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Archived Group Reads 2012 > In Memoriam Part 2 - XXVIII-LXXVII (28-77) - to the second Christmas

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments I'm posting this part a bit early because I have to be off tomorrow early for a medical appointment (which, since I have to go off island for it, will basically take all day). So since I won't be able to be around tomorrow, please start the discussion without me.


message 2: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Sorry I've been silent for a few days. Dealing with some medical issues. But don't feel you need to wait for me to get the discussion rolling!

Tennyson said that he divided In Memorial loosely by the three Christmas poems, which is how we have divided it for this reading. And there seems to be a significant shift in his approach starting in this part.

Whereas in the first part he focuses on his personal grief, on Hallam's body's trip and arrival, and on some memories of his time with Hallam, and on Hallam's grave, at the beginning of this second part (after the Christmas focused poems) he starts to focus more on the afterlife and on whether/how Hallam and he will meet up after his death.

He seems to start this train of thought in XXXI and XXXII with Lazarus being raised from the dead -- that there is life after death, with Lazarus the physical resurrection representing the spiritual resurrection to come.

The key turn, for me, comes in XXXIII, where he starts talking about the different manners of faith; that (lines 1-4) the brother may have struggled mightily with creeds and belief and thinks to have reached a purer air of belief not tied to form -- that is, to established creeds and forms, but he should also respect the faith of his sister whose faith in a more structured religion is "as pure as thine." (It may be relevant to remember that Tennyson's father was a minister, but that he and Hallam debated religion quite seriously during their time together.)

His view strengthens in XXXIV where he posits quite specifically that a belief in immortality is essential, or what's the point of life? If there is no immortality, what's the point of God? What's the point of living? Might as well just "drop head-foremost in the jaws of vacant darkness and ... cease."

And here I see him debating within himself, which I think is part of why Eliot calls the poem not one of faith but one of doubt. What if someone speaking from the grave (the narrow house) says that man dies, there is no hope in dust, still he would argue with that, that Love would answer that if we really believed that this animal life were all we faced, who would bother to love?

I'm fascinated to be watching this great mind --for indeed this is a great mind -- working through the issue of whether there is life beyond the grave, and whether he will see Hallam again in the afterlife.


message 3: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments A personal note: I understand that there is an enormous amount of meat in this poem to digest in the short time we have to spend together with it. I have already promised myself that when we have finished this month's reading I will go back and read very slowly through the poem again, at the rate of one or at most two sections a day, hoping in that pace to appreciate more of the depth and power of Tennyson's thinking. But for the time being, I am feeling the pressure of our limited time to read more quickly, even though I know I am missing a great deal of the depth of the poem.

Well, so be it. It is certainly better to have read and only partially understood than not have read at all!


message 4: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments I am finding Section XL a powerful continuation of Tennyson's reflections on the afterlife. It's an extraordinary image. Let's lay aside our own situation and consider that of a maiden on her wedding day (orange blossoms were traditionally worn by brides). She leaves her home to go with her new husband, with both hope and some regret. But she goes to new tasks, new duties. And so, you have gone on to a new life with "great offices." But there is a difference. The bride can return to her home to cheer her old fireside and tell her family about her married life and share her baby with them. But unlike the bride, you can't return to the home you have left, and while the bride and her family can be together even after she has left them for a new life, you can't return to tell me of your great offices until "growing winters lay me low."

For the present, my life is here, and yours is there in the undiscovered lands (Hamlet's undiscovered country).

But there seems a surety here that eventually he and Hallam will be rejoined as the bride can rejoin her family. It seems to me that, at least here, any doubt he had in immortality is resolved.


message 5: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Everyman, I have been only sporadically reading this week. We had some unexpected company -- it will just be one of those on-and-off weeks for me -- as is much of the summer I think. I am still reading through your comments from 1st comment thread, but I am still with you. Maybe I will get caught up tomorrow. :)


message 6: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments SarahC wrote: "Everyman, I have been only sporadically reading this week. We had some unexpected company -- it will just be one of those on-and-off weeks for me -- as is much of the summer I think. I am still rea..."

Whenever you can get to it. I do understand about other priorities -- my health situation (not serious, I think, but time consuming and limiting for the time being) is doing the same for me. And I have noticed a significant drop-off in postings in all the groups I participate in over the past two weeks or so. Summer seems to have arrived, and the outdoors calls one out of the reading chair!


message 7: by Wyntrnoire (new)

Wyntrnoire | 13 comments I hope to catch up on my reading today. Medical issues here too, however it is the cat and deciding on the best treatment. I appreciate your comment;
"Well, so be it. It is certainly better to have read and only partially understood than not have read at all!"


message 8: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments It is not surprising that a poem about death would concern itself with the issue of immortality, but Tennyson seems quite uncertain about how to deal with the concept.

As I noted above, in poem XXXIV offers the view that we need to believe in immortality or what's the point of life, but even before that he assumes the existence, as Christians do, of immortality, and further, that there is no wait for the Rapture and resurrection of believers, but that souls somehow immediately become active -- for instance, in XXX he talks about "one mute Shadow watching all," by which he meant not death but Hallam.

Immortality seems to be a basic human belief; almost all cultures I'm aware of have had a belief in immortality, from the Native Americans belief in the Happy Hunting Ground to the Greek belief in Hades and the Elysian Fields to Buddhist belief in reincarnation to the Confucian worship of ancestors, and on and on. Judaism is a bit of a question mark for me; I've seen it argued both ways, that originally Judaism did and didn't have a belief in immortality, but as Ivan argues in Brothers Karamazov, without immortality where's the incentive to live a morally good life?

But Tennyson doesn't seem to be satisfied with the basic Christian teaching about Heaven and Hell; he seems to need to go beyond that to find a rational basis for believing in immortality and that he will meet Hallam again in the afterlife.


message 9: by Wyntrnoire (new)

Wyntrnoire | 13 comments This section was much tougher reading but worth the effort to do so once through without notes. I did read Bradley's notes afterward to understand Tennyson's train of thought(s). I was happily surprised to find I was pretty much correct in my best guesses. Everyman, your explanation of the "bride" image really helped and I find it a very powerful image. Also, the issues of immortality/the way of the soul/etc. are very much alive (no pun intended) today. To share the poet's struggle, not only with his questions/belief and his grief, but with his art as well (he has only words to convey this), is worth every effort.


message 10: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Wyntrnoire wrote: "This section was much tougher reading but worth the effort to do so once through without notes. I did read Bradley's notes afterward to understand Tennyson's train of thought(s)."

I also found that the best way to do it. Or, maybe it's not right to say I found it; I read the poem through once before I discovered the existence of Bradley, so I didn't have the option on first reading. Still, I realize that the original readers didn't have any keys or notes other than Tennyson's own comments. Though they probably had an education more like his own, so probably many of the references that are obscure to us were much less so to them.

Also, I do think that the Victorians were active readers of poetry generally than many modern readers are. (And many modern readers tend to read mostly modern poetry, and haven't learned to understand the conventions of Milton, Spenser, Arnold, and the many other pre-Victorian and Victorian poets.)


message 11: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments I am through section 70. I have been reading this discussion section pretty much on my own first too, but also referring to other sources somewhat. I haven't seen Bradley yet cover some of the answers to my questions though.

I did see in an essay today a reference to a letter from Tennyson to James Knowles that discussed other divisions of the poem that he set out. Are you familiar with those or you may have already mentioned and I missed it? The essayist (Hsiao) called these "miniature narratives." I am reading with those in mind, but some groupings are still difficult to understand, particularly 59-71, and within that, the individual section 62. I find this 59-71 a beautiful grouping, but difficult.

The Hsiao essay was interesting (well, so far -- not through it yet). It also refers to Tennyson's direction that the "I" of IM is not the author. The essayist interprets this as IM contradicting the individual or private loss or feeling and instead creating a sympathetic community.


message 12: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Has anyone thought about how Tennyson's wondering the extact state of Hallam in the afterlife -- to me this seems a very earthly consideration. This seems a thought I would have of a departed love one. Someone that close -- I would want to know how they would be in relation to me now that they have passed on. Maybe like I wonder how someone living distant on earth thinks of me now or associates me -- as compared to our past relationship.


message 13: by Wyntrnoire (new)

Wyntrnoire | 13 comments Exactly. And because the poet's mind is open to so many questions of faith and science, etc. the reader can freely question and explore along with him. I hadn't expected this approach in a Victorian poet. Of, course, I knew nothing of him except "popular pieces" before this discussion. I can't recall if this article came up before in the "background" info--but I stumbled upon it and thought it worth the read.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfr...


message 14: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments That looks interesting, Wynt. I will try to read it later today.


message 15: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments SarahC wrote: "I did see in an essay today a reference to a letter from Tennyson to James Knowles that discussed other divisions of the poem that he set out. Are you familiar with those or you may have already mentioned and I missed it?"

No, I'm not familiar with it. Have you located it on the Internet?

The Hsiao essay was interesting (well, so far -- not through it yet). It also refers to Tennyson's direction that the "I" of IM is not the author.

I think the "I" is a bit complicated. Tennyson wrote that sometimes the I doesn't always represent the author, which means that some (much?) of the time it does, but that sometimes it refers to humanity generally. Most of the time I've found it's pretty clear when the I is Tennyson himself (when, for example, he's talking about specific interactions with Hallam it's pretty clearly himself he's talking about), but I'm less clear at other times who the I is.


message 16: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments SarahC wrote: "Has anyone thought about how Tennyson's wondering the exact state of Hallam in the afterlife -- to me this seems a very earthly consideration. This seems a thought I would have of a departed love ..."

I think he was particularly affected by several things. One is that Hallam died so young, when they had plans to be together for much of the future (after all, Hallam was marrying into the family), so that it was a ripping apart of a relationship he clearly not only cherished but expected to cherish in the future. So it's perhaps not surprising that he wonders whether/how the relationship may emerge/continue after his own death.

Another aspect is that Hallam died so unexpectedly, there was no chance to say goodbye or even contemplate the idea of death. Those of us in our later years live with the reality of the presence of death, so that when a beloved friend or spouse dies, while it is painful, it is not totally unexpected, and we have probably contemplated to some extent or another the possibility/expectation of death (by, for example, writing one's will). But when you in your early 20s there is no expectation or thought that those you love of your own generation will die, so there is a much greater shock to the system when sudden death takes one who you were very close to when you hadn't even begun to consider that death might someday sever the relationship.


message 17: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Wyntrnoire wrote: "Exactly. And because the poet's mind is open to so many questions of faith and science, etc. the reader can freely question and explore along with him. I hadn't expected this approach in a Victorian poet."

It was a critical element of Victorian society, the great and unsettling challenge to faith which scientific discoveries were making. I think one of the great powers of the poem, as you note, is the thinking through of these issues, and I think that one reason the poem resonated so strongly with the Victorians is that it forced/helped them to work through their own thoughts on these issues.


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