Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam A. H. H., which “Proem” introduces, has always been considered one of Tennyson’s most important works. George O. Marshall Jr., explained in 1963 in A Tennyson Handbook, “One of the most remarkable things about In Memoriam was its popularity with Tennyson’s contemporaries. It seemed to be such a satisfactory answer to the problems of existence, especially those raised by the struggle between religion and science, that the Victorians clasped it to their bosoms to supplement the consolation offered by the Bible. This wholehearted acceptance of its teachings went from the highest to the lowest.”
Marshall’s account of the poem’s reception is at odds, however, with that of G. M. Young, in his essay “The Age of Tennyson.” Young’s essay argues that Tennyson was less a Victorian poet than a modern one, explaining:
In Memoriam was influential in extending his renown, but within limited range: many of its earliest readers disliked it, many did not understand it, and those who admired it most were not always the best judges of its poetry.
T. S. Eliot, writing in his Selected Essays, has declared that In Memoriam’s “technical merit alone is enough to ensure its perpetuity.” Eliot also noted, “While Tennyson’s technical competence is everywhere masterly and satisfying, In Memoriam is the least unapproachable of all his poems.” Eliot’s influence is evident in contemporary views of Tennyson’s poem: while Tennyson’s other works are critically respected, modern readers tend to take particular interest in the perspective taken by In Memoriam, which examines one person’s grief (though Tennyson himself wanted readers to understand the views held by the speaker of the poem were not necessarily his own). This directness makes this poem, of all Tennyson’s works, the most similar to the poetry with which twenty-first-century readers are familiar.