"So Near And Yet So Far"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In Memoriam, which has been called the crucial poem of the nineteenth century, was written over a period of seventeen years. While a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, Tennyson had formed a deep friendship with another undergraduate, Arthur Henry Hallam, who was a leading member of the "Apostles," a group of young men who met frequently for discussions of current political, moral, and artistic questions.

Hallam made a remarkable impression upon his contemporaries, all of whom predicted for him a future of exceptional brilliance. Not only was Hallam the most intimate friend of Tennyson's undergraduate years; he became the betrothed of the poet's sister Emily. The great tragedy occurred in the autumn of 1833, when Hallam died suddenly in Vienna. His death plunged Tennyson into a profound gloom from which he did not recover for years. He considered Hallam "as near perfection as mortal man could be," an opinion in which all of the dead man's friends concurred. The long poem of In Memoriam was the result of Tennyson's brooding over the death of his friend and future brother-in-law. In it he considers not only the eternal questions of death and loss but also the problems raised by the new science of geology and by the pre-Darwinian theories of evolution, which had seriously weakened religious faith. Throughout the poem, Tennyson finds many metaphors by which to express his admiration for Hallam and his belief in his friend's intellectual superiority, both to himself and to their contemporaries at Cambridge. In Part XCVII he uses the comparison of a married couple who were happy and equal companions in their youth. But the husband has intellectually outstripped the wife, so that she can no longer understand his ideas. Yet though she cannot be his mental companion, she still loves him and knows that he loves her "whate'er the faithless people say." So Tennyson, in his humility, felt that his relationship with the superbly gifted Hallam had been. Part of the elaborate metaphor is as follows:
These two–they dwelt with eye on eye,
Their hearts of old have beat in tune,
Their meetings made December June,
Their every parting was to die.
Their love has never past away;
The days she never can forget
Are earnest that he loves her yet,
Whate'er the faithless people say.
Her life is lone, he sits apart;
He loves her yet, she will not weep,
Tho' rapt in matters dark and deep
He seems to slight her simple heart.
He thrids the labyrinth of the mind,
He reads the secret of the star,
He seems so near and yet so far,
He looks so cold: she thinks him kind.
She keeps the gift of years before,
A wither'd violet is her bliss:
She knows not what his greatness is,
For that, for all, she loves him more.