Can you help me to analyze section 69 of the poem In Memoriam by Alfred, Lord Tennyson?
i dreamed there would be spring no more
that nature's ancient power was lost
the streets were black with smoke and frost
they chattered trifles at the door
i wandered from the noisy town
i found a wood with thorny boughs
i took the thorns to bind my brows
i wore them like a civic crown
i met with scoffs, i met with scorns
from youth and babe and hoary hairs
they called me in the public squares
the fool that wears a crown of thorns
they called me fool,they called me child
i found an angel of the night
the voice was low,the look was bright
he looked upon my crown+and smiled
he reached the glory of a hand
that seemed to touch it in to leaf
the voice was not the voice of+grief
the words were hard to understand.
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Alfred, Lord Tennyson's work, In Memorium, was an enormous success. It was written during the Victorian era, seen as a chaotic time of "scientific discovery and growing industrialization." Many writers of the time were resistant to the changes England was experiencing with the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution.
Tennyson was also deeply influenced by the death of his closest friend, Arthur Hallam, who died suddenly at the age of twenty-two. In Memoriam is generally considered to have four sections, divided by the several Christmases after Hallam's passing. The mood of the poem also changes, perhaps most accurately reflecting Tennyson's emotional stages. However, a very strong theme in his writing is Tennyson's consideration of faith in God, specifically in this section, a faith in life after death.
The mood progresses from despair, longing, doubt, and sorrow to hope, inner-peace, and faith.
Poetry is something that is very subjective, speaking to each reader in a different way, based upon that person's experiences, ideas, etc. This is my interpretation.
The first stanza speaks of a death of nature. This may well reflect Tennyson's despair over Hallum's death. The stanza reflects that spring will never come again, alluding to the constancy of winter in light of losing Hallum. The image of black streets with smoke and frost perpetuates this dark theme.
The speaker then leaves the city, in the second stanza, going into the country, making himself a "crown of thorns." This is a clear allusion to the passion of Christ, when a similar crown was crushed onto his brow, causing great pain: the reference here, I would assume, is to the narrator's suffering though he wears his crown like a "civic crown," something given in Rome to honor heroic deeds. So the narrator wears his crown with pride—and pain.
In the third stanza, the author says that he is ridiculed for wearing his crown by young people, babies and the elderly:
...from youth and babe and hoary hairs
The mood changes drastically in the fourth stanza where the suffering narrator, even as he is called "fool" and "child," encounters "an angel of the night" that does not scorn his crown. Here the poem is open to personal interpretation even more so, in trying to identify who the angel is. I assume that "night" used here refers to death. This angel may represent Hallum himself, with a "low voice" but a "bright look."
[As an interjection, the friendship between Hallum and Tennyson was a happy one:
An account was given...
...of Hallam and Tennyson at one meeting lying on the ground in order to laugh less painfully, when [a friend] imitated the sun going behind a cloud and coming out again.
Emily Tennyson found Hallam's "bright, angelic spirit and his gentle, chivalrous manner" charming.]
The angel, then, may well be Hallam, who looks at the crown and smiles.
The last stanza describes the "glory of a hand," an angel's hand, that reaches out and touches the crown, changing the thorns to leaves. This symbolizes a change from pain to the hope of a new spring; the voice, either the narrator's or the angel's, was "not the voice of grief," though "the words were hard to understand." To me this means that the narrator's pain has been eased; he experiences hope. The grief is gone. However, in that the words are hard to understand, I would assume the narrator does not claim to have a clear understanding, and his journey to the reconciliation to Hallum's death is not yet over.
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