In Memoriam by Alfred Tennyson is perhaps one of the most interesting pieces we have read in this class, and definitely a new favorite of mine (I even went as far as to purchase a copy from Kindle for cheap so I can keep it with me). Reading or writing poetry is a most cathartic experience, in my opinion, and as someone who has had 6 close people pass away within the last 2 years… I can understand why this would become such a popular piece of literature, and have been a very helpful tool for dealing with grief.
In this second part of the narrative, we see that Tennyson is detailing how his life is progressing after this devastating loss of Arthur Hallam. As with real grief, there are moments when the sections are hopeful, perhaps even a little uplifting, and sections that encompass all of the depression that must have been bottled up inside Tennyson. This second part, however, seems to be twinged with sadness, but overall a journal of how he is learning to live again despite the fact that he still really misses his friend. “…knowing Death has made / His darkness beautiful with thee” (1391-2) shows that there has been some progress with this distraught man, while he is still resentful of the fact that Hallam is gone it almost seems that he is trying to force himself to accept this. We even see the closing to this circle of sadness at the Epliogue where Tennyson details just how happy of a situation his sister Ceclia’s wedding is, and while giving tidbits about Hallam, we see that Tennyson has grown able to enjoy the happiness around himself, “ Nor have I felt so much of bliss / Since first he told me that he loved / A daughter of our house;” (2757-9).
Reading through this piece has helped me to get a better grasp on grief, and perhaps understand not only my own battles with grief, but what my younger brother has also been going through for the last year. The night of Thanksgiving in November of 2015, my brother lost his best friend in an automobile accident. They were as close as siblings, and lines 217-220, “My Arthur, whom I shall not see / Till all my widow’d race be run; / Dear as the mother to the son, / More than my brothers are to me.” Is something that really reflects their friendship. Everything in In Memoriam has seemed like some sentiment that my brother has expressed over the last year and a half. Less than a month ago we lost my aunt to cancer, a mere 6 days after her granddaughter had been born (my cousin’s first child). He is currently experiencing a grief that could perhaps rival that of Tennyson. Having finished this piece, I think that I may refer both of them to this beautiful depiction of the processing of grief.
In Memoriam by Alfred Tennyson is a wonderful piece full of despair for his friend whom he loved like a brother, and this hopeful tone that offers the reader some solace from the unfortunate situation of a death. Such imagery that suggests this sort of praising to God and allowing his love to make a person feel better, there is definitely an argument in the early stanzas/ the prologue, “thy foot / Is on the skull. Which thou hast made.” (67-8) but there are just as many places where Tennyson seems to be almost showing a hatefulness to God and bitterness to how swiftly a person’s life can end, almost as if God should be benevolent. I remember once writing a paper for an American History class on whether God is benevolent or omnipotent, based on the idea of the genocide of the Jewish community. The idea was that is God aware of these terrible things and letting them happen or is he unaware and only has time to focus on so many things at one time, because if he knowingly allows these atrocities to occur he can not be seen as benevolent, but if he fixes all the terrible things in the world then he cannot be seen as omnipotent for he would then allow terrible things to happen .
Tennyson seems almost to be chastising these people who believe that their loved ones will always make it home, and if not chastising then he is definitely writing in cynicism. He writes about how a father can send his son to his death, how a mother can think that her prayers may have any effect on saving her son, and a girl whose only worry is for how she will appear to her beloved. The image of the naive girl is carried a little farther than that of the mother or father however, “O somewhere, meek unconscious dove, / That sittest ranging golden hair; / And glad to find thyself so fair, / Poor child, that waitest for thy love!” (145-8) and then gives her even further vanity by making her set the hair again with trappings that no one would care about save she and other silly women. In this same chapter we see that there is also the image of a mirror, something that is to be used to see into the soul, and it appears that this girl’s soul is too wrapped up in her vanity to worry about whether the man she waits for is even alive.
We see a lot of references to boats and the sea, especially as Arthur Hallam’s remains were being brought from Italy on a boat. Tennyson likens the sails of this boat to a shroud of death, but also to wings, “Spread thy full wings,” (204) almost as if the boat were a bird or perhaps the angel of death ferrying the man home. The imagery of the boat also evokes the idea of Charon (Death) and his boat that moves along the River Styx, ferrying those who have died to their final resting place in the Underworld where they shall either be granted eternal happiness in Elysium or eternal pain in Tartus. Coupled with this image of Charon/ Death we also see a reference to the god Pan and his pan flute that was made out of a reeds so that he could always feel that closeness to his love, “since the grasses round me wave, / I take the grasses of the grave, / And make them pipes whereon to blow.” (438-40). There is a decided murkiness to whether he believes in God or gods, or if this is just imagery that he is accustomed to seeing and has introduced this into the narrative.