Within its 131 sections, Alfred, Lord Tennyson's elegy In Memoriam A.H.H. awakens many painful questions regarding death and mortality. Tennyson makes no attempt in any of the verses to hide his pain and devastation over the loss of his close friend Arthur Henry Hallam to a fever in 1833. Throughout In Memoriam Tennyson continues his contemplations upon the transient nature of life and the tragedy of his friend's death. In doing so, the poet touches upon many of the cornerstones of the human fascination with death and offers up many questions that he himself leaves more or less unanswered. He seems unable and unwilling to see beyond the uncertainty and indiscernible nature of death itself, regardless of how he struggles to do so:
Do we indeed desire the dead
Should still be bear us at our side?
Is there no baseness we would hide
No inner vileness that we dread?
Shall he for whose applause I strove
I had such reverence for his blame,
See with clear eye some hidden shame
And be lessen'd in his love?
I wrong the grave with fears untrue:
Shall love be blamed for want of faith?
There must be wisdom with great Death:
The dead shall look me thro' and thro'
Be near us when we climb or fall:
Ye watch, like God, the rolling hours
With larger other eyes than ours,
To make allowance for us all. [section 51, page 32]
1. How does Tennyson use questions within the various sections of In Memoriam A.H.H. as well as in this one? Are these rhetorical devices merely the poet ruminating aloud to himself, or do they serve a more complex function within the work?
2. In this section, Tennyson seems almost uncomfortable with the idea of an omnipotent afterlife. What conclusion does he ultimately come to within the rest of the work regarding Hallam's gaze from heaven upon him down on the earthly plane?
3. Tennyson switches points of view in this section in terms of speaking as a "we" and then as himself alone. What is the effect of doing so within this section as well as within the rest of the elegy?
4. Here Tennyson seems to waver from his original desire for his friend to "be near me" at all times. What, if anything, creates this change? How does the previous section contrast with section 51 in terms of tone and literary devices?
Last modified 4 April 2004
Last modified 8 June 2007