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In Memoriam A.H.H.

poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson on the death of Arthur Henry Hallam

In Memoriam A.H.H. is a long poem by the English poet Alfred Tennyson, completed in 1849. It is a requiem for the poet's Cambridge friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage in Vienna in 1833, but it is also much more. Written over a period of 17 years, it can be seen as reflective of Victorian society at the time, and the poem discusses many of the issues that were beginning to be questioned. It is the work in which Tennyson reaches his highest musical peaks and his poetic experience comes full circle. It is generally regarded as one of the great poetic works of the British 19th century.

Contents

PrologueEdit

  • Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
    Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
    By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
    Believing where we cannot prove;

    Thine are these orbs of light and shade;
    Thou madest Life in man and brute;
    Thou madest Death; and lo, thy foot
    Is on the skull which thou hast made.
    • Prologue, stanza 1–2
  • Thou seemest human and divine,
    The highest, holiest manhood, thou.
    Our wills are ours, we know not how;
    Our wills are ours, to make them thine.
    • Prologue, stanza 4
  • 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.
    • Prologue, stanza 5
  • Let knowledge grow from more to more,
    But more of reverence in us dwell;
    That mind and soul, according well,
    May make one music as before,
    But vaster.
    We are fools and slight;
    We mock thee when we do not fear:
    But help thy foolish ones to bear;
    Help thy vain worlds to bear thy light.
    • Prologue, stanza 7–8
  • Forgive what seem'd my sin in me;
    What seem'd my worth since I began;
    For merit lives from man to man,
    And not from man, O Lord, to thee.
    • Prologue, stanza 9
  • Forgive these wild and wandering cries,
    Confusions of a wasted youth;
    Forgive them where they fail in truth,
    And in thy wisdom make me wise.
    • Prologue, stanza 11

Parts I–CXXXIEdit

  • I held it truth, with him who sings
    To one clear harp in divers tones,
    That men may rise on stepping-stones
    Of their dead selves to higher things.
    • I, stanza 1
  • Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drown'd,
    Let darkness keep her raven gloss:
    Ah, sweeter to be drunk with loss,
    To dance with death, to beat the ground,

    Than that the victor Hours should scorn
    The long result of love, and boast,
    'Behold the man that loved and lost,
    But all he was is overworn.'

    • I, stanza 3-4
  • Old Yew, which graspest at the stones
    That name the under-lying dead,
    Thy fibres net the dreamless head,
    Thy roots are wrapt about the bones.

    The seasons bring the flower again,
    And bring the firstling to the flock;
    And in the dusk of thee, the clock
    Beats out the little lives of men.

    • II, stanza 1-2
  • O Sorrow cruel fellowship,
    O Priestess in the vaults of Death,
    O sweet and bitter in a breath,
    What whispers from thy lying lip?

    'The stars,' she whispers, 'blindly run;
    A web is wov'n across the sky;
    From out waste places comes a cry,
    And murmurs from the dying sun:

    'And all the phantom, Nature stands
    With all the music in her tone,
    A hollow echo of my own,—
    A hollow form with empty hands.'

    And shall I take a thing so blind,
    Embrace her as my natural good;
    Or crush her, like a vice of blood,
    Upon the threshold of the mind?

    • III, stanza 1-4
  • I sometimes hold it half a sin
    To put in words the grief I feel;
    For words, like Nature, half reveal
    And half conceal the Soul within.
    • V, stanza 1
  • But for the unquiet heart and brain
    A use in measured language lies;
    The sad mechanic exercise
    Like dull narcotics numbing pain.
    • V, stanza 3
  • In words, like weeds, I'll wrap me o'er,
    Like coarsest clothes against the cold:
    But that large grief which these enfold
    Is given in outline and no more.
    • V, stanza 3
  • One writes, that 'Other friends remain,'
    That 'Loss is common to the race' —
    And common is the commonplace,
    And vacant chaff well meant for grain.
    That loss is common would not make
    My own less bitter, rather more:
    Too common! Never morning wore
    To evening, but some heart did break.
    • VI, stanza 1–2
  • Tears of the widower, when he sees
    A late-lost form that sleep reveals,
    And moves his doubtful arms, and feels
    Her place is empty, fall like these;

    Which weep a loss for ever new,
    A void where heart on heart reposed;
    And, where warm hands have prest and closed,
    Silence, till I be silent too.
    • XIII, stanza 1–2
  • And topples round the dreary west
    A looming bastion fringed with fire.
    • XV, stanza 5
  • 'Tis well; 'tis something; we may stand
    Where he in English earth is laid,
    And from his ashes may be made
    The violet of his native land.
    • XVIII, stanza 1
  • Behold, ye speak an idle thing:
    Ye never knew the sacred dust:
    I do but sing because I must,
    And pipe but as the linnets sing.
    • XXI, stanza 6
  • The shadow cloaked from head to foot.
    • XXIII, stanza 1
  • Who keeps the keys of all the creeds.
    • XXIII, stanza 2
  • When each by turns was guide to each,
    And Fancy light from Fancy caught,
    And Thought leapt out to wed with Thought
    Ere Thought could wed itself with Speech.
    • XXIII, stanza 4
  • I hold it true, whate'er befall;
    I feel it, when I sorrow most;
    'Tis better to have loved and lost
    Than never to have loved at all.
  • Her eyes are homes of silent prayer.
    • XXXII, stanza 1
  • Whose faith has centre everywhere,
    Nor cares to fix itself to form.
    • XXXIII, stanza 1
  • My own dim life should teach me this
    That life shall live for evermore.
    • XXXIV, stanza 1
  • How fares it with the happy dead?
    For here the man is more and more;
    But he forgets the days before
    God shut the doorways of his head.
    • XLIV, stanza 1
  • Short swallow-flights of song, that dip
    Their wings in tears, and skim away.
    • XLVIII, stanza 4.
  • Be near me when my light is low,
    When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
    And tingle; and the heart is sick,
    And all the wheels of Being slow.
    Be near me when the sensuous frame
    Is rack'd with pangs that conquer trust;
    And Time, a maniac scattering dust,
    And Life, a Fury slinging flame.
    • L, stanza 1–2
  • Do we indeed desire the dead
    Should still be near us at our side?
    Is there no baseness we would hide?
    No inner vileness that we dread?
    • LI, stanza 1
  • Hold thou the good: define it well:
    For fear divine Philosophy
    Should push beyond her mark, and be
    Procuress to the Lords of Hell.
    • LIII, stanza 4
  • O, yet we trust that somehow good
    Will be the final goal of ill,

    To pangs of nature, sins of will,
    Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

    That nothing walks with aimless feet;
    That not one life shall be destroyed,
    Or cast as rubbish to the void,
    When God hath made the pile complete.
    That not a worm is cloven in vain;
    That not a moth with vain desire
    Is shriveled in a fruitless fire,
    Or but subserves another's gain.

    • LIV, stanza 1–3
  • Behold, we know not anything;
    I can but trust that good shall fall
    At last — far off — at last, to all,
    And every winter change to spring.
    So runs my dream; but what am I?
    An infant crying in the night;
    An infant crying for the light,
    And with no language but a cry.
    • LIV, stanza 5
  • Are God and Nature then at strife,
    That Nature lends such evil dreams?
    So careful of the type she seems,
    So careless of the single life
    ;

    That I, considering everywhere
    Her secret meaning in her deeds,
    And finding that of fifty seeds
    She often brings but one to bear,

    I falter where I firmly trod,
    And falling with my weight of cares
    Upon the great world's altar-stairs
    That slope thro’ darkness up to God,

    I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
    And gather dust and chaff, and call
    To what I feel is Lord of all,
    And faintly trust the larger hope.

    • LV, stanza 2–5
  • 'So careful of the type?' but no.
    From scarped cliff and quarried stone
    She cries, 'A thousand types are gone:
    I care for nothing: all shall go.'

    'Thou makest thine appeal to me:
    I bring to life, I bring to death;
    The spirit does but mean the breath:
    I know no more.' And he, shall he,

    Man, her last work, who seem'd so fair,
    Such splendid purpose in his eyes
    ,
    Who roll'd the psalm to wintry skies,
    Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

    Who trusted God was love indeed
    And love Creation's final law —
    Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
    With ravine, shriek'd against his creed —

    Who loved, who suffer'd countless ills,
    Who battled for the True, the Just,
    Be blown about the desert dust,
    Or seal'd within the iron hills?

    No more? A monster then, a dream,
    A discord. Dragons of the prime,

    That tare each other in their slime,
    Were mellow music match'd with him.
    O life as futile, then, as frail!
    O for thy voice to soothe and bless!
    What hope of answer, or redress?
    Behind the veil, behind the veil.

    • LVI, stanza 1–6
  • O Sorrow, wilt thou live with me
    No casual mistress, but a wife,
    My bosom-friend and half of life;
    As I confess it needs must be.
    • LIX, stanza 1
  • And grasps the skirts of happy chance,
    And breasts the blows of circumstance.
    • LXIV, stanza 2.
  • And lives to clutch the golden keys,
    To mould a mighty state's decrees,
    And shape the whisper of the throne.
    • LXIV, stanza 3.
  • So many worlds, so much to do,
    So little done, such things to be
    ,
    How know I what had need of thee,
    For thou wert strong as thou wert true?
    • LXXIII, stanza 1
  • Thy leaf has perished in the green,
    And while we breathe beneath the sun,
    The world which credits what is done
    Is cold to all that might have been.
    • LXXV, stanza 4.
  • What hope is here for modern rhyme
    To him, who turns a musing eye
    On songs, and deeds, and lives, that lie
    Foreshorten’d in the tract of time?

    These mortal lullabies of pain
    May bind a book, may line a box,
    May serve to curl a maiden’s locks;
    Or when a thousand moons shall wane

    A man upon a stall may find,
    And, passing, turn the page that tells
    A grief, then changed to something else,
    Sung by a long-forgotten mind.

    But what of that? My darken’d ways
    Shall ring with music all the same;
    To breathe my loss is more than fame,
    To utter love more sweet than praise.

    • LXXVII
  • O last regret, regret can die!
    No — mixt with all this mystic frame,
    Her deep relations are the same,
    But with long use her tears are dry.
    • LXXVIII, stanza 5
  • I wage not any feud with Death
    For changes wrought on form and face;
    No lower life that earth’s embrace
    May breed with him, can fright my faith.

    Eternal process moving on,
    From state to state the spirit walks;
    And these are but the shatter’d stalks,
    Or ruin’d chrysalis of one.

    • LXXXII
  • My blood an even tenor kept,
    Till on mine ear this message falls,
    That in Vienna's fatal walls
    God's finger touch'd him, and he slept.
    • LXXXV, stanza 5
  • He brought an eye for all he saw;
    He mixt in all our simple sports;
    They pleased him, fresh from brawling courts
    And dusty purlieus of the law.
    • LXXXIX, stanza 3
  • Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds,
    At last he beat his music out.
    There lives more faith in honest doubt,
    Believe me, than in half the creeds.
    • XCVI, stanza 3
  • He seems so near, and yet so far.
    • XCVII, stanza 6.
  • Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
    The flying cloud, the frosty light;
    The year is dying in the night;
    Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
    • CVI, stanza 1
  • Ring out the old, ring in the new,
    Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
    The year is going, let him go;
    Ring out the false, ring in the true.
    • CVI, stanza 2
  • Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
    For those that here we see no more,
    Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
    Ring in redress to all mankind.
    • CVI, stanza 3
  • Ring out a slowly dying cause,
    And ancient forms of party strife;
    Ring in the nobler modes of life,
    With sweeter manners, purer laws.
    • CVI, stanza 4
  • Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
    But ring the fuller minstrel in!
    • CVI, stanza 5.
  • Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
    Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
    Ring out the thousand wars of old,
    Ring in the thousand years of peace.
    • CVI, stanza 7
  • Ring in the valiant man and free,
    The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
    Ring out the darkness of the land,
    Ring in the Christ that is to be.
    • CVI, stanza 8
  • And thus he bore without abuse
    The grand old name of gentleman,
    Defamed by every charlatan,
    And soiled with all ignoble use.
    • CXI, stanza 6.
  • Some novel power
    Sprang up forever at a touch,
    And hope could never hope too much
    In watching thee from hour to hour.
    • CXII, stanza 3.
  • Large elements in order brought,
    And tracts of calm from tempest made,
    And world-wide fluctuation swayed,
    In vassal tides that followed thought.
    • CXII, stanza 4.
  • A warmth within the breast would melt
        The freezing reason's colder part,
        And like a man in wrath the heart
    Stood up and answer'd, "I have felt."
    • CXXII, stanza 4.
  • There rolls the deep where grew the tree.
    O earth, what changes hast thou seen!
    There where the long street roars, hath been
    The stillness of the central sea.
    • CXXIII, stanza 1
  • Love is and was my Lord and King,
    And in his presence I attend
    To hear the tidings of my friend,
    Which every hour his couriers bring.
    • CXXVI
  • O living will that shalt endure
    When all that seems shall suffer shock,
    Rise in the spiritual rock,
    Flow through our deeds and make them pure.

    That we may lift from out of dust
    A voice as unto him that hears,
    A cry above the conquered years
    To one that with us works, and trust,
    With faith that comes of self-control,
    The truths that never can be proved
    Until we close with all we loved,
    And all we flow from, soul in soul.
  • CXXXI, stanza 1–3

EpilogueEdit

  • And thou art worthy; full of power;
    As gentle; liberal-minded, great,
    Consistent; wearing all that weight
    Of learning lightly like a flower.
    • Epilogue, stanza 10
  • By which they rest, and ocean sounds,
    And, star and system rolling past,
    A soul shall draw from out the vast
    And strike his being into bounds,

    And moved thro' life of lower phase,
    Result in man, be born and think,
    And act and love, a closer link
    Betwixt us and the crowning race

    Of those that, eye to eye, shall look
    On knowledge; under whose command
    Is Earth and Earth's, and in their hand
    Is Nature like an open book;
    No longer half-akin to brute,
    For all we thought and loved and did,
    And hoped, and suffer'd, is but seed
    Of what in them is flower and fruit
    ;

    Whereof the man, that with me trod
    This planet, was a noble type
    Appearing ere the times were ripe,
    That friend of mine who lives in God,
    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.

    • Epilogue, stanza 31–36

Quotes about In Memoriam A.H.H.Edit

  • If In Memoriam is a grieving man's quest for peace, transcendence, renewed faith, resolution, acceptance, or whatever (all and more have been proposed), then what role does science play in this search—and remember that Tennyson was a champion of science, not an embodiment of the unjust (and probably nonexistent) stereotype of an affected, antitechnological, romantic poet. The scientific verses of In Memoriam are among the most famous, and critical commentary has always viewed them as essential to the narrator's quest in the poem.
  • To me, In Memorium is an odyssey in the working out of extended grief. I am awestruck all the more because Tennyson composed the verses in haphazard fashion over seventeen years, yet the sequence of 131 sections rings so true of a chronological account of grieving. How could Tennyson remember and capture the sequence so beautifully? How could he integrate the swirling and swinging moods: the anger, the despair, the emptiness, the search for answers, the exultation of temporary resolution... Above all, I admire Tennyson's treatment of the relationship between science and human values... As a champion of science, Tennyson lauds its power... but he knows that science cannot tell us why a man should die so young, or how a grieving lover should resolve his suffering.
  • [I]t seems to me timely to inquire what In Memorium actually contributes to the thought of its time, how much and how truly; and with this inquiry, which must be largely shaped by the question of its structure, must be conjoined the question how it comes that a simple memorial of love and death should be the most influential poem of the century,—which latter inquiry may perhaps best be answered through a study of its purpose.
    • John Franklin Genung, Tennyson's In Memoriam: Its Purpose and Its Structure; a Study (1883) p. 10.
  • [T]hought is subjected to the interpreting light of God and immortality, which idea, reigning throughout the poem, has made In Memorium the most distinctively theological poem of the century.
    • John Franklin Genung, Tennyson's In Memoriam: Its Purpose and Its Structure; a Study (1883) p. 199.
  • Much has been written in recent years which has helped to shed light upon Tennyson's position as a spokesman and teacher of his age; much too that is of special interest and value to students of this particular poem. ...It is no easy matter to present in just proportions the bearings of a masterpiece, which may truly be said to be of equal importance whether we regard it as a creation of art, a study in psychology, a criticism of science, or a contribution to religious thought. ...at almost every line some interesting inquiry arises as to the precise force of an expression, or the exact meaning of an allusion ...
    For one class of omissions I have no apology to make. It has not seemed to me that it was a part of my business as a commentator to venture upon any judgment as to the permanent worth of what Tennyson has written; or to offer any opinion as to ways in which his thoughts, or the presentation of them, might conceivably have been changed for the better. Indeed I must confess that the more I read of attempts of this kind, the more I am disposed to conclude that Tennyson himself was right when he said, towards the close of his latest volume,
    But seldom comes the poet here,
    And the Critic 's rarer still.
    • Arthur W. Robinson, In Memoriam by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1904) Preface
  • It has become customary to read in... In Memoriam not only organic evolution, but also the geology of... Lyell. Because the relevant sections were written... long before Darwin's Origin of the Species... some literary critics have interpreted these passages as an anticipation of the theory of organic evolution by the intuitive genius of a poet, before the analytical mind of Darwin dared to arrive at the same conclusion. "How did the poet come to forestall the scientists in their own game?" one critic asks.
    • Nicolaas Adrianus Rupke, The Great Chain of History: William Buckland and the English School of Geology (1814-1849) (1983)
  • I went down to see Tennyson, who is very peculiar-looking, tall, dark, with a fine head, long black flowing hair, and a beard; oddly dressed, but there is no affectation about him. I told him how much I admired his glorious lines to my precious Albert, and how much comfort I found in his In Memorium. He was full of unbounded appreciation of beloved Albert. When he spoke of my loss, of that to the nation, his eyes quite filled with tears.
    • Queen Victoria, "Osbourne, 14th April 1862," The Letters of Queen Victoria (2014) Vol. 4: 1862-1869

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