How can Tennyson's "In Memoriam" Section 2 be analysed? IIOld Yew, which graspest at the stonesThat name the under-lying dead,Thy fibres net the dreamless head,Thy roots are wrapt about the...

How can Tennyson's "In Memoriam" Section 2 be analysed?

II
Old Yew, which graspest at the stones
That name the under-lying dead,
Thy fibres net the dreamless head,
Thy roots are wrapt about the bones.


The seasons bring the flower again,
And bring the firstling to the flock;
And in the dusk of thee, the clock
Beats out the little lives of men.


O, not for thee the glow, the bloom,
Who changest not in any gale,
Nor branding summer suns avail
To touch thy thousand years of gloom:


And gazing on thee, sullen tree,
Sick for thy stubborn hardihood,
I seem to fail from out my blood
And grow incorporate into thee.

 

 

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In this section of the poem the speaker contemplates an old tree that lies in a graveyard and is so close to the graves that it "graspest" at the gravestones themselves. This tree is seen as a symbol of lasting nature which the speaker compares to the frailty and ephemeral nature of man. Time is said to "beat out the little lives of men,"  but against the small lives of humans, which pass so quickly, the tree returns to life each year again and again, seemingly without end. The tree therefore acts as a symbol of permanence, as the third stanza suggests:

O, not for thee the glow, the bloom,
Who changest not in any gale,
Nor branding summer suns avail
To touch thy thousand years of gloom...

Whereas the lives of men are so fickle and short, the tree is characterised by "stubborn hardihood," which the speaker is very jealous of. The poem ends by the desire of the speaker to be able to cheat death and gain something of the permanence of this "sullen tree," which is personified through this adjective. This section of the poem represents yet another attempt of the speaker to come to terms with the death of Hallam, his beloved friend, and also to accept the frailty of humanity and the mortality that plagues mankind.

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