Regarding In Memoriam A. H. H. by Tennyson: What are the Victorian elements in this poem?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Memoriam A. H. H. by Tennyson is a vast work that reveals characteristics of Victorian poetic theory in myriad ways. A small sampling here that will give guidance as to Tennyson's implementation of Victorian poetics in In Memoriam is drawn from the early sections from I to LXIII. To start with, two of the major characteristics of Victorian poetry that are apparent within In Memoriam are the themes of love and nature, shared with the preceding Romantic period but given a different slant.

Love isn't necessarily idealized and "romanticized" in the Victorian period; it may be shown with fangs and claws as in Browning's "Porphyria's Lover" and "My Last Duchess," while nature is revealed as having a dark side, not romanticized and inspirational. In keeping with this dark side, emblematic nature is used, especially by Tennyson, to symbolize emotions; melancholy and Medieval Gothic allusions take precedence over heroism and Classical allusions.

Since the Victorian period was face-to-face with new and unsettling science on all sides, Victorian poetry adds the new dimension of psychological studies of poets and poetic personas and narrators. Partly as a reaction to this science and partly as a reaction to the unwelcome rise in immoral and criminal behavior accompanying the rush of urban immigration, Queen Victoria emphasized a stringent return to Christian morality.

In keeping with Queen Victoria's appeal, In Memoriam opens with a Christian appeal instead of an appeal to the Classic Muse of poetry:

Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,

The Christian appeal continues and is seen again later, as in:

Forgive what seem'd my sin in me;
What seem'd my worth since I began;
For merit lives from man to man,
And not from man, O Lord, to thee.

Later, Sections III and LVI have Medieval Gothic allusions and tones that are in contrast to Classical Greek allusions.

O Sorrow, cruel fellowship,
O Priestess in the vaults of Death,
O sweet and bitter in a breath,
What whispers from thy lying lip?

Section V highlights the use of emblematic nature as a symbol for emotions:

In words, like weeds, I'll wrap me o'er,
Like coarsest clothes against the cold:

Section LX illustrates the prominence of melancholy, while Section LXIII shows nature, love, and melancholy combined, with the addition of psychological study:

Yet pity for a horse o'er-driven,
And love in which my hound has part,
Can hang no weight upon my heart
In its assumptions up to heaven;

And I am so much more than these,
As thou, perchance, art more than I,
And yet I spare them sympathy,
And I would set their pains at ease.

So mayst thou watch me where I weep,.. .