How does sound support meaning in Tennyson's "In Memoriam 50"? Does the poet use specific metre to convey a beating heart which dies out at by the end of the poem? And how does the theme of this...

How does sound support meaning in Tennyson's "In Memoriam 50"? Does the poet use specific metre to convey a beating heart which dies out at by the end of the poem? And how does the theme of this poem show that Tennyson is indeed a post-Romantic? Thank you very much in advance.

Be near me when my light is low,
      When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
      And tingle; and the heart is sick, 
And all the wheels of Being slow.

Be near me when the sensuous frame
      Is rack'd with pangs that conquer trust;
      And Time, a maniac scattering dust, 
And Life, a Fury slinging flame.

Be near me when my faith is dry,
      And men the flies of latter spring,
      That lay their eggs, and sting and sing 
And weave their petty cells and die.

Be near me when I fade away,
      To point the term of human strife,
      And on the low dark verge of life 
The twilight of eternal day.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Tennyson is able to use sound in a very distinct way.  Sound does support meaning in a some noteworthy ways.  One way is in the poem's rhyme scheme. The four stanzas feature rhyming patterns in which the first and last lines rhyme with one another as the middle two lines in each stanza rhyme with one another.  For example in the first stanza, "low" and "slow" fit one another, while "prick" and "sick" correspond to one another.  Tennyson's rhyme scheme also provides a type of bookending to life, one's start and ending is the same, while the middle of one's life is equally compatible with futility for nothing can avert the ending that awaits the end of being in the world.  This is not a glorious reception of death, as much as it is a painful withering away of life.  In this way, the rhyme scheme is an example of sound that supports meaning.

In terms of word choice and the sound generated from specific language, meaning is again enhanced. The refrain of "Be near me when" almost seems to take a breath, while the second half of each first line gives a specific instance of the pain that is part of the decay of the body.  There is a progression in this process that is conveyed by the sound of the choice of words.  For example, the low light is followed by the death of the body ("sensuous frame).  This is succeeded by the drying of faith which leads to the ending of fading away.  In this, the word choice and sound of each help to support Tennyson's meaning that death is not something to revel in or anticipate as an adventure into the unknown, but rather something mournful in terms of leaving life.  Within the stanzas, specific sounds from words help to accentuate this anguished condition.  The creeping of the blood (line 2) is a part of the condition where the "wheels of being slow."  The mere sound of "creeping" involves an ending to life, not a triumphant sprint of gallant march.  The second stanza features words that seem to fit with one another in conveying the terror of larger forces ending mortality:  "Is rack'd with pangs that conquer trust;/ And Time, a maniac scattering dust."  The sound from these words help to support the meaning conveyed about the particularly painful condition of death. It is a part of life, but Tennyson is open to communicate its intrinsically sad quality regarding life in the modern setting.  This same sound- based connection can be seen in the last stanza in terms of how the words "life" and "strife" go together, almost as if to convey that one is the necessary component of the other. The struggle that is life is one filled with "strife," and yet, to lose it in the face of death becomes even more pain- ridden. Through sound, Tennyson is able to support the meaning in the poem.

Tennyson's condition as a "post- Romantic" can be seen in the poem's thematic nature.  In the poem, Tennyson can be as post- Romantic because he embraces a "reformation of the categories of knowledge."  In this case, Tennyson is seeking to reform or redesign the view of death.  Romantic notions of death embodied the highest of idealism.  They were explorations into the journey of what death could be.  For example, the poetry of Keats tends to conceptualize death in a distinctly different manner than what Tennyson depicts.  The liberating perception of death that the Romantics liked to advance is something that Tennyson reconceptualizes.  When Armstrong describes Tennyson as post- Romantic, it is because he is able to "confront and self-consciously to conceptualise as new elements that are still perceived as the constitutive forms of our own condition" in poems like "Poem 50" from In Memoriam.  Tennyson is post- Romantic because he is conscious that his work seeks to reconfigure ideas that his predecessors took as absolute.  In such a context of "reformation," Tennyson becomes post- Romantic as he seeks to illuminate the contingency of what was once seen as absolute and totalizing. What was once certain and absolute has now given way to doubt and insecurity.  In this, Tennyson can be viewed as a post- Romantic due to poem's thematic perception of death. 

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