Last Updated on September 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 489
In Memoriam A. H. H., the long elegiac poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, consists of 131 sections, sometimes called cantos, plus a prologue and an epilogue. Although the poem's individual lyrics were written over a period of seventeen years, Tennyson organized them into a sequence for publication. Various ways of understanding the poem's structure have been suggested. Tennyson told a friend that he had grouped the sections into nine natural groupings: 1–8, 9–20, 21–27, 28–44, 45–58, 59–71, 72–93, 94–103, 104–131. The poem is also organized sequentially in a timeline covering the time of Hallam's death, moving through seasons of the year and spanning three Christmases. There is a halting movement from despair and doubt to faith and hope. Others have suggested understanding the poem's structure by this emotional progress. With that understanding in mind, the poem breaks into the following divisions, thematically: despair (1–27), doubt (28–77), hope (78–102), and faith (103–31).
The poem begins with a prologue that Tennyson composed in 1849. Although it displays a traditional religious tone—it is, in fact, a prayer to "Strong Son of God, immortal Love"—it does not represent the tone of the entire poem. It is best understood as the culmination of what is to follow, since only after long years of grappling with his grief over his friend's death did Tennyson arrive at the place of serene submission to God, which is what is purveyed through the prologue.
The first eight sections represent the first hard days after Tennyson learned of his friend's death. They speak of pain, loss, despondency, and denial. Section 9 refers to a
Fair ship, that from the Italian shore
Sailest the placid ocean-plains
With my lost Arthur's loved remains,
Spread thy full wings, and waft him o'er.
This and the next ten sections deal with the return of Hallam's body from Vienna, Austria, where he died. The first Christmas after Hallam's death is described in section 28. From there, Tennyson struggles with doubts about the meaning of life, whether God is truly the creator of mankind, and whether Tennyson will see Hallam again in the afterlife. The second Christmas section (78) seems more hopeful, as do most of the following sections.
Section 103 recounts a dream in which Hallam appears as a larger-than-life mythic figure, and the third Christmas follows in section 104. From there, the sections seem more accepting of Hallam's death; time has allowed some of the pain to dissipate. In section 107, Tennyson celebrates Hallam's birthday "with festal cheer." In section 119, he recalls memories that are now sweet rather than painful. Section 127 presents a conviction that Hallam enjoys the afterlife where "all is well."
The poem concludes with an epilogue describing Tennyson's sister's wedding. It is filled with hopeful sentiments that convey that life goes on and that Hallam is with God,
That God, which ever lives and loves,
One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event,
To which the whole creation moves.
Thus, the poem ends on a note of affirmation regarding the overall harmony and meaning of creation.