"In Memoriam," a poem Tennyson composed in memory of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who died suddenly in 1833, appeared in 1849. During the 17 years it took Tennyson to write his poem, evolutionary theory began to call into question the idea that God had created the earth and all its creatures. This poem reflects many of the doubts about God current in the Victorian age.
In addition to evolution, industrialism and the machine during this period had invaded the landscape. People wondered where God was in this new world. Was life simply a struggle for the survival of the fittest? As Tennyson put it, did nature "red in tooth and claw," i.e., violent and bloodthirsty, rule the day?
Hallam's death provided a focus for Tennyson's larger queries about the nature of God. Tennyson asked a question common at the time: is God at war ("at strife") with a nature that has evolved without any larger plan? Can it simply be nature (chance), "careless of a single life" that caused his friend's death?
Why, he asks, does nature seem so indifferent to life? Why does nature allow so much death? He writes:
And finding that of fifty seeds/She often brings but one to bear...
This view of nature as harsh and cruel veers sharply away from the Romantic view that nature was imbued with God's spirit. Now, nature and God war with each other. Because of this divide between a natural world of random chance and God, Tennyson calls his faith "lame" and notes that he can only "faintly trust" the larger hope of God. However, although Tennyson spends much time in the poem questioning God from a place of "darkness," by the end of the poem, he is expressing faith:
Then was I as a child that cries,/But, crying knows his father near...
This affirmation would also have been comforting to a Victorian audience. Tennyson both articulated the doubts many people held and yet affirmed an ordered universe with a fatherly God in control.