Short note on Lord Alfred Tennyson and ‘In Memoriam’

Lord Alfred Tennyson

Lord Alfred Tennyson

Lord Alfred Tennyson was the sixth of the twelve children of a troubled family. His education started at a Grammar school. He went to Cambridge University but left it without any degree. His recognition as a poet came after the publication of Poems by Alfred Tennyson in 1842. His other collections The Princess and In Memoriam brought him both fame and money. He was selected the “Poet Laureate” in 1850. Tennyson understood the spirit of his age clearly and reflected it in his poetry. The social, political and religious issues of the Victorian time found adequate reflection in this poetry. The conflict between science and religion posed a threat to the peace of life.

Tennyson wrote In Memoriam to deal with it at length. He suggested a compromise between science and religion for the greater interest of life. In this age women freedom became another strong issue. His The Princess suggests a solution to this question, allowing women limited freedom. He records the spirit of adventure of the Victorian people in his famous dramatic monologue, Ulysses. It is worth noting that the fading Romantic spirit continued to the Victorian age. Tennyson’s poems reflect some of the features of Romanticism very clearly. For example, his interest in nature and natural scenes resulted from the influence of Romanticism on him. Tennyson had absolute control over English sounds and his poetry is famous for lucidity and melody.

In Memoriam

The poem, a sort of elegiac tribute, was written in the memory of the poet’s dear friend Arthur Henry Hallam. The occasion was the untimely death of Hallam that was a matter of grave grief for the poet. A sense of irrevocable and inexplicable loss pervaded the poet’s mood and prompted him to compose his memorable elegy.

Of modern English elegies, In Memoriam, perhaps, stands out as the most outstanding and well reputed work. The poem, written by Lord Tennyson between 1833 and 1850, actually was started in 1833. Different parts were written at different times and in different places and the whole work was completed in 1850. Of course, it was published anonymously in the latter year.

In Memoriam, however, is not a mere song of lament. The shadow, cast by death, appears to be the inspiration for the poet’s highly philosophic assessment of life and death and life after death. The poem of death becomes a great theme of the spiritual hope that comes out of the poet’s evaluation of changes, evolution and the immortality of the soul. Despite the deep grief for his dear friend’s death, the poet’s faith in God is unflinching and there is the gradual conquest of doubt and suffering.

That God, which ever lives and loves,
One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event,
To which the whole creation moves.

Of course, In Memoriam is not so much a single elegy, like Milton’s Lycidas or Shelley’s Adonais. It is a series of poem, written over a considerable time, inspired by the changing moods of the author’s regret for his lost friend. The poem is a sort of the poet’s spiritual autobiography, recording his agony of bereavement of death and doubt of divine justice and the gradual restoration of his faith and hope

“Oh! Yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill.”

Tennyson’s technique is simple and tone, quiet. The poem is made of short stanzas, all in octosyllabic (i.e., four iambic tetrameter lines) quatrains with the rhyme-scheme – abba.

In Memoriam is, indeed, one of the most beautiful elegies in the English language, synthesising high philosophy and profound sorrow, with the technical brilliance of imagery and melody.

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