In Memoriam "The Shadow Cloaked From Head To Foot"

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

"The Shadow Cloaked From Head To Foot"

(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 the slow, wavering spiritual progress of Tennyson 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. The opening sections of the poem express Tennyson's deep sense of personal loss. Sections XXII-XXV are a retreat to the past, comparing the happy five years Tennyson and Hallam spent together with the sad isolation of the present. Hallam's death occurred in the autumn of their friendship's fifth year. Death is depicted as "the Shadow fear'd of man" who spreads his dark, cold mantle over his victim and bears him away to a place where no living man may follow. In the poem's only allusion to his own death wish, Tennyson states that as he walks hastily, he thinks:

. . . that somewhere in the waste
The Shadow sits and waits for me.
Now, sometimes in my sorrow shut
Or breaking into song by fits,
Alone, alone, to where he sits,
The Shadow cloak'd from head to foot,
Who keeps the keys of all the creeds,
I wander, often falling lame,
And looking back to whence I came,
Or on to where the pathway leads; . . .