The Poem from In Memoriam A.H.H. In Memoriam, Alfred, Lord Tennyson - Essay

Alfred, Lord Tennyson


(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

In Memoriam Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The following entry presents criticism of Tennyson's poem In Memoriam (1850). See also, Idylls of the King Alfred Criticism.

One of the most influential Victorian poems, Alfred Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam (1850) is actually 133 poetic fragments or sections that differ in theme, tone, and presentation, but are all unified by the poetic persona's grief, doubt, and search for faith. The composition of In Memoriam was initiated by Tennyson's deep suffering at the loss of his brilliant young friend, the promising poet and scholar Arthur Henry Hallam, who died suddenly in 1833 at the age of twenty-two. Although many of the sections were written in the three years following Hallam's death, when Tennyson's grief was most acute, he continued adding to and rearranging his long poem as science and religion shook traditional beliefs in God and Christianity. Finally, in 1850, Tennyson published his lyrical elegy. Immediately well-received, it brought Tennyson considerable fame and was undoubtedly influential in the decision to appoint Tennyson as William Wordsworth's successor as British poet laureate.

Plot and Major Characters

Although the 133 individual sections of In Memoriam present varying stages of doubt, faith, and consolation, they are all unified by the abba stanza form. Originally, Tennyson intended to call the poem “Fragments of an Elegy,” and later often referred to his work as “The Way of the Soul.” The actual title, however, was suggested by Emily Sellwood, Tennyson's future wife. In Memoriam has been argued by some critics to be deeply autobiographical, while others contend that it is foremost artistic and fictional; Tennyson himself claimed that the poem is actually the voice of all humanity, and not his own. The style and form of the emotional verse preclude conclusive identification of more than a few characters. There may also be no definitive answer to the question of genre, as its interior struggle is both highly personal and universal. The poem expresses deeply personal emotions and questions of faith, often directly resulting from the loss of Hallam. Contradictions abound, however, and with each assertion of doubt in God, Tennyson complicates the emotion by offering verses, or even single images or words, of hope and renewal. This culminates in section 95 when the poetic voice is reunited with the spirit of Hallam through a mystical experience. Finally, while closure is never truly found, the poem ends with a sense of consolation. Loss is accepted, faith is affirmed, and the presentation of a marriage leaves the reader with a measure of hope.

Major Themes

Most critics agree that In Memoriam can readily be divided into four sections marked by the three Christmas celebrations following Hallam's death. The mood progresses from despair, longing, doubt, and sorrow to hope, inner-peace, and faith. The poem considers death and the stages of bereavement as the narrator experiences intense grief, nostalgia, and disconsolation, as well as the contemplation of immortality with the desire for a future reunion with the dead. The eventual outcome of this renewed faith is tempered with knowledge of scientific advancement and is necessarily compatible with it. In Memoriam seeks to represent man's journey to understand suffering, love, and his own purpose.

Critical Reception

Criticism of In Memoriam has been rich and varied. During Tennyson's lifetime, his poem enjoyed universal acclaim. The Victorian reader shared his own spiritual doubt with the narrative voice of the poem and found solace. After Tennyson's death, his poem and his reputation alike suffered critical backlash. Many twentieth-century readers found the dramatic melancholy and the questioning of faith to be dated and naïve. The early twentieth-century vogue for dismissing Tennyson, and likewise In Memoriam, has largely passed, and critics since the 1960s have been greatly interested in the poem. Many scholars, including K.W. Gransden, consider In Memoriam to be an elegy. Gransden finds Tennyson's approach too tentative and exploratory as it seeks to adequately convey the poetic vision. Other critics have explored the influence of nineteenth-century scientific discovery on both Tennyson as a thinker and writer and on Victorian religious beliefs. One critic, Robert Dilligan, turned to computer analysis to help unravel the syntax and prosody of In Memoriam. The vehemence with which Tennyson's poem longs for the lost Hallam has led some critics, including Christopher Craft, to examine the homoerotic underpinnings of the poem and to question whether the obvious passages of male love are simply written with a sensibility unique to its time or are indicative of a different level of comfort with homosexuality. Likewise, analyses of the poem's linguistic structure, poetics, language, symbolism, and structure abound. In Memoriam remains an important work for critical examination as its themes of grief, doubt, loss, and longing are universal to humankind.

Principal Works

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Poems by Two Brothers [with Frederick and Charles Tennyson] (poetry) 1827

“Timbuctoo” (poem) 1827

Poems, Chiefly Lyrical (poetry) 1830

Poems (poetry) 1832

Poems 2 vols. (poetry) 1842

The Princess: A Medley (poem) 1847

In Memoriam (poem) 1850

“Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington” (poem) 1852

Maud, and Other Poems (poetry) 1855

Idylls of the King (poetry) 1859; enlarged edition, 1874

Enoch Arden, Etc. (poetry) 1864

The Holy Grail, and Other Poems (poetry) 1869

Gareth and Lynette, Etc. (poetry) 1872

Queen Mary: A Drama (drama) 1875

Harold: A Drama (drama) 1876

Ballads and Other Poems (poetry) 1880

Becket (drama) 1884

The Cup and The Falcon (drama) 1884

Tiresias, and Other Poems (poetry) 1885

Locksley Hall Sixty Years After, Etc. (poetry) 1886

Demeter, and Other Poems (poetry) 1889

The Death of Oenone, Akbar's Dream, and Other Poems (poetry) 1892

The Foresters, Robin Hood and Maid Marian (drama) 1892

J. M. Cohen (essay date 1949)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cohen, J. M. “‘In Memoriam’: a Hundred Years After.” Cornhill Magazine 164, no. 980 (autumn 1949): 151-64.

[In the following essay, Cohen states that Tennyson's In Memoriam is the record of the author's own experience following the death of contemporary poet and friend, Arthur Hallam.]

‘Answer for me that I have given my belief in “In Memoriam,”’ Tennyson would instruct his son Hallam when dealing with one of those numerous correspondents who questioned his Christian belief. To whom could a doubting reader turn with more assurance than to the Laureate for confirmation of his wavering faith? The answer in the passage to which Tennyson referred his troubled applicant was unequivocal:

And so the Word had breath, and wrought
          With human hands the creed of creeds
          In loveliness of perfect deeds,
More strong than all poetic thought.

Had his convictions and his poetry remained throughout on this pedestrian level, had the Sunday school piety of this quatrain faithfully expressed the nature and intensity of his religious thought, the poem would not bear this re-examination a hundred years after its completion. ‘In Memoriam,’ however, is the record of a profound and deeply individual experience, the central experience of Alfred Tennyson's life. Before it was written, all the best of his work was coloured by melancholy and apprehension. By following Arthur Hallam down to the grave and facing with him the stark fact of death Tennyson, at least partially, conquered the fear and weakness of his own nature, and won a certain spiritual security, which enabled him to envisage the perils and uncertainties of life with greater calm. ‘He that is near Me is near the fire,’ is a traditional saying of Christ's which the poet frequently quoted. ‘The fire was the fire of inspiration,’ his son explains. ‘For in “In Memoriam” the soul, after grappling with anguish and darkness, doubt and death, emerges with the inspiration of a strong and steadfast faith.’ He fails to comment, however, on the strange confusion throughout the poem between the figures of Christ and of his father's dead friend. But it is this revealing and seemingly unconscious identification that gave ‘In Memoriam’ its especial strength. Before it was written the emotion in Tennyson's poems was monotonous and dilute; the poet seemed to be the inchoate servant of his own not very profound sadness. After 1850 come the good Farringford years; he is a happier man and makes his long postponed marriage; but the later poems to which we return with any pleasure are very few. The ‘Idylls of the King’ treat a great theme with the encaustic piety of a knighted architect restoring a mediaeval church. In contrast ‘The Ring and the Book’ is a secular building, erected in a contemporary style to suit a human and contemporary need. After ‘In Memoriam’ Tennyson was a great figure but seldom a good poet; before it he was sometimes a good poet, but certainly no great figure: only into ‘In Memoriam’ did all his virtues flow.

The poem was sixteen years in the making. The twenty-four-year-old Tennyson who pencilled its first lines on a stray sheet had a few months before published his 1833 volume and established himself for all posterity with ‘The Lotos Eaters’ and ‘Oenone’; his ‘lost Arthur,’ whose body was at that moment travelling home from ‘the Italian shore,’ had been a year his junior. On ‘the elegy's’ anonymous publication Tennyson was forty, and Arthur Hallam, had he lived, would have been thirty-nine. In the interval the poem had been composed, section by section, in the ‘long butcher-ledger-like book’ which so narrowly escaped loss upon its completion; ‘some in Lincolnshire, some in London, Essex, Gloucestershire, Wales, anywhere I happened to be,’ the poet tells us; and during all those years, which saw as well the writing of much of the 1842 volume—of ‘Morte d'Arthur,’ ‘Ulysses’ and ‘St. Agnes Eve’—and of ‘The Princess,’ the central theme of the poet's life was, beyond all question, his mourning for his Cambridge friend.

A great number of his contemporaries testify to Arthur Hallam's outstanding promise. ‘A man of wonderful mind and knowledge on all subjects, hardly credible at his age,’ wrote Alford, later Dean of Canterbury. ‘When most bereavements will be forgotten, he will still be remembered,’ testified Gladstone, a truer prophet than he knew. For a future bishop, Thirlwall, he was ‘the only man of my own standing before whom I bow in conscious inferiority in everything.’ But for Tennyson he was more, a close friend and future brother-in-law: Hallam had fallen in love with Emily Tennyson at the age of eighteen or nineteen, and spent long weeks of his vacations at Somersby Vicarage, the Tennysons' home. And yet one more firm bond united the two men: Hallam's belief in Tennyson's poetry, and the support he gave him in the face of ‘the captious and unintelligent criticism’ of ‘Blackwood’ and the ‘Quarterly,’ which considerably rattled the over-sensitive poet. But deeply though Tennyson treasured their many-sided intimacy the relationship between them was by no means exclusive; they were both members of a wide and brotherly intellectual circle. But long before his death Arthur Hallam had achieved an outstanding place in the poet's affections.

For the sixteen years of the poem's writing Tennyson's mourning for Hallam had a significance in his life comparable only to Flaubert's death cult for his dead friends, which was his lifelong religion. But the losses which the Frenchman celebrated in the inner graveyard of his heart were many; that of Alfred le Poittevin, the intellectual companion to whom he was bound by more exclusive ties than was Tennyson to Hallam, was only the first. For Flaubert death followed death; for Tennyson there was but one. Each successive loss plunged Flaubert deeper into a melancholy isolation from which only remorseless work could temporarily relieve him; to Tennyson the death of Hallam brought a secret strength, confirming him ultimately in a deeply personal faith hammered out during the years of ‘In Memoriam’'s composition.

His thoughts, however, immediately upon his friend's death, turned to suicide, against which course he forthwith argued in ‘The Two Voices’ with a dogmatism which is both dull and unconvincing. He succeeded in forcing upon himself a theoretical consolation, however, that it took him in practice sixteen years to achieve. How much more compelling is the ‘still small voice’ tempting him to self-destruction than the ‘little whisper silver-clear, A murmur, “Be of better cheer,”’ with which he finds solace. For the tempter speaks in lines of authentic strength:

Then comes the check, the change, the fall,
Pain rises up, old pleasures pall.
There is one remedy for all.
Yet hadst thou, thro' enduring pain,
Link'd month to month with such a chain
Of knitted purport, all were vain.
Thou had'st not between death and birth
Dissolved the riddle of the earth.
So were thy labour little-worth …

The despair is more genuine than the comfort. If the best of Tennyson's poetry had hitherto always a dying fall, the death of Arthur Hallam served only to reinforce that underlying sense of fatality, most directly expressed in ‘The Vision of Sin,’ but implicit also in the weak cadences of ‘The Lotos Eaters.’ The younger Tennyson had been only too ready to foresee and accept defeat, awarding himself the dubious comfort of a ready-made and moralising faith. ‘In Memoriam’ marks the stages by which loss was turned to gain, and it is not by chance that the sequence, opening with Emily Tennyson's loss of her lover, closes with her sister Cecilia's marriage to another of Tennyson's friends, Edmund Lushington; the publication of the poem was immediately followed by his own marriage to Emily Sellwood.

It is in this symbolic plan rather than in the buoyantly orthodox introductory verses that we must read the true nature of Tennyson's hard-won faith. ‘I rejoiced in the Introduction,’ wrote Bishop Westcott, ‘which appeared to me to be the mature summing up, after an interval, of the many strains of thought in the “Elegies” … his splendid faith … seems to me to express a lesson of the Gospel which the circumstances of all time encourage us to master.’ Certainly the Bishop could quote lines to support his case:

Our little systems have their day;
          They have their day and cease to be:
          They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Lord, art more than they.

Yet such passages are as unconvincing as the forced moral of the ‘The Two Voices.’ Tennyson's acceptance did not go so far, and indeed the Bishop's hearty encomium stresses a familiar aspect of the prevalent Victorian misconception concerning the Laureate. Again in his praise of ‘honest doubt,’ Tennyson laid himself open to claims of kinship from the scientific agnostics. In reality, however, most of his more public and deliberately broadminded pronouncements were based on a minor personality which, a shy man, he readily assumed when he felt that a statement was expected of him. In contrast to Hallam, the Tennysons had been enthusiastic for the Reform Bill, and I think that it was with the family voice that the poet welcomed the forward march of Victorian progress, which in private caused him considerable alarm. From Hallam he took over a hatred of tyranny, and from his Cambridge circle a rather cloudy political optimism, that had no very deep roots in his nature. With Hallam he had made a dangerous journey to the Spanish frontier bearing funds for a democratic, constitutional and anti-clerical insurrection; and it was from John Sterling, perhaps, that he caught his enthusiasm for large-scale and high-principled progress—‘the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.’ His own judgments were apt to be narrower and more subjective, as witness his celebration of the ennobling effects of war—in this case the Crimean War—at the conclusion of ‘Maud.’ His public attitude to the niceties of religious dogma, too, was Hallam's, for whom ‘the essential feelings of religion subsist in the utmost diversity of forms.’ Tennyson's were no doctrinal doubts, however; they were a far more fundamental questioning of his own significance in a universe whose tremendous laws were even now being laid bare by his scientific contemporaries. It did not help him to disown his qualms by labelling them the ‘Supposed Confessions of a Second-rate Sensitive Mind not in unity with itself.’ It was with his own voice that he prayed:

… Oh teach me yet
Somewhat before the heavy clod
Weighs on me, and the busy fret
Of that sharp-headed worm begins
In the gross blackness underneath.

Death was terrible to him, and the fear of annihilation beyond the grave most real and present. But the teaching he asked for was not to be found in Hallam's liberal Christianity. A refuge in aestheticism, ‘a lordly pleasure-house’ erected by many artists from Flaubert to our own contemporaries, he rejected in ‘The Palace of Art,’ though with the final hope that ‘Perchance I may return with others there When I have purged my guilt.’ It would be easy to enlarge on this word ‘guilt’ and attribute to Tennyson a profound neurosis. If there was some self-frustrating sense of sin and inadequacy in the poet before the writing of ‘In Memoriam,’ it was largely dispelled in that poem. He had never known the inhibiting isolation from experience of Clough nor, despite the evidence of ‘The Two Voices’ and the mad monologue in ‘Maud,’ had he more than momentarily wandered the hallucinatory streets of the City of Dreadful Night. Only in ‘Maud’ do we find a suggestion of Thomson's insomniac despair:

… my heart is a handful of dust,
And the wheels go over my head,
And my bones are shaken with pain
For into a shallow grave they are thrust,
Only a yard beneath the street,
And the hoofs of the horses beat, beat,
The hoofs of the horses beat,
Beat into my scalp and my brain.

But though ‘one of the best-known doctors for the insane wrote that it was the most faithful representation of madness since Shakespeare,’ it is in fact no more than melancholic. Tennyson had no touch of that majestic schizophrenia which we have of late years come to confuse with genius.

This frustrating melancholy, which finds expression in his too ready confusion of dream with reality, remained constant to him throughout his early life: his most familiar landscape is of autumn, of ripe fruit dropping to decay, of weariness and sleep. The Cornhill reader could have been in no doubt as to the authorship of one of his greatest poems, which he found in his February number in 1860; the opening lines of ‘Tithonus’ are in themselves a signature:

The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the...

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James G. Taaffe (essay date 1963)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Taaffe, James G. “Circle Imagery in Tennyson's In Memoriam.Victorian Poetry 1, no. 2 (April 1963): 123-31.

[In the following essay, Taaffe offers a close reading of In Memoriam, focusing on its circle imagery and connecting the poem to Dante's Divina Commedia.]

In Memoriam, Tennyson tells us, “was meant to be a kind of Divina Commedia, ending with happiness.” The poem, beginning with the burial of Arthur Henry Hallam, he says, “concludes with the marriage of my youngest sister Cecilia.”1 This statement has been generally believed to indicate the movement of the poem from a Tennysonian Inferno to a...

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Carlisle Moore (essay date 1963)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Moore, Carlisle. “Faith, Doubt, and Mystical Experience in In Memoriam.Victorian Studies 7, no. 2 (December 1963): 155-69.

[In the following essay, Moore discusses Tennyson's In Memoriam, focusing on the author's struggle with questions of faith and his search for mystical reunion with the deceased Arthur Henry Hallam.]

We are still wont to think that Tennyson must abide our question because he confused personal confession and public prophecy. In Memoriam especially, with its wavering progression from a deeply-felt religious doubt to the proclamation of a universal faith, has been dismissed as a typical instance of Victorian...

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K. W. Gransden (essay date 1964)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gransden, K. W. “The Poem.” In Tennyson: In Memoriam, pp. 42-60. London: Edward Arnold (Publishers) LTD., 1964.

[In the following excerpt, Gransden examines In Memoriam as an elegy, noting that Tennyson's approach is tentative and exploratory, resulting in a poem that documents his trial and error as he attempted to translate his vision into words.]

Tennyson at one time thought of calling In Memoriam ‘Fragments of an Elegy’, a title which overstresses the intermittent nature of the poem at the expense of its underlying unity and development. A better pointer is his subtitle ‘The Way of the Soul’, and his remark, quoted in the...

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Eugene R. August (essay date 1969)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: August, Eugene R. “Tennyson and Teilhard: The Faith of In Memoriam.PMLA 84, no. 2 (March 1969): 217-26.

[In the following essay, August discusses Tennyson's depiction of faith in terms of nineteenth-century scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man, concluding that while some critics condemn In Memoriam for failing to adequately portray faith, Tennyson is actually offering a radically modern depiction of it.]

In Memoriam can, I think, justly be called a religious poem … because of the quality of its doubt. Its faith is a poor thing, but its doubt is a very intense experience.”1 Thus, in the...

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Francis P. Devlin (essay date 1972)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Devlin, Francis P. “Dramatic Irony in the Early Sections of Tennyson's In Memoriam.Papers on Language and Literature 8, no. 2 (spring 1972): 172-83.

[In the following essay, Devlin explores dramatic irony as it appears in five conventional images from the first twenty lyrics of In Memoriam, theorizing that this device serves to unify the poem and draw distinctions between the poet and the narrative voice.]

Speaking of In Memoriam, Tennyson wrote in an 1883 letter that “the different moods of sorrow as in a drama are dramatically given. …”1 This brief remark suggests a view of Tennyson's elegy as a kind of drama, with...

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Susan Gliserman (essay date 1975)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gliserman, Susan. “Early Victorian Science Writers and Tennyson's In Memoriam: A Study in Cultural Exchange.” Victorian Studies 18, nos. 3 and 4 (March and June 1975): 437-59.

[In the following excerpt, Gliserman looks at the works of nineteenth-century scientists Peter Mark Roget, William Whewell, and Charles Lyell as representative of the science writers read by Tennyson and explores the ways in which In Memoriam uses scientific language in reference to scientific discovery and as a literary style.]

A number of commentators, most recently Milton Millhauser, have identified passages in [Tennyson's] poetry as reflecting awareness of specific...

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John D. Boyd (essay date 1976)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Boyd, John D. “The Principles of Analogy and the Immortality Question in Tennyson's In Memoriam.University of Toronto Quarterly 45, no. 2 (winter 1976): 123-38.

[In the following essay, Boyd focuses on the congruence of different conceptions of immortality in Tennyson's poem. The critic also discusses Tennyson's predisposition to analogy.]

Since metaphor and simile are special kinds of analogies, there is a sense in which all poetry, at its very roots, exemplifies analogical thinking. Beyond this, however, some poets show a special predisposition toward the imaginative exploration of analogies. Tennyson is one of these. Speaking in the context of...

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James Kilroy (essay date 1977)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kilroy, James. “The Chiastic Structure of In Memoriam, A. H. H.Philological Quarterly 56, no. 3 (summer 1977): 358-73.

[In the following essay, Kilroy looks at the use of chiasmus, or inversion of the second of two parallel phrases, throughout In Memoriam, with particular focus on several stanzas at the center of the work.]

One of the recurrent challenges to critics of Victorian poetry has been the attempt to describe the structure of Tennyson's greatest poem, In Memoriam, A. H. H. Few deny its unity, but explanations of how its one hundred thirty-three separate poems are organized into an artistic whole have ranged from...

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Gerald L. Bruns (essay date 1978)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bruns, Gerald L. “‘The Lesser Faith’: Hope and Reversal in Tennyson's In Memoriam.Journal of English and Germanic Philology 77 (1978): 247-64.

[In the following essay, Bruns examines the organization of In Memoriam, asserting that the poem's reversals of hope and faith need to be critically explored and understood rather than resolved, as some critics contend.]

For me, the most credible readings of In Memoriam are those that have been concerned less with the unity or totality of the poem than with its variable or heterogeneous nature.1 In this paper I want to engage this variability once more, not in order to resolve it...

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Joseph Sendry (essay date 1980)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sendry, Joseph. “In Memoriam: Twentieth-Century Criticism.” Victorian Poetry 18, no. 2 (summer 1980): 105-18.

[In the following essay, Sendry provides a comprehensive overview of twentieth-century criticism on In Memoriam.]

Twentieth-Century criticism of In Memoriam begins, conceptually as well as chronologically, with A. C. Bradley's A Commentary on Tennyson'sIn Memoriam,” first published in 1901. Bradley offered exegesis and informative annotation of the entire poem along with richly concise biographical, bibliographical, and literary background. What he claimed not to offer was “aesthetic criticism,” investigation of...

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Robert Dilligan (essay date 1980)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Dilligan, Robert. “Computers and Style: The Prosody of In Memoriam.Victorian Poetry 18, no. 2 (summer 1980): 179-96.

[In the following essay, Dilligan provides a computer-aided analysis of In Memoriam that enlightens the connection between grammar and prosody, The critic also provides a detailed discussion of the poem's syntax.]


One way of understanding how a critic may use a computer is to make an analogy between a computer and a piano. From a logical point of view, a piano is a binary machine with eighty-eight switches of which, because of the limitations of its operators, only about ten can be depressed at any...

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Arthur Pollard (essay date 1981)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Pollard, Arthur. “In Memoriam as a Personal Poem.” Tennyson Research Bulletin 3, no. 5 (November 1981): 175-84.

[In the following essay, originally delivered as a lecture to the Tennyson Society in 1981, Pollard describes In Memoriam as a personal poem with universal application as the author relates his own experience of loss and bereavement.]

First of all, I should like to express my thanks and also my sense of humility at the honour you have conferred upon me in asking me to deliver the Tennyson lecture this year. The year just past saw great activity and success in securing the vast bulk of the Tennyson material and particularly the...

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Peter Hinchcliffe (essay date 1983)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hinchcliffe, Peter. “Elegy and Epithalamium in In Memoriam.University of Toronto Quarterly 52, no. 3 (spring 1983): 241-62.

[In the following essay, Hinchcliffe considers whether In Memoriam is a complete poem or an anthology and asserts that Tennyson specifically organized the individual poems comprising it to form an elegy.]


If literature is a map, then scholars and critics are surveyors and cartographers. Our task is to take new bearings and to draw new contours, not just to complete the work of our predecessors, but to determine where we have moved from those predecessors in relation to the landmarks that we...

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Rob Johnson (essay date 1987)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Johnson, Rob. “Strategies of Containment: Tennyson's In Memoriam.” In Post-Structuralist Readings of English Poetry, edited by Richard Machin and Christopher Norris, pp. 308-31. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

[In the following essay, Johnson examine Tennyson's deliberately ambiguous rhetoric whereby faith and doubt are explored through various alternative presentations in In Memoriam.]

In defending his commentary on In Memoriam against readers of Tennyson who doubted the necessity or value of such an enterprise, A. C. Bradley declared: “We read for the most part half-asleep, but a poet writes wide-awake.”1 This...

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A. A. Markley (essay date 1993)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Markley, A. A. “The Foot Upon the Skull: In Memoriam and the Tradition of Roman Love Elegy.” Tennyson Research Bulletin 6, no. 2 (November 1993): 112-21.

[In the following essay, Markley asserts that Tennyson's allusions to Roman love elegy are an attempt to heighten the expression of experience and emotion throughout In Memoriam.]

Tennyson opens his prologue to In Memoriam with an invocation to the ‘Strong Son of God, immortal Love’. The Victorian reader would immediately recognize the identification of Christ here; moreover there is an echo of George Herbert's ‘Love’, which begins with the invocation ‘Immortal Love’ (Hill 1971,...

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Patrick Scott (essay date 1996)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Scott, Patrick. “Tennyson, Lincolnshire, and Provinciality: The Topographical Narrative of In Memoriam.Victorian Poetry 34, no. 1 (spring 1996): 39-51.

[In the following essay, Scott portrays In Memoriam as a topographical narrative and argues that Tennyson wrote it with a sense of “provincial self-consciousness.”]

Tennyson writes to Emily Sellwood, perhaps some time in 1838:

I have dim mystic sympathies with tree and hill reaching far back into childhood. A known landskip is to me an old friend, that continually talks to me of my youth and half-forgotten things, and does more for me than many a...

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Gerhard Joseph (essay date 1998)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Joseph, Gerhard. “Producing the ‘Far-Off Interest of Tears’: Tennyson, Freud, and the Economics of Mourning.” Victorian Poetry 36, no. 2 (summer 1998): 123-33.

[In the following essay, Joseph examines loss in In Memoriam through a Freudian lens, focusing on several sections in which the critic illustrates Tennyson's use of economic terminology to express grief.]

I live, live intensely, and am fed by life, and my value, whatever it might be, is my own kind of expression of that. Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance.

Henry James, to H. G. Wells


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Robert Bernard Hass (essay date 1998)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hass, Robert Bernard. “The Mutable Locus Amoenus and Consolation in Tennyson's In Memoriam,SEL 38, no. 4 (autumn 1998): 669-87.

[In the following essay, Hass depicts In Memoriam as a pastoral elegy and focuses on Tennyson's use of locus amoenus to control his grief and find consolation.]

If literary criticism judges the success of an elegy by the amount of consolation it can offer, then it is not surprising that Alfred Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam has been read in this century with a cautious skepticism. Although Tennyson's contemporaries praised the poem as a fine representation of Victorian confidence and religious...

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Julian Lamb (essay date 1999)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lamb, Julian. “In Memoriam as Biography.” Critical Review 39 (1999): 20-28.

[In the following essay, Lamb considers In Memoriam as an act of self discovery on par with the poet's cognitive and emotional experience, thus serving as a biographical record of the poet's “secondary life experience.”]

It is not sufficiently recognized that Keats' ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is a dramatic poem. The drama or action of the poem does not come from the nightingale itself. The bird does little more than sing and, eventually, fly away. Most of the drama comes from the poet's asserting faith and doubt in a number of different areas; this is the drama of...

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Further Reading

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)


Armstrong, Isobel. “Tennyson in the 1850s: From Geology to Pathology—In Memoriam (1850) to Maud (1855).” In Tennyson: Seven Essays, edited by Philip Collins, pp. 102-40. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.

Examines the radical historical changes that took place between the composition of In Memoriam and Maud, influencing Tennyson's poetic perspective.

Battaglia, Francis Joseph. “The Use of Contradiction in In Memoriam.English Language Notes 4, no. 1 (September 1966): 41-46.

Explores contradictions and counter-statements in In Memoriam as modern in their...

(The entire section is 752 words.)