In Memoriam A.H.H.

In Memoriam A.H.H.

In Memoriam A.H.H. is a poem by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, completed in 1849. It is a requiem for the poet's Cambridge friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who died suddenly of a cerebral haemorrhage in Vienna in 1833. Because it was written over a period of 17 years, its meditation on the search for hope after great loss touches upon many of the most important and deeply-felt concerns of Victorian society. It contains some of Tennyson's most accomplished lyrical work, and is an unusually sustained exercise in lyric verse. It is widely considered to be one of the great poems of the 19th century.[1]

The poem was a great favourite of Queen Victoria, who found it a source of solace after the death of Prince Albert in 1861: "Next to the Bible, In Memoriam is my comfort." In 1862, Victoria requested a meeting with Tennyson because she was so impressed by the poem.

The original title of the poem was "The Way of the Soul", and this might give an idea of how the poem is an account of all Tennyson's thoughts and feelings as he copes with his grief over such a long period - including wrestling with the big philosophico-scientific questions of his day. It is perhaps because of this that the poem is still popular with and of interest to modern readers. Owing to its length and its arguable breadth of focus, the poem might not be thought an elegy or a dirge in the strictest formal sense.



The poem is not arranged exactly in the order in which it was written. The prologue, for example, is thought to have been one of the last things written. The earliest material is thought to be that which begins "Fair ship, that from the Italian shore | Saileth the placid ocean-plains" and imagines the return of Hallam's body from Italy. Critics believe, however, that the poem as a whole is meant to be chronological in terms of the progression of Tennyson's grief. The passage of time is marked by the three descriptions of Christmas at different points in the poem, and the poem ends with a description of the marriage of Tennyson's sister.

"In Memoriam" is written in four-line ABBA stanzas of iambic tetrameter, and such stanzas are now called In Memoriam Stanzas. Though not metrically unusual, given the length of the work, the meter creates a tonal effect which often divides readers - is it the natural sound of mourning and grief, or merely monotonous? The poem is divided into 133 cantos (including the prologue and epilogue), and in contrast to its constant and regulated metrical form, encompasses many different subjects: profound spiritual experiences, nostalgic reminiscence, philosophical speculation, Romantic fantasizing and even occasional verse. The death of Hallam, and Tennyson's attempts to cope with this, remain the strand that ties all these together.

Speculation on bisexuality

The poem about a man’s love for another man includes sexual imagery, for example the poet compares his sorrow to the sorrow of a loving widower who misses his late wife in bed.

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;[2]

There has been speculation that Tennyson may have experienced homosexual feelings for his friend though there is no question that Tennyson was strongly attracted to women.[3] If Tennyson had bisexual feelings there is no evidence he acted on these feelings.


The most frequently quoted lines in the poem are perhaps

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.

This stanza is to be found in Canto 27. The last two lines are usually taken as offering a meditation on the dissolution of a romantic relationship. However the lines originally referred to the death of the poet's beloved friend. Another much-quoted phrase from the poem is "nature, red in tooth and claw," found in Canto 56, referring to humanity:

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

Also, the following are found in Canto 54

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.

Nature, red in tooth and claw

In writing the poem, Tennyson was influenced by the ideas of evolution presented in Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation which had been published in 1844, and had caused a storm of controversy about the theological implications of impersonal nature functioning without direct divine intervention. The fundamentalist idea of unquestioning belief in revealed truth taken from a literal interpretation of the Bible was already in conflict with the findings of science, and Tennyson expressed the difficulties evolution raised for faith in "the truths that never can be proved".[4]

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.

This poem was published before Charles Darwin made his theory public in 1859. However, the phrase "Nature, red in tooth and claw" in canto 56 quickly was adopted by others as a phrase that evokes the process of natural selection. It was and is used by both those opposed to and in favour of the theory of evolution.[5][6][7][8]

However, at the end of the poem, Tennyson emerges with his Christian faith reaffirmed, progressing from doubt and despair to faith and hope, a dominant theme also seen in 'Ulysses'.

If e'r when faith had fallen asleep,
I hear a voice 'believe no more'
And heard an ever-breaking shore
That tumbled in the Godless deep;
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'd have felt.'
No, like a child in doubt and fear:
But that blind clamour made me wise;
Then was I as a child that cries,
But, crying knows his father near;[9]

Further reading

  • A.C. Bradley, A Commentary on Tennyson's In Memoriam. London, Macmillan and Co. 1901.


  1. ^ Andrew Hass, David Jasper, Elisabeth Jay (2007). The Oxford Handbook of English Literature and Theology. Oxford University Press. pp. 607. ISBN 0199271976. 
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Josef L. Altholz, Professor of History, University of Minnesota (1976). "The Warfare of Conscience with Theology". The Mind and Art of Victorian England. Victorian Web. Retrieved 2007-11-06. 
  5. ^ Charles Darwin-A Short Biography, Coe College Biology Department, 1999.
  6. ^ Red in Tooth and Claw, Gary Martin, Phrases, Sayings and Idioms at The Phrase Finder, 1996.
  7. ^ Start of preface to 1976 edition, Excerpt from The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. (2nd Edition 1989) Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  8. ^ 4. The Evolutionary Implications of Living with the Ice Age, William James Burroughts, Climate Change in Prehistory: The End of the Reign of Chaos, Cambridge University Press, 2005, ISBN 0521824095
  9. ^ AQA A AS English Literature: Victorian Literature: Student's Book

External links

Quotations related to In Memoriam A.H.H. at Wikiquote Works related to In Memoriam A. H. H. at Wikisource

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