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In Memoriam
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Archived Group Reads 2012 > In Memoriam Part 1 - Prologue through XXVII (27) - to the first Christmas

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments This is the thread for discussing the first part of In Memoriam.

As I noted in the background topic, although Tennyson composed the poetic sections that comprise the work over a period of seventeen years, the content of the poem generally covers a period of three years after the death of Hallam. Hallam died in September, 1833. This first group, from the Introduction through section XXVII (27), takes us from September to the first Christmas, or Christmas 1933.


message 2: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments An initial comment as our discussion begins.

Although I have at times considered myself reasonably adept at reading Victorian era poetry, In Memoriam has been more of a challenge than I had expected. I have had to read sections carefully multiple times to work through Tennyson’s language and allusions to what I think is a beginning understanding of his intent.

While I’m sure that we have some readers here who are more accomplished at reading Victorian poetry than I am, we probably also have some who have less experience with this poetry. In case it may be of aid to other readers here, I will be making some personal comments on how I interpret various sections of the poem.

I certainly do not intend to imply by this that my understanding is the right one, or even a right one. Nor do I want at all to discourage others from offering different readings. On the contrary, I am certain that my comments will be at best a partial explanation, and probably at times a flawed one, of the richness of Tennyson’s meaning(s).

I intend my comments to open discussion of different understandings and appreciations from every reader here. If any reader takes my comments as closing off or limiting their offering of other views of the section because they think that I think I have offered the “right” or “best” or “correct” reading, I will have failed utterly. I am by no means an expert who thinks he understands this poem and is offering the right answers; rather, it is my intention to open dialogue by offering one personal view as, I hope, an encouragement to others to share their own views.

I am totally convinced that if a poem is a true poem (and not merely prose put into lines that rhyme and/or scan) it always has multiple meanings which are inevitably richer and more complex than any single individual’s understanding of them may be. There can be no such thing as one single right way to read or understand or interact with a great poem. Each person will read and understand such a poem differently based on that reader’s life experiences and beliefs.

More even than that, I am certain that the “meaning” of a great poem is not only different for different readers, but is also different for each person at different stages of their life. For a very specific example, In Memoriam will read quite differently to a person at a time of relative life tranquility as opposed to a time when they are in active grief over the recent loss of a loved one.

In short, although I am moderating this discussion, I am merely one participant here offering one person’s thoughts and looking to everyone else here to share the richness of their reading of the poem so that together we can all achieve a richer, more nuanced and complex understanding of this magnificent work.

I hope you will join me in digging into the meanings of this magnificent poem and, equally important, that you will share your thoughts with others. You may worry that a comment you are considering might not seem particularly wise or insightful, but by withholding it you cheat others who might have found your comment or question or exploration exactly what they needed to hear to excite their own understanding of a passage.

The only useless or meaningless comment is the one not made. So please, share your views and thoughts so that together we can build an understanding greater than any of us could alone.

And now, on to the discussion!


message 3: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Prologue: The prologue (a title added by editors; Tennyson left it untitled) is dated 1849, which means that it was written after most of all of the rest of the sections had been written and presumably after the poem had taken, or at least come close to taking, its final shape. In this way it differs from the traditional proem of classical epic, which opens a poetic work by calling on the gods for inspiration to help the poet achieve his goal.

The opening stanza is in the simplest sense almost banal in saying that our belief in God must be by faith and not by proof, but I think it introduces what will be a significant element of the poem as it progresses. The first half of the nineteenth century was an age of rapid scientific discoveries, particularly in geology, where discoveries challenged many of the settled “facts” of Biblical teaching concerning the age of the planet and the stability of the earth, and where the discoveries of fossilize remains of long extinct creatures which inhabited the earth long before the emergence of man shook belief in the literal truth of the Biblical creation story. The core of scientific thinking is in proof, so in the line “believing where we cannot prove” Tennyson right away lays out the different spheres of religion and science.

And yet, of course, it is God who has made man, and made him a creation which itself creates the “little systems” of theology, philosophy, science, and the like, which are all merely “broken lights” of the absolute knowledge and wisdom of God.

The rapidly developing body of scientific knowledge, based on things we see, grows, but, I think Tennyson suggests, must be balanced by a growth of reverence, mind and soul working together in balance to become one music “as before,” by which Tennyson in a note said he meant the age of faith before scientific discoveries began to raise questions of belief.

Indeed, the melding of science and religion will make even vaster music than religion alone did before.

To this point, I have some comfort that this view of the Prologue, if not fully right, is at least not fully wrong, though I am also sure the Prologue contains far more than I have mentioned which others will, I hope, add to. But I have wrestled with the last three stanzas, and so far have not reached a view of them which gives me any confidence. I am not sure what Tennyson’s sin was. Nor am I clear what he means when he says that merit lives from man to man and not from man to God. I hope others have formed some view of these stanzas which they will be willing to share.


message 4: by Catherine (new)

Catherine (catjackson) Everyman wrote: "Prologue: The prologue (a title added by editors; Tennyson left it untitled) is dated 1849, which means that it was written after most of all of the rest of the sections had been written and presum..."

I'm glad to be reading this poem with everyone.

After a quick reading of the Prologue, it seems to me that the sin Tennyson is thinking of is the sin of not trusting in God's grace. He writes of God's creative powers and that God created mankind, but that mankind is forever "foolish" in forgetting this. We thus forget that God has the power of not only creation but death. The only thing we have is trust in our faith in God; "We have but faith: we cannot know; For knowledge is of things we see; And yet we trust it comes from thee, A beam in darkness: let it grow." At this moment Tennyson is in his greatest moment of darkness, his grief, and his sin is in not trusting in God, not having the faith he feels he should have in God.

I may be way off track here, but the mood "feels" like the mood that surrounds a lot of the grief my ex-parishioners would talk when they would lose a loved one. They too were looking for that "beam in darkness" and a new trust/faith or a renewal of faith/trust.


message 5: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Catherine wrote: "I may be way off track here, but the mood "feels" like the mood that surrounds a lot of the grief my ex-parishioners would talk when they would lose a loved one. They too were looking for that "beam in darkness" and a new trust/faith or a renewal of faith/trust. "

I don't think you're off track at all; I think you're right on track. I think one of the reasons that InMem is so meaningful for people in grief is that he is talking so powerfully of exactly what they are feeling and going through.

Hasn't everyone who lost a loved one had friends exactly like those Tennyson describes in section VI? The friends who say "you'll get over it, it just takes time," or "it's a terrible loss, but think of the friends you still have," or "well, after all, death is a part of life, it's natural to feel the loss, but life will go on," or similar thoughts?

Maybe for some people those help, I don't know, but for Tennyson that makes it worse. He doesn't want to feel that his loss of Hallam is just an ordinary thing, something that everybody goes through. He wants to believe that his loss is unique, uniquely devastating, something beyond ordinary:

"That loss is common would not make
My own less bitter, rather more:"


Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 186 comments The prologue begins in an amazing way:

Strong Son of God ....

There is no way that can be said fast; one has to stop and think, and perhaps rest a moment in those strong arms. Somehow, sometime, it will all be worked out. The death of a friend, the metaphors of the men of science, the weakness of our flesh; all will be answered some day by One who is far stronger and wiser than we.

There is nothing weak or trite about Tennyson choosing to place these words at the beginning of the work he had labored on for so many years. He has spent his hours working through the mysteries and never completely solving them, but he knows there is an answer, and on that knowledge, finally, he rests.


message 7: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Laurele wrote: "The prologue begins in an amazing way:

Strong Son of God ....

There is no way that can be said fast; "



That's very true. The double s forces the pause, and gives power to both syllables. It also makes this line a deviation from the normal iambic (weak-strong, or da-dum) pattern. It was clearly chosen deliberately, since "strong son" isn't a common way of speaking of Christ.

And the deviation continues in the second half of that line; immortal is two strong syllables, so the line, instead of reading, as it normally would,
da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM,
reads
DUM DUM da DUM DUM DUM da DUM.

The other three lines in the stanza are all classic iambic. So it seems clear to me that he knew exactly what he was doing, and chose to start the poem out with a statement of power.

Nice point, Laurel.


Julia Bluff | 8 comments What I love about the prologue is that it's not really a prologue at all. It's a prologue in retrospect, written years after the fact—after he's already moved from grief to acceptance to understanding. They are the thoughts of a man looking back on a journey after he's already collected wisdom and experience, instead of a man who is looking ahead to a journey untraveled.

Everyman, you spoke of looking for standing themes throughout collection and I think one of the big ones is addressed in the prologue—that of the Victorian tension between faith and science. I love how you pointed out that "the melding of science and religion will make even vaster music than religion alone did before." I've read it before, so I know that Tennyson struggles throughout the series with what to make of science and the brute forces of nature, and I think that you are absolutely right about resolving the tension between science and religion. In the prologue, Tennyson doesn't construct them as warring opposites. They experience a sort of happy marriage in Tennyson's hands and "make one music as before / But vaster." I am such a fan of that last little addendum ("but vaster"), added after the stanza break to give it all the more emphasis.

Finally, I think there is just a hint of an invocation to the muses on the final stanza of the prologue. We know from content throughout InMem that Tennyson was interested in classical themes (he makes classical allusions all the time) and the prologue itself is a classical convention. Classical poets always started an epic with an invocation to the muses, so that the muses might guide the pen of the poet, make his inspiration true. Tennyson's is also an epic, in a more metaphysical, psychological, and spiritual sense; it's an epic of the mind and the soul. In the final lines of the prologue Tennyson writes, "Forgive these wild and wandering cries, / Confusions of a wasted youth; / Forgive them where they fail in truth, / And in thy wisdom make me wise." He's asking for something from a higher force, it's just that he replaced the pagan muses with a Christian God, something that Milton also did in Paradise Lost (though Milton invokes the Holy Spirit). But it feels to me like an invocation—a plea to lend the poet something of the divine, something that we, as readers, can also experience through the poetry.


message 9: by Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) (last edited Jun 02, 2012 05:35AM) (new) - added it

Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I am very thankful for all your comments as I never would have understood the meanings of the stanzas I have read. I think in stanza seven, that Tennyson is affirming something we all know that grief and loss is individual to each and every person. We do not know the time nor the place of death, yet it is always there following all and making its appearance when we sometimes least expect it.

How long after his friend's death did Tennyson write this? I believe experts say it is quite normal to feel sad eight months after the event and to come back to this grief again as the grieving process continues. Do you think Tennyson is experiencing or showing denial at all as it is the first stage of the grieving process?


message 10: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Julia wrote: "What I love about the prologue is that it's not really a prologue at all. It's a prologue in retrospect, written years after the fact—after he's already moved from grief to acceptance to understand..."

Excellent post! Yes, the prologue serves both as an introduction to the major theme of the poem and as a suggestion of where he has landed. And to what extent he had "collected wisdom and experience" and to what extent he was still working on those will be something for us to discuss as the poem progresses.

Everyman, you spoke of looking for standing themes throughout collection and I think one of the big ones is addressed in the prologue—that of the Victorian tension between faith and science.

Absolutely. Tennyson was very interested in science and the impact of scientific discoveries on the traditions and teachings of the Christian church. This, as you say, will come up over and over, even in places where, if we weren't aware of this major theme, we might not notice it.

Finally, I think there is just a hint of an invocation to the muses on the final stanza of the prologue.

I see what you mean. Although it's not a traditional epic invocation, it still does have some aspect of appeal to God in his role as muse of poets.


message 11: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Marialyce wrote: "How long after his friend's death did Tennyson write this?"

Unfortunately, as I read the background commentators on the poem, we don't have any record of when most of the sections were written. We know that he wrote them over the course of many years, because various friends wrote about seeing them, and one friend mentioned seeing more of them than he had before, so T was still working on them then, but we just don't have that information. A few we can date somewhat from internal evidence.

The Group beginning with Section IX was clearly written after it had been decided to send Hallam's body home by boat for burial. There are future sections that deal with his family's move to a house in London which must have been written after that time.

Section VI, starting "One writes that 'Other friends remain,'" sounds to me as though it might have been written shortly after news of the death reached England, when Tennyson was receiving consolation letters from his friends, but that's only a guess.

A few others have internal evidence that helps to date them, or at least to date the earliest they could have been written. And it's tempting to think that most of the most grieving sections were written early, and most of the more reconciliatory sections were written later. But for the most part, we don't know specifically when most of them were written. It would be nice if we did, but we don't.


message 12: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Laurel's post brought me back to the first line of the poem, and as I was thinking about it I realized some thing I should have seen long ago, but didn't.

The phrase "immortal love" seems particularly important for two reasons. (Well, three, the third being that he put it in the first line of the poem, so obviously he thought it was very important.)

But beyond that, while God is immortal and therefore God's love is immortal, Hallam and Tennyson were mortal. So in one sense their love was mortal, as contrasted with the immortal love of God.

But then, Tennyson seems to me to be suggesting at many points in the poem that even the love of mortals can be immortal. I'm getting a bit ahead of myself here, but I think the word immortal here (which he wrote after the poem was basically finished) looks forward to sections where he talks about the possibility of meeting Hallam in the afterlife, so that their love hasn't ended with his death, but is as immortal as the love of God.

(BTW, talking about Tennyson's love for Hallam inevitably raises the question of what the nature of this love was. This isn't the place to talk about that in any detail, but I'll make a post on the issue in the background thread. But basically, all reputable scholars I have come across of Tennyson's life and of the poem agree that this was not a homosexual relationship, but was filial and/or platonic love. )


Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 186 comments Julia mentioned Milton, and I see much of Paradise Lost in the prologue.

" . . . and lo, thy foot
Is on the skull which thou hast made."

That would be the foot of the Son bruising the head of the Serpent.

"Our wills are ours, we know not how;
Our wills are ours, to make them thine."

Thus Tennyson resolves the question of free will and predestination.

Throughout the prologue and the poem there is a desire to see justified the ways of God to man.


message 14: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments On Section 1, Tennyson is said to have commented that "him who sings in diverse tones" is a reference to Goethe, who followed the Augustinian view that man could self-annihilate himself over and over to rise on steps up to a higher self.

But Tennyson seems to me to say wait, who can look ahead to see whether if I give up my grief at the loss of Hallam, I will find something else of value "a gain" to replace it? Who can tell whether one can reach ahead to find the value of the interest received from his tears (I take him to mean interest in the sense of interest on a loan, that is an increase in value from the tears).

If you give up grief, I think he suggests, you also have to give up love. But he wants to keep both, because it is only by keeping both that both keep alive. Lose one, and you lose both.

In "to dance with death, to beat the ground" one commentator noted that it was traditional in pagan funerals (as Laural noted in an earlier post, Tennyson was well schooled in the classics) to dance and beat the ground with your feet, and Bradley suggests the Dance of Death, though I'm not aware of that allusion.

But better, I think T says, to hold on to grief than to the "the victor Hours" boast that he loved and lost, I have defeated his love.

The circularity of the poem was a significant theme in the BBC discussion I gave the cite to earlier, and here's a good example. The "loved and lost" phrase refers forward to Section LXXXV where we come across the much more famous use of this phrase:

This truth came borne with bier and pall,
I felt it, when I sorrow'd most,
'Tis better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all

That's part of what I take from this section, though I know there's a lot more there, some of which I think I get, much of which I'm sure I don't yet, but others I hope do and can add to this.


message 15: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments I am particularly fond of the image of the old yew in the churchyard in section II (it brings right into my mind the wonderful poem of Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,
http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Poe...
where he writes
"Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,..."
(and see photo link at the end).

Tennyson's yew grasping at the headstones, wrapping its fibers and roots about the heads and bodies of the dead. There's some thing both creepy and reassuring about that; even as the yew invades the coffin it also protects and embraces the dead. It almost embodies and personifies the dead.

Time passes (the seasons bring...) and the church clock beats out the little lives of men -- an image to me again a bit sad but also a bit reassuring, the steady ticking of the clock both moves inexorably on but also reassures us that as long as we can hear it we live, unlike those dead whose bones are embraced by the yew.

There is an eternality to the long-lived yew which is green all year and so has no springtime bloom, but which is also a bit gloomy.

The "for" in the last stanza Gatty takes to mean "with desire for" as in "sick for home." This made an image which I had been puzzling over much clearer. Incorporate I take T to mean in the sense of joining together, so that Tennyson becomes one with the yew, though I'm not quite sure what he means by this. Is he envious of the yew's stolid and emotionless interaction with the dead? Is he wanting to share the physical feeling of embracing the dead and becoming incorporate with them? I'm not sure here. Other ideas?

This section seems to me to suggest a desire to move from the overwhelming grief of Section I to much deeper and almost quiet unity with death. It's almost scary to me -- should anybody seek to be this eternally close to and with death?

I couldn't get this image to show directly in Goodreads, but here's a wonderful photo of a 1,600 year old elm in a churchyard.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/shootnho...


Silver I loved the stanza:

Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drown 'd
Let darkness keep her raven gloss.
Ah, sweeter to be drunk with loss,
To dance with Death, to beat the ground.


The last line brought to my mind, how certain cultures were much more outward, and passionate about their grieving. They would tear at the hair and clothing, beat themselves, wail out loud. And really physically express the agony of their suffering. While it seems in the Christian culture funeral rights have become more reserved. There grew a greater tendency for people to feel like they have to try and conceal their feelings, it is more "dignified" and less "primal" in which people seem embarrassed by their own grief, or others are embarrassed to be around those who are grieving.


message 17: by Silver (last edited Jun 02, 2012 01:30PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Silver Everyman wrote: "I am particularly fond of the image of the old yew in the churchyard in section II (it brings right into my mind the wonderful poem of Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,
http://www.blupe..."


The description of Yew tree with its roots ensnared among the dead brings to my mind the "Tree of Life" of Norse mythology.

I was particularly struck by the line:

"Beats out the little lives of men"

To me in coveys the idea of how petty and "small" life and man is, in comparison to the eternity of death, how meaningless it all seems. Also I see Tennyson as being like the tree, unchanging while this process of rejuvenation and rebirth of spring is going on around him. Lost within the depths of his own grief I see him looking upon the world detached, while the world continues on, and other go about their lives, it does not touch him. I see him as viewing the world with that same cold, emotional detachment as the tree itself would. He himself is entangled with death, untouched by life.


Loved the picture. I myself have a foundess for cemeteries.


message 18: by SarahC (new) - added it

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1418 comments I think my comment ties into these last messages of #15-17 - that of Everyman and Silver.

I also paused for a long time over the "Old Yew." Thy roots are wrapt about the bones. My thoughts: life and death are wrapped together -- as are life motions and eternal emotions (back to your mortal or immortal love, Everyman). And as Silver says, some cultures accept the outward show of this more readily than others. I don't know though that the Yew wrapping its roots around the dead would easily represent detachment, Silver. It seemed it would be the opposite in my thinking.

However, the ancient association of the Yew tree you mentioned -- would this not play into the meaning of this poetry? The yew, holly, arbor vitae, and other of the ancient trees symbolizing rest, the passage of death, and also rebirth -- do these ancient thinkings play into T's thinking here?

Everyman -- the reason I thought examining this poem would be so interesting -- I have been fascinated by the idea of it since I first heard of it. Tennyson's intense grief of the loss of this friend -- one of the most important of his life. Was it accepted to display the grief over a man like this? I know in the 20th century U.S. society developed such phobias and (I think) odd aversion to men displaying their emotion and affection. We have really restricted men in their expression today. But what about in 1850 England?

I have in lost 4 greatly important, loving, influential people in my own life. I know that life and death do intertwine and the emotions of those two things also intertwine. "Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drown'd.." does that have an even deeper meaning?


message 19: by Silver (last edited Jun 03, 2012 01:58PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Silver SarahC wrote: "I don't know though that the Yew wrapping its roots around the dead would easily represent detachment, Silver. It seemed it would be the opposite in my thinking.

I was thinking of detachment from life the "living world" as it seems to me he is wrapped up in the world of the dead. The Yew tree remains untouched by the world of the living, for it remains the same, it has no spring blossoms, it is untouched by the change of the seasons, and is ensnared with the dead. In the way Tennyson seems detached from the moving world around him. He has not yet moved on from his grief, for him life has not yet just got on with his life as they say. He is still in the world of the dead, clinging to his grief.

SarahC wrote: However, the ancient association of the Yew tree you mentioned -- would this not play into the meaning of this poetry? The yew, holly, arbor vitae, and other of the ancient trees symbolizing rest, the passage of death, and also rebirth -- do these ancient thinkings play into T's thinking here?."

I was uncertain, just how much Tennyson himself might have been intending to draw upon the ancient symbolism relating to the imagery of the Tree. While in some regards it does seem to fit. A the "Tree of Life" resides both in the world of the dead and the world of the living, as well as the cosmos or heavens. Thus it could be touching upon all points, the death itself, and Tennyson whois left in the living world still, and the prospects of where the spirit of the dead may have gone.


message 20: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Back to the prologue, I had a few minutes with Bradley yesterday, and found his reference to another poem of Tennyson that expands on the idea at the start of the Prologue. It's an excerpt from The Ancient Sage:

Thou canst not prove the Nameless, O my son,
Nor canst thou prove the world thou movest in,
Thou canst not prove that thou art body alone,
Nor canst thou prove that thou art spirit alone,
Nor canst thou prove that thou art both in one:
Thou canst not prove thou art immortal, no
Nor yet that thou art mortal—nay my son,
Thou canst not prove that I, who speak with thee,
Am not thyself in converse with thyself,
For nothing worthy proving can be proven,
Nor yet disproven: wherefore thou be wise,
Cleave ever to the sunnier side of doubt,
And cling to Faith beyond the forms of Faith.

I haven't found the full poem online, but I didn't look very hard. But here's part of it in which the section I quoted appears:
http://www.bartleby.com/236/98.html


message 21: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments If you don't have any notes to the poem, you may not have picked up that Section VII,

Dark house, by which once more I stand
Here in the long unlovely street,


refers to his going by Hallam's house, where he had been used to visiting Hallam and his family.

Whereas in some of the other early sections I get a sense of anger at life, in this section (and in the following section VIII) I get a sense just of the deepest depression, as though standing at the door where he had so often been admitted but would never be admitted to see Hallam again, and in VIII visiting places where they went together but would no more, were too heavy a feeling for mere anger, but went deeper than anger can go.


Silver Everyman wrote: "If you don't have any notes to the poem, you may not have picked up that Section VII,

Dark house, by which once more I stand
Here in the long unlovely street,

refers to his going by Hallam's hous..."


It is interesting seeing the different stages of grief which Tennyson goes through during the course of this poem.

In Section XI he speaks of having moved into a calmer stage of grief:

Calm is the morn without a sound,
Calm as to suit a calmer grief,
And only thro' the faded leaf
The chestnut pattering to the ground:


Calm and deep peace on this high world,
And on these dews that drench the furze,
And all the silvery gossamers
That twinkle into green and gold:


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:


Calm and deep peace in this wide air,
These leaves that redden to the fall;
And in my heart, if calm at all,
If any calm, a calm despair:


Calm on the seas, and silver sleep,
And waves that sway themselves in rest,
And dead calm in that noble breast
Which heaves but with the heaving deep.


I think this is reflective of the way in which he has moved into something deeper and have sunken into a more despairing stage. The early anger, in which the grief appeared more "aggressive" has seemed to pass on now into something else. Though it also makes one thing if it is like the clam of the storm, and if not more violent feelings will come to resurge.

I am also curious about what greater symbolism might be intended in the allusion to the sea imagery presented here. Much like death the sea also represents something which appears eternal, and it also contains great dark, unknown depths, the unexplored, and mysterious, the unknowable.


message 23: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Throughout the poem there are from time to time some sections which work together as a group. The first such group I find is sections IX through XVII, the poems concerning the ship carrying Hallam's body from Venice to England for burial. It's perhaps interesting to note that all these sections contain five stanzas; this can hardly, I think, be accidental.

The whole group seems to me to be quieter, more tranquil than what has gone before. Not that the grief is any less, not that at all, but he uses words like
"placid ocean-plains,"
"waft him o'er,"
"Sleep, gentle heavens, before the prow;
Sleep, gentle winds, as he sleeps now,"
In XI, ever stanza starting with "calm"
It's not until XV that the winds start to rise and the calm is replaced with wild unrest, but in the next stanza he draws the calmness of XI and the wild unrest of XV together, asking
"What words are these have falle'n from me?
Can calm despair and wild unrest
Be tenants of a single breast,
Or sorrow such a changeling be?"
And then, in the last of this group, he seems to thank the "sacred bark" for bringing Hallam back:
"So kind an office hath been done,
Such precious relics brought by thee;
The dust of him I shall not see"
and he ends the section with the same phrase as in the first section in the group,
"Till all my widow'd race be run;"

A few specific passages within this group that I found interesting:

In IX, we see Tennyson in quick succession going through a sequence of major inter-human relationships as though no single one would be sufficient to describe their relationship.

Sleep, gentle winds, as he sleeps now,
My friend, the brother of my love;


My Arthur, whom I shall not see
Till all my widow'd race be run;
Dear as the mother to the son,
More than my brothers are to me.


So he is a friend, a brother, but more than his own brothers (therefore, I take it, the idealized idea of brother, what a brother should be, but his never were), a widow, a mother, as though no ordinary relationship could describe what theirs meant to him.

In X, within this group, I really like the thought

"O to us,
The fools of habit, sweeter seems


To rest beneath the clover sod,
That takes the sunshine and the rains,
Or where the kneeling hamlet drains
The chalice of the grapes of God;


Than if with thee the roaring wells
Should gulf him fathom-deep in brine;
And hands so often clasp'd in mine,
Should toss with tangle and with shells. "

The contrast is a bit broken and maybe not seen on first reading (I know I didn't), but the pertinent thought is, I think:

It's better to rest beneath the clover sod than to drown in the sea with the hands that I clasped so often tangled in seaweed and sea shells.

In XII, the image calls to my mind, at least, the image of the dove leaving Noah's ark to find the waters still covering the earth.

I find a particular melancholy in XIV where he imagines the boat landing and a living Hallam coming ashore and his telling Hallam how he had dreamed of his death and marvel that he would have had such an idea.

But isn't this a fairly common part of grief, denial of the death and somewhere in the back of the mind the hope that it was all a dream and the loved one will come back alive and well. And this would seem quite natural, not strange.


Wyntrnoire | 13 comments After reading all of the comments here, I want to say that I enjoyed all of them and have learned so much--acquired bushels of food for thought. I would have very unlikely read this poem on my own and I realize that it is one of importance; reading and understanding it can only add to the further appreciation of literature in general. (I am reading through Virginia Woolf and she had read reams of poetry.) One of the interesting things I found out about "tackling" long poetry is that, for me, some serious prep work is vital. Besides the research/reading on my own, all of the information shared here has been of immense help. For me, section V in InMem really stood out because it not only expresses the dilemma of the poet in putting his real grief into "mere" words--but the reluctance, perhaps, to share those words, the voice of the soul, with readers.


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Everyman | 2507 comments Wyntrnoire wrote: "For me, section V in InMem really stood out because it not only expresses the dilemma of the poet in putting his real grief into "mere" words--but the reluctance, perhaps, to share those words, the voice of the soul, with readers. "

I agree, it's a very interesting section. And the same issue will, I think, come up again as we work deeper into the poem.


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SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1418 comments I am actually only through 22 at this point, so wanted to make a few more comments in this discussion thread.

I find T's poetry here reflective of what seems usual in the grief process really. There is so much here that I relate to -- that makes sense to me -- and so beautifully put.

In 6:
That loss is common would not make
My own less bitter, rather more:
Too common! Never morning wore
To evening, but some heart did break.


How very true, especially in the 19th century, with so much illness and inability to treat common conditions and infections. Loss was truly a part of life on a daily level -- and T sees that as no consolation as people try to console him with that fact.


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Catherine (catjackson) SarahC wrote: "I am actually only through 22 at this point, so wanted to make a few more comments in this discussion thread.

I find T's poetry here reflective of what seems usual in the grief process really. The..."


Tennyson does express the grief process so beautifully. What I've really connected with is the circularity in his processing; for me grief is not a linear process. One day there may be anger then the next, acceptance, then back to anger, then on to weeping then back to acceptance. That's one reason I will keep coming back to this poem now that I've been introduced to it. And now I'm on to vacation and I will miss the rest of this discussion. I'm sorry because I've enjoyed it so far. I'll catch up when I return. Have fun.


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SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1418 comments Yes, Catherine, please join us when you return if possible.

Everyman, you mentioned in message #23, examining the poem in connected sections. The way it struck me last night, 7-14 work together very progressively. As Catherine said, his concepts may circle back around in later parts of the poem, but I have not read it yet.

In 7-14, each stanza almost seems the revealing of another natural step of loss -- or the after effects of loss.

In 7: one of the saddest events, returning to the place the loved one lived -- the house in a way is the embodiment of that person or the absence of the person's spirit -- so silent and empty

In 8: speaking of the flower, "I go to plant it on his tomb, That if it can it there may bloom..." Wondering if there is a chance of afterlife, happiness, new emotions beyond grief, resolution even?

In 9: trying to accept that Hallam has died outside of Tennyson's sight in Italy. So difficult when you have not been with a loved one before or at their passing.

In 11: experiencing the state of calm despair

In 12: dealing with the pain in such a way that it becomes daydream or reverie "...and learn that I have been an hour away."

In 13: The missing of the actual physical being of the loved one. "And where warm hands have pressed and closed..." and "The human-hearted man I loved, a Spirit, not a breathing voice."

In 14: Still not reconciled with the fact of the death - it is still too strange, so much that if he saw Hallam alive "No hint of death in all his frame...I should not feel it to be strange."

I know it was said that In Memoriam gave a specific tool to an already melancholy man, but I don't think that is a fair assessment. I don't know much of the writing of Tennyson -- only Idylls of the King, which I think are stunning. But I see this poem so far as very specific to a personal grief, a specific loss of an individual -- not a generalized thing of his "woes" at all. I see authenticity here.


Silver SarahC wrote: I know it was said that In Memoriam gave a specific tool to an already melancholy man, but I don't think that is a fair assessment...."

I think there could perhaps be some validity to both assessments. While I do believe that In Memoriam is a reflection of genuine grief for the loss of his friend, at the same time I have read much of Tennyson and it is true that he is a rather melancholy poet and so I do not think it is out of the realm of possibility that while on the one hand he is writing this as a reflection of his genuine grief over the loss of his friend and expressing genuine feelings, but on the other hand, during the process of wiring the poem, he may be drawing from other thoughts, dead, feelings he has and so he may in part being using it as a vehicle for his general feelings at least to some degree.


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SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1418 comments I see what you mean. I know that his general melancholy nature may have lent itself to the creation of IM, however, I was just saying I do not read it as such specifically -- in my own assessment so far.

Silver, or others in the discussion, did Tennyson write any similar poetry, or others on the theme of death not associated with as personal a subject as Hallam. I would be interested to read comparison poems, but don't know where to begin.


Silver SarahC wrote: "Silver, or others in the discussion, did Tennyson write any similar poetry, or others on the theme of death not associated with as personal a subject as Hallam. I would be interested to read comparison poems, but don't know where to begin.
.."


What comes first to my mind is Edgar Allan Poe's "The Conqueror Worm" I will have to see if I can refresh my memory on any others.

While Tennyson has written many poems which have death as a subject, I cannot think of any that I am familiar with that revolve around death in quite the same way as In Memoriam does. The poem Ulysses came to mind which is about the last journey of Ulysses.


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SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1418 comments Thanks Silver, I was originally meaning poems of Tennyson only, but looking at poems of others would be interesting. Yes, just mention them later if you think of any others. I will look in my book for Ulysses.


Silver SarahC wrote: "Thanks Silver, I was originally meaning poems of Tennyson only, but looking at poems of others would be interesting. Yes, just mention them later if you think of any others. I will look in my book..."

Oh, when you first said "did Tennyson write any similar poetry, or others on the theme of death"

When you said or others I thought you meant other poets.


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SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1418 comments No problem, Silver, thanks for the suggested Poe.


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Everyman | 2507 comments Catherine wrote: "What I've really connected with is the circularity in his processing; for me grief is not a linear process. One day there may be anger then the next, acceptance, then back to anger, then on to weeping then back to acceptance.

I agree completely. Grief is a very complex process, and therefore demands a very complex poem, which Tennyson has given us superbly.

And now I'm on to vacation and I will miss the rest of this discussion. I'm sorry because I've enjoyed it so far. I'll catch up when I return. Have fun.

The discussion will still be here! And I suspect that I, at least, will still be reading and re-reading it for a long time to come, as others might, so we can keep the discussion open and active as long as we want to.


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Everyman | 2507 comments I spent the last two days on some medical stuff, but I'm back (for 10 days at least). Had time while I was at it to look carefully at the poems in this part that I hadn't gotten to talk about yet, so though it's a bit late, here are a few comments that may be of interest.

In X.9, I puzzle for a time over the "so," but I think it means not "so" as in "so, what do you think," but rather "thus," as in "bring him thus," just in an unusual word order for that thought.

XIX was, I have read, composed in Tintern Abbey. The Danube to the Severn is because he died in Vienna on the Danube river, and is was buried in Clevedon, which is on the Severn river. The river Wye, I gather, runs into the Severn, which is a tidal river. When the tide comes in, the flow of the Severn is halted where the Wye meets it, so the normal babbling of the Wye is stilled; when the tide goes out the Wye runs again. This happens twice a day as the tide comes in and goes out. I take Tennyson to be saying that his own mind flows back and forth, sometimes as the tide of his grief comes in he is so filled with grief that he cannot even speak it, as the Wye cannot speak when the tied has rushed in; then when his grief ebbs he is able at least to speak a little of it, as the Wye is able to babble again when the tied goes out. It's really a quite lovely image, isn't it? And another instance where he refers to the ability to put his grief into words, a concern first mentioned in Section V and continuing in subsequent sections.

XX seems to me to continue the thought of XIX that grief ebbs and flows.

XXI, I think, returns to the issue of the ability to express, or not express, his grief in poetry (here in singing, which is just poetry set to music, here the pipe). He here takes on the pastoral imagery of traditional elegies, and imagines how various listeners are responding to his song of grief, some thinking he should be left alone to sing as he needs to, others thinking he is going overboard. I love the lines:
"I do but sing because I must,
And pipe but as the linnets sing:
And one is glad; her note is gay,
For now her little ones have ranged*;
And one sad, her note is changed,
Because her brood is stol'n away."

* ranged is, I believe, poetic shorthand for arranged, that is, are there with her


XXII: Bradley says that this begins a group which is retrospective of the times he and Hallam spent together. The years from flower to flower, snow to snow would represent from spring to spring, from autumn to autumn, four years ebbing and flowing. But the fifth autumn, the Shadow (Death, I take it) is sitting there and breaking the fair companionship.

In XXIII he continues to talk about their former years together, and now how changed it all is. (A note from Tennyson explains that the phrase "Who keeps the keys of all the creeds" refers to the idea that "After death we shall learn the truth of all beliefs.")

In XXIV, I see him admitting to himself that perhaps things weren't as perfect in real life as he now imagines them; that there can be no perfection on Earth since the fall of Eden, but "the haze of grief" makes the "former gladness" seem even greater than perhaps it was. I find this one of the more moving and at the same time more philosophical of the poems.

XXV is still continuing the retrospective look at the past, and noting that Love makes any burden light, any pain halved. What a delightful short (only 3 stanzas) thought.


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Everyman | 2507 comments I wanted to give Section XXVII its own post, both because it contains two of the best known lines of the poem, but also because of the tremendous question it raises. Is it really better to suffer the tremendous grief he is suffering at the loss of a loved one than to go through life never having to suffer that grief because one has never experienced that great a love? When I was much younger, I remember reading a thought which has stuck with me ever since: "Your joy is only as deep as your sorrow." I take it that this is the thought Tennyson is expressing, and that he is saying that the deepest depths of sorrow are worth accepting to have scaled the highest heights of joy.

He does not envy those who never suffer great grief because they have never suffered great love. Despite the almost debilitating effects of grief (there was a period when he wished just to die himself), he believes that his way is better than theirs.

He may be right for himself, but is he right for you?


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Everyman | 2507 comments By the way, I had mentioned Bradley's A Commentary on Tennyson's In Memoriam. I had it on my Nook (a free download from Barnes and Noble) and went to it frequently as I re-re-reread these sections. I haven't read it all, because for me a too heavy dependence on a secondary source reduces the benefit I get from working through challenging sections on my own, but at times it is very valuable to get background information or a perspective from the point of view of somebody who has spent far more time and effort with the poem that I ever could. But I do recommend that if you're interested you bring it up on your Nook or your computer (link below) and, if you get into a quandary over a passage, check out Bradley's comments on it. The first third or so of the book is general discussion, but then he goes through the poem section by section with background information and interpretative comments.

One link to it (there may be others online) is:
http://www.archive.org/stream/comment...


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SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1418 comments Everyman, thank you for putting up the suggestion to read Bradley's Commentary. I received a Nook for my birthday, I have now downloaded the Commentary, and have really been enjoying the section The Origins of In Memoriam. This section is really an asset, even if a reader doesn't want to follow Bradley's commentary all the way through. The Origins section so far seems great for a person who asks who, apart from the beautiful poem written to him, was Arthur Henry Hallam? Very nice.


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SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1418 comments Everyman, your messages 36 and 37:

I liked your discussion of stanza 19, and again find this element of grief so well described by T. Not knowing the geography, I would have not understood that, but now think it is beautiful.

I am really struck by "When fill'd with tears that cannot fall."

In 23:
"I wander, often falling lame" -- do you think T is speaking of his spiritual failings? or failing of his own faith sometimes?

Also, I don't understand
"Moved in the chambers of the blood" Any ideas?

In 25: I don't think I knew this was where the famous line originates. This is a lovely stanza. (These are called stanza's right? Please correct me.)

And I do think it is good to reflect on his meaning. It is an eternal question -- and one I HOPE people still ask themselves. And it is relevant in all parts of life -- isn't it better to retain something beautiful and fulfilling for a little while (these poor men and their four-year friendship for example) than to have never had the connection. I think all things build the value of our lives, even if we can't have them all our lives.


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SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1418 comments I do wish my Oxford World Classics edition of Tennyson's major works could have afforded even more commentary of this poem, but I am seeing it has lot of good stuff in the back of the collection, like Letter and Journal Entries and Excerpts from Hallam Tennyson's (the son's) Memoir. I am quickly getting sucked into these while I should be reading the poem!


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SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1418 comments I am correcting myself -- the numbered sections are called cantos, I now believe. Hopefully, I am learning.


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Everyman | 2507 comments SarahC wrote: "In 23:
Also, I don't understand
"Moved in the chambers of the blood" Any ideas?"


Just my own interpretation, I took that to mean moved in the heart, which has chambers which move the blood.

He starts 23 shut in his own sorrow, seeing death, and saying how different this is from the time when Hallam was alive and "all the lavish hills would hum / The murmur of a happy Pan:"

and is still, I think, talking of that time when he says

And all we met was fair and good,
And all was good that Time could bring,
And all the secret of the Spring
Moved in the chambers of the blood;

so I think he's talking about the sap of spring running through his blood. Or something along those lines, anyhow. I don't think I have it by any means exact, but I think I'm in the general vicinity.


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Everyman | 2507 comments SarahC wrote: "I am correcting myself -- the numbered sections are called cantos, I now believe. Hopefully, I am learning."

Actually, Tennyson called the numbered sections Sections. And yes, each four line grouping within the section is a stanza. The term Canto would probably work, though; that's what's generally used for Dante's Divine Comedy.


Becky | 170 comments I'm sorry to be coming into this so late and missing some of the discussion.

I have to say, I'd read Tennyson before, but never InMem and I was struck slack jawed by this first sections beauty.

I was about to section 15 when I realized that the first section alone could be used to prove the 5 stages of grief. Tennyson very obviously goes through Denial, Anger (and the guilt at feeling that anger), Depression, he touches on Bargaining I feel momentarily in 18, and then on to Acceptance. I have no doubt as we continue into the poem that we will see him waffle between these strong emotions again.

I think that is what struck me the most. Even though I struggled with some of the stanzas to sort out their meanings, the words were heavy with human experience. I felt their weight on my tongue.

I'd like to briefly talk about
And many an old philosophy
On Argive heights divinely sang,
And round us all the thicket rang
To many a flute of Arcady.


Et in Arcadia Ego, or "I too in Arcadia (am)" was a Latin phrase written on objects symbolic of death in two of Poussin's paintings (1600's), also Guercino did one. There has been a LOT of debate in the art-historical circle about Poussin's paintings. (Please see the picture of Arcadian Shepherds). In both paintings the phrase is inscribed on a sepulcher, with shadows surrounding it, obviously a symbol of death; however, in both paintings a beautiful maiden peers at the inscription also. The question generally boils down to: is death in all things even the beautiful, or is there always something beautiful in death? Or both?

I really feel that Tennyson is harkening specifically to these paintings with the provided stanza. I feel that he is asking himself the same question. Was death always lurking in the beauty of the friendship? And, can he find beauty in his friend’s death? Does death destroy beauty, or is there more to be born from it."


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Everyman | 2507 comments Becky wrote: "Et in Arcadia Ego, or "I too in Arcadia (am)" was a Latin phrase written on objects symbolic of death in two of Poussin's paintings (1600's), also Guercino did one. There has been a LOT of debate in the art-historical circle about Poussin's paintings. (Please see the picture of Arcadian Shepherds). In both paintings the phrase is inscribed on a sepulcher, with shadows surrounding it, obviously a symbol of death; however, in both paintings a beautiful maiden peers at the inscription also. The question generally boils down to: is death in all things even the beautiful, or is there always something beautiful in death? Or both?

I really feel that Tennyson is harkening specifically to these paintings with the provided stanza."


Very interesting! I wasn't aware of this phrase used in death-related paintings. Thanks for pointing this out!

Yes, I agree that Tennyson is painting (and will continue to paint as the poem proceeds) almost a modern textbook on the process of grief.


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