In Memoriam "Doubt Is Devil-born"
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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"Doubt Is Devil-born"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: This elegy was written as a monument to Arthur Henry Hallam, a young man of extraordinary promise and an intimate friend of Tennyson's, who died suddenly in Vienna at the age of twenty-two. The poem records Tennyson's slow spiritual progress from his initial depth of personal sorrow to the gradual healing of grief through a sense of spiritual contact with Hallam in a wider love of God and humanity. Preceding section XCVI, Tennyson describes having fleetingly achieved the reunion in spirit with his friend which he had so earnestly desired. This union in section XCV is one of the climaxes of the elegy. After this mystical experience, Tennyson comes out of his trance and begins to doubt the validity of his experience. In spite of his intellectual doubts, he affirms the certainty of intuitive powers. At the close, he sees darkness and light no longer as two opposing powers but united in a single image of dawn, symbolic of a new faith. Section XCVI is an occasional poem designed to illustrate the change within the poet's mind and soul caused by his experience. Tennyson affirms the value of honest doubting in the search for a stronger faith:

You say, but with no touch of scorn
Sweet-hearted, you, whose light-blue eyes
Are tender over drowning flies,
You tell me, doubt is Devil-born.
I know not: one indeed I knew
. . .
Perplext in faith but pure in deeds,
At last he beat his music out.
There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds.