In Memoriam, Alfred, Lord Tennyson
In Memoriam Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The following entry presents criticism of Tennyson's poem In Memoriam (1850). See also, Idylls of the King Alfred Criticism.
One of the most influential Victorian poems, Alfred Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam (1850) is actually 133 poetic fragments or sections that differ in theme, tone, and presentation, but are all unified by the poetic persona's grief, doubt, and search for faith. The composition of In Memoriam was initiated by Tennyson's deep suffering at the loss of his brilliant young friend, the promising poet and scholar Arthur Henry Hallam, who died suddenly in 1833 at the age of twenty-two. Although many of the sections were written in the three years following Hallam's death, when Tennyson's grief was most acute, he continued adding to and rearranging his long poem as science and religion shook traditional beliefs in God and Christianity. Finally, in 1850, Tennyson published his lyrical elegy. Immediately well-received, it brought Tennyson considerable fame and was undoubtedly influential in the decision to appoint Tennyson as William Wordsworth's successor as British poet laureate.
Plot and Major Characters
Although the 133 individual sections of In Memoriam present varying stages of doubt, faith, and consolation, they are all unified by the abba stanza form. Originally, Tennyson intended to call the poem “Fragments of an Elegy,” and later often referred to his work as “The Way of the Soul.” The actual title, however, was suggested by Emily Sellwood, Tennyson's future wife. In Memoriam has been argued by some critics to be deeply autobiographical, while others contend that it is foremost artistic and fictional; Tennyson himself claimed that the poem is actually the voice of all humanity, and not his own. The style and form of the emotional verse preclude conclusive identification of more than a few characters. There may also be no definitive answer to the question of genre, as its interior struggle is both highly personal and universal. The poem expresses deeply personal emotions and questions of faith, often directly resulting from the loss of Hallam. Contradictions abound, however, and with each assertion of doubt in God, Tennyson complicates the emotion by offering verses, or even single images or words, of hope and renewal. This culminates in section 95 when the poetic voice is reunited with the spirit of Hallam through a mystical experience. Finally, while closure is never truly found, the poem ends with a sense of consolation. Loss is accepted, faith is affirmed, and the presentation of a marriage leaves the reader with a measure of hope.
Most critics agree that In Memoriam can readily be divided into four sections marked by the three Christmas celebrations following Hallam's death. The mood progresses from despair, longing, doubt, and sorrow to hope, inner-peace, and faith. The poem considers death and the stages of bereavement as the narrator experiences intense grief, nostalgia, and disconsolation, as well as the contemplation of immortality with the desire for a future reunion with the dead. The eventual outcome of this renewed faith is tempered with knowledge of scientific advancement and is necessarily compatible with it. In Memoriam seeks to represent man's journey to understand suffering, love, and his own purpose.
Criticism of In Memoriam has been rich and varied. During Tennyson's lifetime, his poem enjoyed universal acclaim. The Victorian reader shared his own spiritual doubt with the narrative voice of the poem and found solace. After Tennyson's death, his poem and his reputation alike suffered critical backlash. Many twentieth-century readers found the dramatic melancholy and the questioning of faith to be dated and naïve. The early twentieth-century vogue for dismissing Tennyson, and likewise In Memoriam, has largely passed, and critics since the 1960s have been greatly interested in the poem. Many scholars, including K.W. Gransden, consider In Memoriam to be an elegy. Gransden finds Tennyson's approach too tentative and exploratory as it seeks to adequately convey the poetic vision. Other critics have explored the influence of nineteenth-century scientific discovery on both Tennyson as a thinker and writer and on Victorian religious beliefs. One critic, Robert Dilligan, turned to computer analysis to help unravel the syntax and prosody of In Memoriam. The vehemence with which Tennyson's poem longs for the lost Hallam has led some critics, including Christopher Craft, to examine the homoerotic underpinnings of the poem and to question whether the obvious passages of male love are simply written with a sensibility unique to its time or are indicative of a different level of comfort with homosexuality. Likewise, analyses of the poem's linguistic structure, poetics, language, symbolism, and structure abound. In Memoriam remains an important work for critical examination as its themes of grief, doubt, loss, and longing are universal to humankind.
Poems by Two Brothers [with Frederick and Charles Tennyson] (poetry) 1827
“Timbuctoo” (poem) 1827
Poems, Chiefly Lyrical (poetry) 1830
Poems (poetry) 1832
Poems 2 vols. (poetry) 1842
The Princess: A Medley (poem) 1847
In Memoriam (poem) 1850
“Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington” (poem) 1852
Maud, and Other Poems (poetry) 1855
Idylls of the King (poetry) 1859; enlarged edition, 1874
Enoch Arden, Etc. (poetry) 1864
The Holy Grail, and Other Poems (poetry) 1869
Gareth and Lynette, Etc. (poetry) 1872
Queen Mary: A Drama (drama) 1875
Harold: A Drama (drama) 1876
Ballads and Other Poems (poetry) 1880
Becket (drama) 1884
The Cup and The Falcon (drama) 1884
Tiresias, and Other Poems (poetry) 1885
Locksley Hall Sixty Years After, Etc. (poetry) 1886
Demeter, and Other Poems (poetry) 1889
The Death of Oenone, Akbar's Dream, and Other Poems (poetry) 1892
The Foresters, Robin Hood and Maid Marian (drama) 1892...
(The entire section is 124 words.)
SOURCE: Bradley, A. C. “The ‘Way of the Soul.’” In A Commentary on Tennyson's In Memoriam, pp. 36-48. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1966.
[In the following excerpt, originally published in 1910, Bradley provides an explication of Tennyson's work and explains its appeal to readers as the expression of a shared and common experience.]
THE ‘WAY OF THE SOUL.’
It is a fashion at present to ascribe the great popularity of In Memoriam entirely to the ‘teaching’ contained in it, and to declare that its peculiar position among English elegies has nothing to do with its poetic qualities. This is equivalent to an assertion that, if the so-called substance of the poem had been presented in common prose,1 the work would have gained the same hold upon the mass of educated readers that is now possessed by the poem itself. Such an assertion no one would make or consciously imply. The ordinary reader does not indeed attempt to separate the poetic qualities of a work from some other quality that appeals to him; much less does he read the work in terror of being affected by the latter; but imagination and diction and even versification can influence him much as they influence the people who talk about them, and he would never have taken In Memoriam to his heart if its consoling or uplifting thoughts had not also touched his fancy and sung in his ears. It is...
(The entire section is 3054 words.)
SOURCE: Cohen, J. M. “‘In Memoriam’: a Hundred Years After.” Cornhill Magazine 164, no. 980 (autumn 1949): 151-64.
[In the following essay, Cohen states that Tennyson's In Memoriam is the record of the author's own experience following the death of contemporary poet and friend, Arthur Hallam.]
‘Answer for me that I have given my belief in “In Memoriam,”’ Tennyson would instruct his son Hallam when dealing with one of those numerous correspondents who questioned his Christian belief. To whom could a doubting reader turn with more assurance than to the Laureate for confirmation of his wavering faith? The answer in the passage to which Tennyson referred his troubled applicant was unequivocal:
And so the Word had breath, and wrought With human hands the creed of creeds In loveliness of perfect deeds, More strong than all poetic thought.
Had his convictions and his poetry remained throughout on this pedestrian level, had the Sunday school piety of this quatrain faithfully expressed the nature and intensity of his religious thought, the poem would not bear this re-examination a hundred years after its completion. ‘In Memoriam,’ however, is the record of a profound and deeply individual experience, the central experience of Alfred Tennyson's life. Before it was written, all the best of his work was coloured by melancholy and...
(The entire section is 5413 words.)
SOURCE: Taaffe, James G. “Circle Imagery in Tennyson's In Memoriam.” Victorian Poetry 1, no. 2 (April 1963): 123-31.
[In the following essay, Taaffe offers a close reading of In Memoriam, focusing on its circle imagery and connecting the poem to Dante's Divina Commedia.]
In Memoriam, Tennyson tells us, “was meant to be a kind of Divina Commedia, ending with happiness.” The poem, beginning with the burial of Arthur Henry Hallam, he says, “concludes with the marriage of my youngest sister Cecilia.”1 This statement has been generally believed to indicate the movement of the poem from a Tennysonian Inferno to a Victorian Paradiso: from a “wasteland” to a “mystical vision … assuredly the sanction of his faith.”2 In an article entitled “The Symbolic Imagination” Allen Tate has perceptively discussed the central symbol and image of Dante's Divina Commedia; it is the circle which both defines and creates Dante's cosmos. From its first appearance in Canto III of the Inferno until its conception in the triune circles, the circle is the primary architectural and thematic device in the poem.3 Probably Tennyson was aware of the centrality of this image in Dante's poem, for he chose the circle for one of the primary images of his elegy for the promising young Dante scholar.4 But whether this...
(The entire section is 3831 words.)
SOURCE: Moore, Carlisle. “Faith, Doubt, and Mystical Experience in In Memoriam.” Victorian Studies 7, no. 2 (December 1963): 155-69.
[In the following essay, Moore discusses Tennyson's In Memoriam, focusing on the author's struggle with questions of faith and his search for mystical reunion with the deceased Arthur Henry Hallam.]
We are still wont to think that Tennyson must abide our question because he confused personal confession and public prophecy. In Memoriam especially, with its wavering progression from a deeply-felt religious doubt to the proclamation of a universal faith, has been dismissed as a typical instance of Victorian rationalization which no longer speaks to us. Yet with all the commentaries, analyses, and keys which have appeared since 1850 the poem still eludes consensus. In its own time readers generally accepted it as a poem of faith and rejoiced with Kingsley to find “in the science and history of the nineteenth century new and living fulfillments of the words which we learnt at our mothers' knee.”1 But the praise was not unanimous. Some critics thought the doubt which they saw there made the faith less than “honest,” and objected to Tennyson's admitting it even into the concluding sections.2 Nevertheless, for half a century In Memoriam brought solace to worried and struggling believers, many of whom did not perceive and...
(The entire section is 6913 words.)
SOURCE: Gransden, K. W. “The Poem.” In Tennyson: In Memoriam, pp. 42-60. London: Edward Arnold (Publishers) LTD., 1964.
[In the following excerpt, Gransden examines In Memoriam as an elegy, noting that Tennyson's approach is tentative and exploratory, resulting in a poem that documents his trial and error as he attempted to translate his vision into words.]
Tennyson at one time thought of calling In Memoriam ‘Fragments of an Elegy’, a title which overstresses the intermittent nature of the poem at the expense of its underlying unity and development. A better pointer is his subtitle ‘The Way of the Soul’, and his remark, quoted in the Memoir, that the poem is a kind of divine comedy beginning with a death and ending with a marriage. The poem moves from the darkness of loss towards the light of hope and future gain: we shall see that both meanings of ‘loss’, as the opposite of finding and the opposite of gain, are important. Another parallel suggested by the subtitle is with Donne's second anniversary (The Progresse of the Soule) which also carries the required domestic note: that is, in Donne's case, a poem primarily intended for the attention and solace of a particular household, and in Tennyson's, a poem primarily intended as an act of autobiography and autotherapy and secondarily as an account of experience which the poet hoped might be of wider service....
(The entire section is 6948 words.)
SOURCE: August, Eugene R. “Tennyson and Teilhard: The Faith of In Memoriam.” PMLA 84, no. 2 (March 1969): 217-26.
[In the following essay, August discusses Tennyson's depiction of faith in terms of nineteenth-century scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man, concluding that while some critics condemn In Memoriam for failing to adequately portray faith, Tennyson is actually offering a radically modern depiction of it.]
“In Memoriam can, I think, justly be called a religious poem … because of the quality of its doubt. Its faith is a poor thing, but its doubt is a very intense experience.”1 Thus, in the early years of this century did T. S. Eliot state the case for reading In Memoriam as a poem of doubt veneered by an inadequate faith. By calling the poem's faith “a poor thing,” Eliot apparently meant two things. First, the faith was not deeply professed by Tennyson himself: “Tennyson's contemporaries … may have been taken in by it,” Eliot says, “but I don't think that Tennyson himself was, quite: his feelings were more honest than his mind” (p. 187). And, second, the faith was poor because serious-thinking men today could see through its contradictions. “The hope of immortality,” Eliot argues, “is confused (typically of the period) with the hope of the gradual and steady improvement of this world” (p. 186)....
(The entire section is 8483 words.)
SOURCE: Zuckermann, Joanne P. “Tennyson's In Memoriam as Love Poetry.” Dalhousie Review 51, no. 2 (summer 1971): 202-17.
[In the following essay, Zuckermann depicts In Memoriam as a series of love poems influenced by Shakespeare's sonnets.]
Most of the few modern explanations of In Memoriam have, like E. B. Mattes' In Memoriam: The Way of a Soul1 and Graham Hough's “Natural Theology in In Memoriam”,2 concerned themselves principally with the source and precise meaning of the poem's intellectual speculations. While inevitably admitting Tennyson's ultimate subjectivism, critics have concerned themselves little with the nature of the subjective experiences underlying the poem or the literary conventions governing their presentation.
In Memoriam is indeed in one sense a philosophical poem: it must have been amongst the works which prompted Jowett to say to Tennyson, just before the latter's death: “Your poetry has an element of philosophy more to be considered than any regular philosophy in England”.3 But its philosophy is based not on the premise Cogito, ergo sum, but on the premise Amo, ergo sumus, and its relationship to a tradition of speculative or philosophical love poetry is clear. It is, in fact, one of the greatest series of love poems in the English language, and it seems to me...
(The entire section is 6439 words.)
SOURCE: Devlin, Francis P. “Dramatic Irony in the Early Sections of Tennyson's In Memoriam.” Papers on Language and Literature 8, no. 2 (spring 1972): 172-83.
[In the following essay, Devlin explores dramatic irony as it appears in five conventional images from the first twenty lyrics of In Memoriam, theorizing that this device serves to unify the poem and draw distinctions between the poet and the narrative voice.]
Speaking of In Memoriam, Tennyson wrote in an 1883 letter that “the different moods of sorrow as in a drama are dramatically given. …”1 This brief remark suggests a view of Tennyson's elegy as a kind of drama, with the narrator as protagonist and his struggles to reintegrate his sensibility and achieve psychic balance as the nexus of action. That In Memoriam benefits from such an approach is evidenced by the increasing number of critical studies which identify the shifting consciousness of the narrator as the dramatic center of the poem.2 So far, however, the dramatic irony in In Memoriam, an understanding of which promotes a sharper awareness of the psychological focus of the poem and reveals more fully the force of the poet's shattered world and his struggles toward eventual harmony, has received little attention.
Images of commonplace realities which because of their natural or conventional associations...
(The entire section is 4507 words.)
SOURCE: Gliserman, Susan. “Early Victorian Science Writers and Tennyson's In Memoriam: A Study in Cultural Exchange.” Victorian Studies 18, nos. 3 and 4 (March and June 1975): 437-59.
[In the following excerpt, Gliserman looks at the works of nineteenth-century scientists Peter Mark Roget, William Whewell, and Charles Lyell as representative of the science writers read by Tennyson and explores the ways in which In Memoriam uses scientific language in reference to scientific discovery and as a literary style.]
A number of commentators, most recently Milton Millhauser, have identified passages in [Tennyson's] poetry as reflecting awareness of specific scientific issues.1 References of this kind are often straightforward and incontestable. For example, in “The Palace of Art,” the Soul uses recent descriptions of the stages of embryonic development in the human fetus: “From change to change four times within the womb / The brain is moulded.” John Killham has identified these lines as referring to Frederich Tiedemann's discovery that the human fetal brain took on structures during the stages of its development resembling the characteristics of each of the four major classes of animals.2 Again, in In Memoriam critics agree that the speaker's exclamation of “O, Earth what changes hast thou seen” is a direct reference to recent geological descriptions of...
(The entire section is 9941 words.)
SOURCE: Boyd, John D. “The Principles of Analogy and the Immortality Question in Tennyson's In Memoriam.” University of Toronto Quarterly 45, no. 2 (winter 1976): 123-38.
[In the following essay, Boyd focuses on the congruence of different conceptions of immortality in Tennyson's poem. The critic also discusses Tennyson's predisposition to analogy.]
Since metaphor and simile are special kinds of analogies, there is a sense in which all poetry, at its very roots, exemplifies analogical thinking. Beyond this, however, some poets show a special predisposition toward the imaginative exploration of analogies. Tennyson is one of these. Speaking in the context of intellectual history, one might remark that Tennyson's mind, while thoroughly absorbing the dominant nineteenth-century paradigm of Reality-as-Process, also seems to have retained the analogical way of apprehending truth so characteristic of the Medieval, Renaissance, and Enlightenment outlooks. All of Tennyson's more philosophical poems reveal the importance which analogy had in his serious speculative efforts,1 and In Memoriam, his masterpiece in this class of poetry, is particularly saturated with the analogical mode of thinking and feeling. I should like to suggest some of the disparate levels of the poem at which the principle of analogy is vital.
The clearest evidence, perhaps, is to be found in...
(The entire section is 6467 words.)
SOURCE: Kilroy, James. “The Chiastic Structure of In Memoriam, A. H. H.” Philological Quarterly 56, no. 3 (summer 1977): 358-73.
[In the following essay, Kilroy looks at the use of chiasmus, or inversion of the second of two parallel phrases, throughout In Memoriam, with particular focus on several stanzas at the center of the work.]
One of the recurrent challenges to critics of Victorian poetry has been the attempt to describe the structure of Tennyson's greatest poem, In Memoriam, A. H. H. Few deny its unity, but explanations of how its one hundred thirty-three separate poems are organized into an artistic whole have ranged from Eliot's description of it as “the concentrated diary of a man confessing himself” to the much more elaborate schemes proposed by A. C. Bradley and Valerie Pitt.1 Despite the knowledge that Tennyson added two sections after the trial edition and that he once considered entitling it Fragments of an Elegy, readers report a single, coherent effect and an impression of careful architectonics. There are, of course, unifying features such as the references to the passing of seasons, recurring Christmas celebrations and anniversaries of Arthur Hallam's death. But claims of thematic unity have put unjustified importance on a single section, the mystical vision reported in Section XCV. And the structural importance of the central...
(The entire section is 6573 words.)
SOURCE: Bruns, Gerald L. “‘The Lesser Faith’: Hope and Reversal in Tennyson's In Memoriam.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 77 (1978): 247-64.
[In the following essay, Bruns examines the organization of In Memoriam, asserting that the poem's reversals of hope and faith need to be critically explored and understood rather than resolved, as some critics contend.]
For me, the most credible readings of In Memoriam are those that have been concerned less with the unity or totality of the poem than with its variable or heterogeneous nature.1 In this paper I want to engage this variability once more, not in order to resolve it into an ideal form, but simply to understand its meaning. Although my title predicts a thesis, or a conclusion, my intention is not a tendentious one; rather, it is to think through the peculiar reversals that Tennyson's lyrics force us to undergo at the end of his poem, when our expectations of some kind of generic repose, whether elegiac or comic or whatever, seem less than adequately or conventionally fulfilled. At the same time, however, I want to resist the notion that these reversals are simply instances of the “vacillating state” that was Tennyson's enduring mental or psychological condition. This perception of Tennyson's awkward mental life may be accurate and even interesting, but it can also be a critical nuisance, especially...
(The entire section is 7854 words.)
SOURCE: Sendry, Joseph. “In Memoriam: Twentieth-Century Criticism.” Victorian Poetry 18, no. 2 (summer 1980): 105-18.
[In the following essay, Sendry provides a comprehensive overview of twentieth-century criticism on In Memoriam.]
Twentieth-Century criticism of In Memoriam begins, conceptually as well as chronologically, with A. C. Bradley's A Commentary on Tennyson's “In Memoriam,” first published in 1901. Bradley offered exegesis and informative annotation of the entire poem along with richly concise biographical, bibliographical, and literary background. What he claimed not to offer was “aesthetic criticism,” investigation of what Christopher Ricks (in Tennyson, 1972) calls “the most important critical question about In Memoriam … the first and most obvious one: in what sense do the 133 separate sections ranging in length from 12 lines to 144 lines, constitute a whole, a poetic unity, a poem?” In fact, Bradley had his doubts, which he expressed in an unregarded footnote to his 1914 lecture on “The Reaction against Tennyson” (published in Miscellanies, 1929). Admitting its greatness, Bradley still found In Memoriam “very defective as an ‘organism’.” Doubts and disavowal notwithstanding, Bradley did touch on the question of unity when in the Commentary he examined “the bearing of the sections on one...
(The entire section is 6290 words.)
SOURCE: Dilligan, Robert. “Computers and Style: The Prosody of In Memoriam.” Victorian Poetry 18, no. 2 (summer 1980): 179-96.
[In the following essay, Dilligan provides a computer-aided analysis of In Memoriam that enlightens the connection between grammar and prosody, The critic also provides a detailed discussion of the poem's syntax.]
One way of understanding how a critic may use a computer is to make an analogy between a computer and a piano. From a logical point of view, a piano is a binary machine with eighty-eight switches of which, because of the limitations of its operators, only about ten can be depressed at any given time. Thought of in this way, a piano seems a rather useless machine. But we are not accustomed to think of a piano as a binary machine; rather, we think of it as an instrument used to interpret a kind of human experience—music. Whether the piano will be used to play sonatas or “Chopsticks” is the decision of the player; the piano makes either possible. Similarly, a critic who has learned to use a computer has opened up a way of exploring a kind of human experience—his own reading of a text. Of course music is written for the piano, and poems are not written for the computer. But the distinction between a machine—so easily seen as something inhuman and threatening—and an instrument—usually seen as an extension of human...
(The entire section is 7973 words.)
SOURCE: Pollard, Arthur. “In Memoriam as a Personal Poem.” Tennyson Research Bulletin 3, no. 5 (November 1981): 175-84.
[In the following essay, originally delivered as a lecture to the Tennyson Society in 1981, Pollard describes In Memoriam as a personal poem with universal application as the author relates his own experience of loss and bereavement.]
First of all, I should like to express my thanks and also my sense of humility at the honour you have conferred upon me in asking me to deliver the Tennyson lecture this year. The year just past saw great activity and success in securing the vast bulk of the Tennyson material and particularly the rightly-named Lincoln manuscript of In Memoriam for permanent deposit at the Research Centre (and I should like to pay my own personal tribute to all those, and not least the Lincolnshire County Council—most enlightened action for a local authority—who did so much and in the end succeeded so well). In the light of the events of 1980 it seemed to me appropriate, indeed almost obligatory, that your lecturer this year should devote his attention to In Memoriam.
I have, however, special reasons for my choice, and particularly for treating it in the way I propose. Some ten years ago I gave a talk about In Memoriam at Horncastle. Sir Charles Tennyson was in the audience. That was the first occasion on which I...
(The entire section is 4916 words.)
SOURCE: Hinchcliffe, Peter. “Elegy and Epithalamium in In Memoriam.” University of Toronto Quarterly 52, no. 3 (spring 1983): 241-62.
[In the following essay, Hinchcliffe considers whether In Memoriam is a complete poem or an anthology and asserts that Tennyson specifically organized the individual poems comprising it to form an elegy.]
If literature is a map, then scholars and critics are surveyors and cartographers. Our task is to take new bearings and to draw new contours, not just to complete the work of our predecessors, but to determine where we have moved from those predecessors in relation to the landmarks that we study. As literary works recede into the past, some perspectives—immediacy of response and personal recollection, for example—become closed to us, but new perspectives open out. Critical studies of In Memoriam written during the last twenty-five years show us a poem more complex and serious than readers of the two previous generations would have been willing to accept, and a different kind of poem from the one that Tennyson's Victorian readers acclaimed. Yet despite the increasing sophistication of our map-making skills In Memoriam remains stubbornly puzzling, and the questions that puzzle its readers can be reduced to two: ‘Is it possible to apprehend the In Memoriam sequence as a whole poem?’ and ‘What kind of...
(The entire section is 9995 words.)
SOURCE: Johnson, Rob. “Strategies of Containment: Tennyson's In Memoriam.” In Post-Structuralist Readings of English Poetry, edited by Richard Machin and Christopher Norris, pp. 308-31. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
[In the following essay, Johnson examine Tennyson's deliberately ambiguous rhetoric whereby faith and doubt are explored through various alternative presentations in In Memoriam.]
In defending his commentary on In Memoriam against readers of Tennyson who doubted the necessity or value of such an enterprise, A. C. Bradley declared: “We read for the most part half-asleep, but a poet writes wide-awake.”1 This remark sounds across eight decades with a curiously contemporary ring, closely paralleling Paul de Man's defence of deconstructionist reading against the charge that it is a gratuitous addition to the text: “by reading the text as we did we were only trying to come closer to being as rigorous a reader as the author had to be to write the sentence in the first place”.2
The complex play of utterance that Bradley recognized in In Memoriam is often the result of a studiedly ambiguous rhetoric that may, for instance, deliberately exploit the element of difference in language, evoking significations of word or image incongruous with those ostensibly demanded by the argument. Or the syntax may distribute...
(The entire section is 9364 words.)
SOURCE: Markley, A. A. “The Foot Upon the Skull: In Memoriam and the Tradition of Roman Love Elegy.” Tennyson Research Bulletin 6, no. 2 (November 1993): 112-21.
[In the following essay, Markley asserts that Tennyson's allusions to Roman love elegy are an attempt to heighten the expression of experience and emotion throughout In Memoriam.]
Tennyson opens his prologue to In Memoriam with an invocation to the ‘Strong Son of God, immortal Love’. The Victorian reader would immediately recognize the identification of Christ here; moreover there is an echo of George Herbert's ‘Love’, which begins with the invocation ‘Immortal Love’ (Hill 1971, 119). Nevertheless, this address to a deified ‘Love’ sets up an immediate association with the genre of Latin love elegy popular in the late Roman Republic and the early Roman Empire. Tennyson's first line echoes not only Herbert, but also Propertius I.1, in which the narrator speaks of his first encounter with oppressive ‘Amor’ upon meeting his lover Cynthia:
Cynthia prima suis miserum me cepit ocellis, contactum nullis ante cupidinibus. tum mihi constantis deiecit lumina fastus et caput impositis pressit Amor pedibus
It was Cynthia who first captured miserable me with her eyes, Me, never before touched by desire. Then Love forced me to cast down my eyes...
(The entire section is 3012 words.)
SOURCE: Scott, Patrick. “Tennyson, Lincolnshire, and Provinciality: The Topographical Narrative of In Memoriam.” Victorian Poetry 34, no. 1 (spring 1996): 39-51.
[In the following essay, Scott portrays In Memoriam as a topographical narrative and argues that Tennyson wrote it with a sense of “provincial self-consciousness.”]
Tennyson writes to Emily Sellwood, perhaps some time in 1838:
I have dim mystic sympathies with tree and hill reaching far back into childhood. A known landskip is to me an old friend, that continually talks to me of my youth and half-forgotten things, and does more for me than many a friend that I know.1
This is a remarkable passage in many ways, not least in its timing and audience. In 1838, Tennyson had recently left, after twenty-eight years of almost continuous residence, the “known landskip” of his Somersby childhood, and as things turned out had left it more or less permanently. The original recipient of the letter was the old friend he would marry, and as time passed she would become almost the sole remaining voice to talk to him of his Lincolnshire youth. And the mystic significance of “tree and hill” reverberates through so many lines of In Memoriam that this letter's privileging of landscape over friendship, and its linking of landscape with the amnesiac...
(The entire section is 5168 words.)
SOURCE: Joseph, Gerhard. “Producing the ‘Far-Off Interest of Tears’: Tennyson, Freud, and the Economics of Mourning.” Victorian Poetry 36, no. 2 (summer 1998): 123-33.
[In the following essay, Joseph examines loss in In Memoriam through a Freudian lens, focusing on several sections in which the critic illustrates Tennyson's use of economic terminology to express grief.]
I live, live intensely, and am fed by life, and my value, whatever it might be, is my own kind of expression of that. Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance.
Henry James, to H. G. Wells
Art makes interest; it is a way of investing something that might be called life or experience—that is a species of risk.
Adam Phillips, The Beast in the Nursery1
Like Alice's Humpty Dumpty with his self-interested definition of “glory,” when I make a word do a lot of work, but especially when that work is double if not downright duplicitous, I try to pay it extra.2 My coinage for such interesting—to me, at any rate—labor may be thought of as a species of interest I am willing to pay because, to adapt the Henry James of my first epigraph, I have been fed by life in a transformative fashion.3
Such a reiteration of “interest”...
(The entire section is 5057 words.)
SOURCE: Hass, Robert Bernard. “The Mutable Locus Amoenus and Consolation in Tennyson's In Memoriam,” SEL 38, no. 4 (autumn 1998): 669-87.
[In the following essay, Hass depicts In Memoriam as a pastoral elegy and focuses on Tennyson's use of locus amoenus to control his grief and find consolation.]
If literary criticism judges the success of an elegy by the amount of consolation it can offer, then it is not surprising that Alfred Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam has been read in this century with a cautious skepticism. Although Tennyson's contemporaries praised the poem as a fine representation of Victorian confidence and religious faith,1 most modern readers have had difficulty accepting the poem's “retreat” into Christian theology as well as Tennyson's belief that evolutionary forces impel all organic life toward higher, perfected types. Perhaps the most damaging assessments of In Memoriam came surprisingly from poets rather than critics. T. S. Eliot responded to Tennyson's masterpiece with a backhanded compliment, suggesting that the greatness of In Memoriam lay not in its consolation but in the “quality of its doubt.”2 W. H. Auden, too, was ambivalent about the poem, and although he praised In Memoriam's melancholia, he considered Tennyson the “‘stupidest of English poets.’”3 What is perhaps most...
(The entire section is 6639 words.)
SOURCE: Lamb, Julian. “In Memoriam as Biography.” Critical Review 39 (1999): 20-28.
[In the following essay, Lamb considers In Memoriam as an act of self discovery on par with the poet's cognitive and emotional experience, thus serving as a biographical record of the poet's “secondary life experience.”]
It is not sufficiently recognized that Keats' ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is a dramatic poem. The drama or action of the poem does not come from the nightingale itself. The bird does little more than sing and, eventually, fly away. Most of the drama comes from the poet's asserting faith and doubt in a number of different areas; this is the drama of emotion and cognition. However, there is another drama taking place which is so pervasive that we barely notice it: the drama of the poet writing the poem. The link between the second last and last stanzas serves to bring this out:
The same that oft-times hath Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
Forlorn! the very word is like a bell To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
The dramatic change of mood that the poet undergoes hinges on the use of the word ‘forlorn’. In this moment we can see how the writing of the poem is itself part of the emotional drama of the poet's own life. This is an intrinsic part of...
(The entire section is 3807 words.)
Armstrong, Isobel. “Tennyson in the 1850s: From Geology to Pathology—In Memoriam (1850) to Maud (1855).” In Tennyson: Seven Essays, edited by Philip Collins, pp. 102-40. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.
Examines the radical historical changes that took place between the composition of In Memoriam and Maud, influencing Tennyson's poetic perspective.
Battaglia, Francis Joseph. “The Use of Contradiction in In Memoriam.” English Language Notes 4, no. 1 (September 1966): 41-46.
Explores contradictions and counter-statements in In Memoriam as modern in their expression of dramatic change.
Brantley, Richard. “Evangelical Principles of Tennyson's In Memoriam.” In English Romanticism Preludes and Postludes: Essays in Honor of Edwin Graves Wilson, edited by Donald Schoonmaker and John A. Alford, pp. 115-26. East Lansing, MI: Colleagues Press, 1993.
Focuses on the way Methodism and experimental-Edwardsean evangelicalism of the eighteenth-century appears in specific sections of In Memoriam.
Craft, Christopher. “‘Descend, and Touch, and Enter’: Tennyson's Strange Manner of Address.” Genders 1 (spring 1988): 83-101.
Explores male love and homoeroticism in In Memoriam....
(The entire section is 752 words.)