In Memoriam "God's Finger Touched Him And He Slept"
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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"God's Finger Touched Him And He Slept"

(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, 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. Section LXXXV is one of the important spiritual turning points of the elegy: from despair to renewed hope. The section looks in both directions, giving a résumé of the earlier grief and showing the stage at which Tennyson has arrived and how he seeks new friendships even though he cannot replace the old. A look at what might have been if Hallam had lived to marry the poet's sister, Emily, only stirs the old bitterness and threatens the poet's "low beginning of content." His friend, Edmund Lushington, asks what sort of life he now leads–if his great sorrow has dimmed or sustained his faith in God; if the loss of Hallam has drained his capacity for love. As he begins to answer these questions, Tennyson admits how deeply Hallam's death has affected him:

My blood an even tenor kept,
Till on mine ear this message falls
That in Vienna's fatal walls
God's finger touched him, and he slept.
The great Intelligences fair
That range above our mortal state,
In circle round the blessed gate,
Received and gave him welcome there;
. . .
But I remain'd, whose hopes were dim
Whose life, whose thoughts were little worth,
To wander on a darken'd earth,
Where all things round me breathed of him.