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Some of the notable literary elements in the poem "In Memoriam" by Lord Alfred Tennyson include:
- The use of Rhyme, and especially end-rhyme:
we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
- Employing Stanzas as part of the structure of the poem
- Employing a Rhyme Scheme: In this poem, Lord Alfred Tennyson employs the "abba" rhyme scheme. The first and fourth line of a stanza rhyme; the second and third line of a stanza rhyme.
- The use of Internal Rhyme: Tennyson uses rhyme within a single line...for example..."Forgive these wild and wandering cries". The "wi" in wild and the 'cri" in cries are internal rhyme.
- The use of a Caesura: This causes a pause within a line for a pronounced effect...the Caesura is between the words sailor and while...
Thy sailor,—while thy head is bow'd,
- The use of Imagery: Tennyson employs auditory and visual imagery in this poem:
Auditory: "I hear the bell struck in the night:"
Visual: "I see the cabin-window bright;"
Notable literary elements in Tennyson’s poem “In Memoriam” can be interpreted effectively relative to aspects of form and structure. The majority of poetry in the past was written to conform to sets of rules. Rather than constricting language, the rules lead readers to appreciate the poem. The form and structure of “In Memoriam”in terms of the rhyme scheme and the structure of the poem underscore the literary elements of tone and mood.
One formidable aspect of the form of the poem is the rhyme scheme, or the organization of words that rhyme. The first and fourth and second and third lines of the poem have words at the end that rhyme. This rhyme scheme is “ABBA.” The word choices of the end lines lend themselves to interpretation of the tone of the stanzas. For example, in the beginning of the poem, the end of the first line of the first stanza ends with the word “love” (A) and the last line of the last stanza ends with the word “prove.” This sets up the reader for a tone throughout the poem that is inquisitive, curious and self reflective about one’s internal life, particularly relative to essential emotions, such as love, that can be unseen in manifestation.
The literary element of mood is observable within the structure of quatrains, or each stanza organized into four lines. Although of course it is useful and necessary to get an idea of the whole poem, a close reading of each quatrain is helpful. In so doing, one notices that the mood conveyed is one of existential suffering and grief relative to death. For example, as the poem continues, the narrator seems to vacillate between an acceptance of mortality and a questioning of it. For example the 6th quatrain reads,
We have but faith: we cannot know;
For knowledge is of things we see
And yet we trust it comes from thee,
A beam in darkness: let it grow.
This stanza evokes in the reader a sense that death as a part of life is beyond human control and, in a sense, is left up to divine intervention.
Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” is widely considered a masterful example of the mastery of language through form and structure. When reading, analyzing and ultimately enjoying this work and other poetry, it is important to not only take note of the technical aspects of form and structure but also to strive for a deeper and broader perspective of what constitutes “literary.” Good luck!
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