “Sweet after showers, ambrosial air,” nature's deep rhythms catch him up and he feels the elemental breath of life that provides a “peace” that is alive and vibrant, contrasting with the dead and awful “calm” of 11. Nature lends not only helpful analogies for his situation but life itself . The “Wild bird, whose warble, liquid sweet, / Rings Eden through the budded quicks” (88, ll. 1-2) is all evocation of a Hopkins-like symbol of compressed energy and life. But Tennyson's bird is more than just a symbol of Eden; it suggests the mixing of senses and the meeting of all passions (ll. 3-4), the ability to find “in the midmost heart of grief” (l. 7) instincts or energies that clasp “a secret joy” (l. 8). The bird sings of a new and modern Eden, a Paradise that is won out of the agony of loss and a self new-built. Having willed his own endurance, the narrator now sacrifices that will to the deep “glory of the sum of things” (l. 11) that now controls his vision even when he intends a song of woe.
Because of this unlooked-for new joy, he finds himself unable to rest only in the past, not because he forgets Hallam, but because their friendship is one that “had mastered Time” before and which now “masters Time indeed” (85, ll. 64, 65), He is not paralyzed by his love for Hallam but led outward to realize “The mighty hopes that make us men” (l. 60). Precisely because he never slackens in his love for his friend, he finds in his dedication a growth rather than a contraction of his affection. Even from the tomb, a voice [103/104] speaks to him, “Arise, and get thee forth and seek / A friendship for the years to come” (ll. 79-80). He is unwilling yet to respond fully to this command, but he does realize that his heart “seeks to beat in time with one /That warms another human breast” (ll. 115-16).
The solutions are by now present, but the narrator is reluctant to accept them; they never seem fully adequate for very long. It is not, then, surprising that the progress is discontinuous, nor that he seems to welcome the frequent relapses. The early poems of the nineties (90 to 94) return again to the concrete absence of Hallam and the awful sense of physical separation the poet can never overcome. He almost implies that, if the personality is immortal (and it must be if immortality is to have meaning) and love depends on personality, then love can defeat death only by retaining contact with the actual person. He never really ceases to want kinetic proof.
But he can, at times, forget this impossible, self-defeating demand, particularly in the important 95, “By night we lingered on the lawn.” This lyric climaxes the comic movement with a vision of absolute assurance, a full realization of a new self, and a concurrent realization of the unity of all creation in love. By tracing dark “Suggestion to her inmost cell” (l. 32), he finds not the expected darkness but hope. “The living soul was flashed on mine” (l. 36), and he feels “The deep pulsations of the world” (l. 40). Although he cannot explain his new state, he is transformed: “that which I became” (l. 48) is something essentially new and different. And though the mystical vision18 is by its nature transitory and is itself “stricken through with doubt” (l. 44), the doubt is itself even more transitory. The lyric ends with a symbol of transcendence of this intellectual uncertainty: a breeze, “sucked from out the distant gloom” (l. 53), just as his hope has sprung from the blackness, comes up and spreads sweetness and beauty everywhere. The “doubtful dusk” (l. 49) yields the breeze's voice, “The dawn, the dawn” (l. 61). Death mingles with and becomes life:
And East and West, without a breath,
Mixt their dim lights, like life. and death,
To broaden into boundless day. [ll. 62-64]
Irony's tenuous mixture becomes comedy's pure and triumphant assertion of continuity.
He now does seem able to give some more direct explanation of [104/105] his transformation, and he proceeds to do so in section 96, which justifies doubt by relating it to a God that lives in darkness as well as light. On the second anniversary of Hallam's death (99), then, he celebrates a kinship both with nature and with man. The impulses of autumn are those both of life and death; the “dim dawn” (l. 1) brings the voices of birds whose consolations are no longer mocked. Though he feels sorrow, it is no longer an isolated sorrow but a feeling of kinship with all mourners everywhere: “Today they count as kindred souls; /They know me not, but mourn with me” (ll. 19-20). Developing the suggestion first stated in the pivotal section 57, this lyric provides a proof of human connection and a social binding force. Death is not seen as insignificant, but the grief engendered by death can now be contained within greater comic forces.
But suddenly the assurances lose power and images of profound irony intrude. Partly because the issue of concrete personality and loss cannot be settled and partly because the solutions have been too abstract, all the hard-won sense of unity suddenly dissolves, and the narrator is nearly back where he began. “I think once. more he seems to die” is the terrible reflection that ends lyric too. The removal from Somersby, described in 100-05, seems to break all the connections he had established and to reintroduce the images of transience and annihilation. Section 101, in its grim force, is a poem that might have been found at the very beginning of In Memoriam.This lyric combines images of the impermanence of nature and its dislocation from man:
Unwatched, the garden bough shall sway,
The tender blossom flutter down,
Unloved, the beech will gather brown,
The maple burn itself away. [ll. 1-4]
The barely disguised sentimentality here, the heavy use of the pathetic fallacy, is used to set us up for the final irony, the impermanence and triviality of man:
As year by year the labourer tills
His wonted glebe, or lops the glades;
And year by year our memory fades
From all the circle of the hills. [ll. 21-24]
There is no real connection between man and nature, certainly not the sentimental one with which the poem opened. The fact that the narrator cannot escape the remembrance that “There in due time the woodbine blows, / The violet comes, but we are gone” (105, ll. 7-8) means more than that he cannot forget Hallam, The general movements of life again alienate him; all solutions seem impersonal [105/106] and remote. Nature is able to create life out of death more fully than man because nature cares little for memory or for concrete personality. The power and supremacy of life are not denied, but the narrator can acknowledge them only formally. The conclusive affirmations never come.
Instead, the poem offers a wide range of solutions, a clear signal that no one of them is adequate — “Ring out, wild bells” (106) offers glib abstractions. The next section (107) tries for a highly unlikely simple accommodation to a dark but uncomfortable world. It begins by acknowledging the bitterness of Hallam's death, pauses, and then abruptly switches its ground:
. . . But fetch the wine,
Arrange the board and brim the glass;
Bring in great logs and let them lie,
To make a solid core of heat;
Be cheerful-minded, talk and treat
Of all things even as he were by;
We keep the day. With festal cheer,
With books and music, surely we
Will drink to him, whate'er he be. [ll. 15-23]
The note of cheerfulness is in a different key entirely from everything around it. The “whate'er he be,” instead of affecting us as a mature and hearty acceptance of death, seems, in context, callous and insincere.
Still another inappropriate solution is given in the next lyric, 108, “I will not shut me from my kind.” The determination to “take what fruit may be / Of sorrow under human skies” (ll. 13-14) is precisely what we would have expected earlier, but here it is oddly jumbled in as just one of many solutions. It is, further, made a matter of steely determination rather than a consequence of natural forces and natural development. Even the tone is petulant. Such statements as “What profit lies in barren faith” (l. 5) strike us as loudly evasive, jarring especially with the odd, sneering “profit.” Instead of welcoming human companionship, the narrator seems to turn on his old sorrow, even on Hallam, with an almost childish anger: “I will not eat my heart alone” (l. 3); ” 'Tis held that sorrow makes us wise, /Whatever wisdom sleeps with thee” (ll. 15-16). [106/107] There is a kind of coarseness about these last two sections, a quality that touches the poem so clearly as to allow Tennyson to introduce his most unconsidered and angry political views in the lines on “The blind hysterics of the Celt” (109, ll. 13-16), The poet is somehow relaxing here, writing away at a conclusion that has lost connection with the vital part of the poem to which it was attached. The moving and highly indirect eulogy of Hallam becomes a generalized and sometimes trite echo of early Trollope: “And thus he bore without abuse / The grand old name of gentleman” (111, ll. 21-22). For a short time, he can think of nothing better than this, or the almost ludicrous particularity of the vision of Hallam's future as
A life in civic action warm
A soul on highest mission sent,
A potent voice in Parliament” [113, ll. 9-10]
One wonders that he did not specify the borough!
Again nature is used to attempt a refurbishing of the comic solution. The poet finds in the unity of Hesper and Phosphor (section 121) a coalition of past and present, life and death, a benign sameness that flows through all things. In 115 and 116, he affirms that the renewals of spring, of “life re-orient out of dust” (116, 1. 6), “Cry through the sense to hearten trust / In that which made the world so fair” (116, ll. 7-8). The movements of nature, then, are not entirely foreign to him; they touch him deeply. But not deeply enough. He can only say that “less of sorrow lives in me” (l. 13), that he feels “Less yearning for the friendship fled, / Than some strong bond which is to be” (ll. 15-16). In sum, he says, he finds “Not all regret” (l. 9). But “not all regret” is not enough for comedy, and the poem nearly slips back once again into conclusive irony.
Even the fine 119 (“Doors, where my heart was used to beat“), which forms such a clear and important contrast to the gloom of 7 (“Dark house, by which once more I stand“), does not allow unqualified joy. It does celebrate the power of the newly found self — “I come,” “I smell,” “I hear,” “I see,” “I take”-and the Participation of nature's calm in the love that conquers death. There is, however, a subtle sense, much like that in Wordsworth's “Composed on Westminster Bridge,” that all this serenity is transitory, a moment of perceived unity that is wonderful precisely because it is so unusual.
I come once more; the city sleeps;
I smell the meadow in the street. [ll. 3-4]
It is this “meadow in the street,” the infusion of nature into the haunts of men, that allows for [107/108] the assurance that all life-and death-is a continuum ruled by love: “I take the pressure of thine hand” (l. 12). But now “the city sleeps.“
If the crucial union of man and nature is possible only in these suspended and rare moments, then the solution will, at best, entirely lack the solidity generally associated with comedy, The transient, even evasive nature of the solution is evidenced over and over; he asks that Hallam be with him and “enter in at breast and brow” (122, l. 11) so that his blood may
Be quickened with a livelier breath,
And like an inconsiderate boy,
As in the former flash of joy,
I slip the thoughts of life and death;
And all the breeze of Fancy blows,
And every dew-drop paints a bow,
The wizard lightnings deeply glow,
And every thought breaks out a rose. [ll. 13-20]
The passage is alive, but it is alive with change, with a perception of vivid transience: joy is expressed in images of dewdrops and lightning; the verbs are evanescent-quickened, slip, blows, glow; the stressed nouns are those of things that pass-breath, flash, breeze, rainbow.
Other problems are created by Tennyson's old tendency to search for consolations that are impossibly remote: “Move upward, working out the beast,/ And let the ape and tiger die” (118, ll. 26 27) offers hope to generations a few million years from now, but very little to us, Even his famous intuitive answer to doubt, “I have felt” (124, l. 16), is qualified very deeply by the tone. It does affirm tile primary self and the primary reality: “And what I am beheld again / What is” (ll. 21-22). These points have been won precisely because, as he says in the next section (125), they have been implicit in the early irony. The real power of the ending is in the beginning — not, unfortunately, in the final articulation of the solution, but of the problem.
What he finally comes to say about love and being are true enough, but they imply, in the “All is well” (127) benediction, a greater permanence and finality than the poem supports. And even here, Tennyson's impressive honesty enters in to insist that there really is no final resolution:
I see in part
That all, as in some piece of art,
Is toil coöperant to an end. [128, ll. 22-24]
Genuine comedy has nothing to do with this “in part.“
There is, then, a solution to the problem, but it is not sustained. He has won a new self and some perception of the interrelationship of death and love, despair and hope. But lie can neither trust nor [108/109] fully understand this unified knowledge; it never dominates his being as it should. The irony that returns to the poem at section 100 is never fully overcome. The narrator senses that his solution lacks the firmness of comic structure, but he is unwilling to face that fact-or perhaps faces it too squarely. In any event, though the last part of the poem returns to the valid emotional assurances won earlier, it is unable to weld them to the permanent forms of comedy. Instead of a genume conclusion, we. are given a series of skillful but inadequate substitutes.
The Epilogue is one of the most skillful of these, nearly accomplishing a miraculous repair. It is written in a different voice entirely, no longer at all tentative, but straightforward and fully controlled. It is the best evidence of the narrator's emotional rehabilitation and the consequent validity of In Memoriam'sarguments. The graceful public poetry here evokes better than any direct statement what it means to find new dedication and a new life. The “evolutionary ending” is not meant as any kind of “solution” to the problems presented in the poem; it has little connection with them. It is simply a tactful compliment to tile marriage, connecting the child-to-be of Cecilia and Edmund Lushington to the divine subject of the poem and pointing all men to a unified and coherent future:
One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event,
To which the whole creation moves. [ll. 141-43]
All this is evidence of a new mood and a new mastery; it is a fitting close.
But it is much like having a joyous dance at the end of The Winter's Tale: no matter how well executed, it cannot counterbalance the darkness and irresolution that remain suspended in the play. Tennyson's Epilogue is a brilliant attempt, but it is essentially disconnected from his magnificent but deeply troubled poem. Its doubt is, just as Eliot said, a very intense experience; if we find the faith a poor thing, it is only because the poem never reaches the level of assurance that our participation in its negations had demanded. In Memoriampresents itself to be judged as the finest comic poem of the nineteenth century. It also illustrates how terribly difficult, if not impossible, the comic form was to sustain.
Web version created March 2001
Last modified 8 August 2016