In Memoriam "Believing Where We Cannot Prove"

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

"Believing Where We Cannot Prove"

Context: When Arthur Henry Hallam, Tennyson's beloved friend, suddenly died in Vienna at the age of twenty-two years, Tennyson composed in his honor one of the great elegies in the English language. He begins his work with a prologue addressed to Love, the son of God. We have not seen Love face to face; we accept its existence on faith alone, believing something that we cannot prove. In this passage Tennyson is echoing the conclusion of the gospel of John (20:24–29): the disciple Thomas said that he would not believe that Christ had risen from the dead until he had put his finger into the print of the nails in Christ's hands and thrust his hand into the wound in his side. Christ invites him to do what he demanded and then said, "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed." Tennyson, following Christ, is saying in different form that belief grounded on proof is inferior in merit to the accepting of what cannot be proved, which is true faith.

Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove;
Thine are these orbs of light and shade;
Thou madest Life in man and brute;
Thou madest Death; and lo, thy foot
Is on the skull which thou has made.
Thou wilt not leave us in the dust:
Thou madest man, he knows not why,
He thinks he was not made to die;
And thou hast made him: thou art just.