“Poem” was originally published as the introductory passage to Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s booklength poem In Memoriam A. H. H. The complete poem consists of 131 sections and was written over the course of seventeen years, capturing the development of the poet’s grief over the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam. The influence of Hallam’s death can be seen in several of Tennyson’s poems, including “Ulysses,” “Tithonus,” “The Two Voices,” and “Break, break, break.” Tennyson met Hallam in the 1820s at Trinity College, Cambridge. Hallam was considered by his classmates to be one of the most promising scholars of the day, until his sudden death from a stroke in 1833, at age twenty-two. Hallam and Tennyson were close companions. They traveled through Europe together, and at the time of his death, Hallam was engaged to Tennyson’s sister Emily.
In Memoriam A. H. H. is considered one of the single most influential poems of the Victorian age. It was a favorite of Queen Victoria’s and her husband Prince Albert and was so admired by the royal couple that Tennyson was appointed poet laureate the year the poem was published. Throughout the last half of the century, In Memoriam A. H. H. was frequently quoted in church sermons, due to Tennyson’s masterful control of the language and the poem’s mournful contemplation of humanity’s relationship to the eternal. In modern times, the poem is seldom read in its 2,868-line entirety, but individual sections like “Proem” are considered examples of Tennyson’s poetry at its best.