Calculating loss in Tennyson's In Memoriam.
Contemporary attitudes toward recovery from loss have inevitably been influenced by Sigmund Freud's "Mourning and Melancholia" (1917). Freud's essay contrasts the work of mourning, whereby the subject detaches itself from the lost object and retrieves its independence, with the condition of melancholia, wherein the subject's refusal to sever the emotional bonds with the lost object results in a confused, diffuse identity. The problem with the successful mourning conceived by "Mourning and Melancholia" is that it permits no salutary fragmentation--the fragmented ego is considered ill, broken, discontinuous with the present. In The Ego and the Id (1923), Freud revises his rigid distinction between melancholia and mourning, admitting that the work of mourning is rarely ever completed and that identification with the lost object, previously considered the cause of melancholia, is actually a necessary stage in development of the ego. (1) In fact, he suggests, "It may be that this identification is the sole condition under which the id can give up its objects" (p. 19), implying that the self is constructed out of a progression of losses and substitutions. The post-mourning intact ego is therefore a conceptual rather than an observed phenomenon. So while "Mourning and Melancholia" has bequeathed to us the influential ideal of a healthy ego as one that is whole, in fact the ego's work of mourning is necessarily unfinished. As Freud himself came to understand, the ego's associations reach further with each experience; a fragmented ego is one that goes on living. The symptoms of melancholia are not its afflictions but its techniques.
Tennyson considered calling his sequence mourning Arthur Hallam "Fragments of an Elegy" or "The Way of the Soul." "Fragments of an Elegy" implies something unfinished, shattered, the shards of something unpieceable, yet it is also within sight of a cognizable whole: the elegy. In contrast, "The Way of the Soul" is too complete, suggesting a narrative, a journey arriving at its proper destination. It allegorizes loss, altering it into a trial for the soul, an event whose interpretation converts the historical occasion into a discrete meaning: a lesson. (2) At last, Tennyson chose neither of these titles. "In Memoriam: A.H.H." was the title given by his fiancee, Emily Sellwood, and it must have provided the solution Tennyson could not bring himself to acknowledge, that his work was a supreme act of remembering and not a resurrection. The title renders the name as initials, a trace or fragment that may possess all the import of a proper name for those who knew Arthur Henry Hallam, yet must remain, for readers who do not, as opaque as any symbol invoked to represent him.
Unlike many other generic categories of poetry, the elegy is not a formal structure. It has no prescribed pattern of lines and rhymes and stresses, the fulfillment of which would signal its completion. The elegy instead operates on a supralinguistic level, responding not to an inventory of letters and numbers, but to the author's sense of having come to an end. In keeping with the informal classification of the elegy, nearly every reader of In Memoriam is confronted with the difficulty of assessing its genre. Confusion begins with the eye: uneven groupings of regular stanzas, numeric order masquerading as unreadable letters. Tennyson's own words on the writing of In Memoriam are as follows:
The sections were written at many different places, and as the phases of our intercourse came to my memory and suggested them. I did not write them with any view of weaving them into a whole, or for publication, until I found that I had written so many. The different moods of sorrow as in a drama are dramatically given, and my conviction that fear, doubts, and suffering will find answer and relief only through Faith in a God of Love. "I" is not always the author speaking of himself, but the voice of the human race speaking through him. After the Death of A.H.H., the divisions of the poem are made by First Xmas Eve (Section XXVIII), Second Xmas (LXXVIII), Third Xmas Eve (CIV and CV etc.). (3)
Tennyson refers to the numbered units of In Memoriam as "sections"--that is, not parts pieced one by one to make a mosaic whole, but a division of something once whole, a full entity sliced neatly through, leaving visible seams. On the other hand, critics have given much attention to Tennyson's description of composition as a process of weaving--an image that draws our attention back to the etymological origins of text: texere, "to weave." (4) Tennyson's allusion to the product of his "weaving" as "a whole" reveals the case better: the work is a whole like the whole of the ego, fashioned in retrospect by an artist's hand, presumed natural though not pre-existing in nature, a whole that needs the eye's affirmation and the reader's continued care to avert unravelling. In Memoriam thus depends on and defies the project of the elegy by gesturing toward a resolved whole but leaving its internal fragmentation visible.
As demonstrated by the speaker's shifting resolutions and contradictions from section to section of the poem, the consolation offered by In Memoriam is tenuous and subject at any moment to the vagaries of lyric instability. The substitution of the ego for the lost object proves central to the speaker's disorientation. Consistent with melancholic immobility, he suffers his inability to create an adequate substitute for the lost object. This struggle manifests in the recurring opposition of the "type" and the "single life" (IM, LIII.7,8), the infinitely substitutable enduring ideal versus the impoverished, infinitesimal, disposable, unique individual. The trouble extends past the speaker's relationship to his loss, to disturb in addition the very medium in which he works: for substitution is also the basis for sympathy and language, the two systems the lyric poet relies on. As the speaker struggles to mediate his loss with words, In Memoriam reveals itself to be a work of melancholia that interrogates the goals of "proper" mourning.
Qualifying his use of "I" as "not always the author speaking of himself, but the voice of the human race speaking through him" poses further problems for the lyric. As opposed to a Whitmanian self-appointment as representative voice of the American multitude, Tennyson describes the "I" instead as the "human race" ventriloquizing his vacated body. The self as a vessel soundable by any entity, singular or choral, both presents and resolves the problem of the lyric, the problem of uttering "I." Tennyson's "I" contradicts what is essential to the lyric "I"--the idea that there is something individual and isolable, something private and particular about experience, action, and will that generates a position of speech, encompassed by the border we designate as the body. On the other hand, if this "I" can be spoken by the "voice of the human race," the problem of access to feelings experienced privately and the potentially idiolectal modes of describing such experience is elided. However, the explanation of "I" as "not I" also contains the admission of a melancholic sufferer, one who, after sustaining a loss from which he cannot extricate himself, is incapable of recognizing the borders of the self. Tennyson highlights his condition by refusing to claim "the different moods of sorrow" as his own, distancing himself from the feeling and action as an observer and reporter of the "drama"--or as the chorus he professes is speaking through him. The insistence that "I" is "not always the author" causes In Memoriam to be a work of transferring the loss to the "human race," forcibly creating a sympathetic community by sacrificing the anonymized "I" in the site of the poem. Tennyson follows this curious statement by turning to describe the "divisions of the poem" that ensue "After the Death of A.H.H." Juxtaposed with the disavowal and recasting of the "I," the bland divisions of "Xmas" and "Xmas Eves" stand out as a compensatory pretext for avoiding the necessity of interpreting the division of the self.
To his friend James Knowles, Tennyson described the process of composition more simply: "if there were a blank space, I would put in a poem." (5) Rather than a thread to be woven into the whole structure, the section, by such a claim, more clearly functions as a bridge that mocks itself as a futile filling-in of blanks. In the same letter, Tennyson gave a more detailed division of the poem into nine parts, I-VIII, IX-XX, XXI-XXVII, XXVIII-XLIX, L-LVIII, LIX-LXXI, LXXII-XCVIII, XCIX-CIII, and CIV-CXXXI. Unlike divisions by the annual ritual of Christmas, these divisions are attuned to the episodic nature of the poem, that is, divisions that devise a system for recognizing ends. Though division is a mode of organization, it is also an act of exile: distinct groupings emphasize some bonds and devalue others. By confining understanding to themes and miniature narratives, division is a step in mourning, perhaps the pragmatic solution to the process of withdrawing emotional investment from the lost object that Freud ascribes to proper mourning in "Mourning and Melancholia." To mourn, by Freud's early definition, is also to murder, to make the loss a product of one's own actions. As the story of loss is pared into sectors of grief, series of ends, the lost object is transformed into a stone with a word carved into it. When the act of mourning is arranged as a series of stages, its progress is revised into a linear process. Dead and living join specified narratives which only touch and then terminate in divergent places. The story of mourning is a wish that the heart would abandon its circumambulation and replicate the forward impulse of time. Tennyson's repetitions across divisions accentuate the circularity in the other divisions he indicates: Christmas and Christmas and Christmas. (6)
To love is so often to be beyond quantification, gesture, words. To collect is to count with the idea of arriving at an end. "Proper" mourning and the mythical elegy rely on the idea that the finished life, being finite, is therefore in the realm of collectibility, that, moments being numerable, it would be possible to gather them all and set them in order. Tennyson demonstrates the precariousness of such collection in section IV:
To Sleep I give my powers away; My will is bondsman to the dark; I sit within a helmless bark, And with my heart I muse and say: O heart, how fares it with thee now, That thou should'st fail from thy desire, Who scarcely darest to inquire, 'What is it makes me beat so low?' Something it is which thou hast lost, Some pleasure from thine early years. Break, thou deep vase of chilling tears, That grief has shaken into frost! Such clouds of nameless trouble cross All night below the darkened eyes; With morning wakes the will, and cries, "Thou shalt not be the fool of loss."
The division of the self is apparent from the first stanza, whose subject surrenders his will to sleep and only then begins an internal dialogue with his heart, addressing it as a localized region of loss. Classically manifesting psychosomatic illness, the low-beating heart bears all suffering to shield the questioning mind from the lost object. The sleep-suppressed will thus reveals itself as the will not to know and upon wakening berates the mind for its nocturnal interrogation, sternly forbidding the subject to become "the fool of loss." In the phrasing of the reproach, the will maintains the subject's ignorance by referring to a generalized loss, persisting in the refusal to name the "something" which has been "lost," amorphously passed over as "some pleasure" or "clouds of nameless trouble." But of course reader and writer are too aware of what has been lost--the name of the lost object is known but inadequate; what is unknown is the name for the feeling. More than a powerful image of unspeakable anguish, the "deep vase of chilling tears, / That grief hath shaken into frost" rests in the same impossible moment that the frost-ripened grain of LXXXVIII occupies. Unlike most substances which shrink in cold and expand in heat, the crystalline hexagons of frozen water produce a diminished density which gives ice the capacity of floating above the liquid. Ice should crack a vase filled with water, as Tennyson explains in his note to the poem. (7) Either of two narrative outcomes then seems possible: moving the vase immobilizes the water, which as ice shatters the vase (mourning effects its psychic breakthrough); or else immobilization of the vase preserves the unstable equilibrium indefinitely, and the tears remain (in a melancholia without progress). However, the image presented is neither of these; the water and the vase are both shocked still and opaque--the strained vase refuses to burst open its petrified secret. (8) The rupture that would ensue threatens the destruction of both vessel and contents, both subject and grief. The calmer choice is to freeze time, to remain stopped in the moment of grief without, as it were, grieving. What results is the paradox of melancholia: the speaker's wish that, by preserving a condition of mourning, he may impede the weakening of his feelings for the lost object, or, as written in XXVI, "I long to prove / No lapse of moons can canker Love, / Whatever fickle tongues may say" (ll.2-4), which is a desperate bid for stasis in fear of the annihilating "indifference to be" (l. 12).
Despite the speaker's resolve to uphold his feelings as a testament to his love, the suffering sustained is completely alien to any feeling he could have experienced while the beloved was present. Mourning is not a condition but a process, a motion rather than a stasis--indicated in the word's status as a gerund. In the same vein, "I am mourning" uses "to be" in a different way from "I am melancholy," the one establishing the action performed by the subject and the other signalling his or her identity. Melancholy preserves the present, not the past, in a desire to arrest time and defend against change. However, the change already belongs to the past; the accident of successful melancholy is the continuation of present solitude. Death demands comprehension of the whole of life from us, but living is a process without end. Neither birth nor death establishes a border that holds against the ruthless forays of imagination. In life, we do not hesitate when our perceptions of another change from moment to moment. A melancholic assessment of death puts the living in the grave, frozen in valediction. The lyric is essentially melancholic, drawn out of the process of living, fetishizing a moment, expanding and suspending it, forbidding it to end.
The genre In Memoriam most resembles is the sonnet sequence, with its continued treatment of a single emotional obsession over the course of many related short lyrics. Christopher Ricks calls Shakespeare's Sonnets both "an important source for In Memoriam" and "its most important analogue," and suggests that the sonnet sequence is "an inordinately convenient means of gaining some of the advantages of the long poem without having to face its proper responsibilities and difficulties." (9) The supposed "advantages" are the poems' loose groupings and "multiplicity of themes"; the "responsibilities and difficulties" are presumably the relation of those themes and groups to each other, in other words, narrative. (10) Narrative appears to be a system of beginnings and ends; however, its great trick is the illusion of the methodical and justifiable middle, something which is more motion than substance, in much the same way that weaving transforms the action of binding into a material largely composed of empty spaces.
Both Shakespeare's Sonnets and Sidney's Astrophil and Stella begin with meditations on the problem of reproducibility. In Sidney's stern muse's exhortation to the excessively literate lover to "Look in thy heart and write" (Sonnet 1, l. 1) and Shakespeare's more literal pressure on his subject to produce a "tender heir" (Sonnet 1, l.4) to ensure the extension of beauty's lease on earth and, more to the point, some vehicle to "bear his memory," these sonnet sequences rely on the trope of translated reproduction: beauty and love into ink and blood. The same kind of translation is posed by the elegy but ultimately dissatisfies: the reproduction that is called upon to console the pining lover fails most poignantly with a love known. In literary mythology, the life of the lover mingles with the verses of the poet to become the philosopher's stone that will make a love last forever, but at best elegiac verse is only like Midas' touched daughter--a vital statue, art made precious by its proximity to life, fossil made worthless by the counterfeited flesh that made its imprint.
The sonnet sequence that resonates most closely with In Memoriam is Petrarch's Rime sparse, composed of 366 poems that turn from love lyric to elegy. (11) The resemblance is evident in the poems that open each sequence.
Voi ch' ascoltate in rime sparse il suono di quei sospiri ond'io nudriva 'l core in sul mio primo giovenile errore, quand' era in parte altr' uom da quel ch 'i' sono: del vario stile in ch' io piango et ragiono fra le vane speranze e 'l van dolore, ove sia chi per prova intenda amore spero trovar pieta, non che perdono. Ma ben veggio or si come al popol tutto favola fui gran tempo, onde sovente di me medesmo meco mi vergogno; et del mio vaneggiar vergogna e 'l frutto, e 'l pentersi, e 'l conoscer chiaramente che quanto place al mondo e breve sogno.
(You who hear in scattered rhymes the sound of those sighs with which I nourished my heart during my first youthful error, where I was in part another man from what I am now:
for the varied style in which I weep and speak between vain hopes and vain sorrow, where there is anyone who understands love through experience, I hope to find pity, not only pardon.
But now I see well how for a long time I was the talk of the crowd, for which often I am ashamed of myself within;
and of my raving, shame is the fruit, and repentance, and the clear knowledge that whatever pleases in the world is a brief dream.) (12)
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. Thou wilt not leave us in the dust: Thou madest man, he knows not why, He thinks he was not made to die; And thou hast made him: thou art just. 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. 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. We have but faith, we cannot know; For knowledge is of things we see; And yet we trust it comes from thee, A beam in darkness: let it grow. 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. Forgive what seemed my sin in me; What seemed my worth since I began; For merit lives from man to man, And not from man, O Lord, to thee. Forgive my grief for one removed, Thy creature, whom I found so fair. I trust he lives in thee, and there I find him worthier to be loved. 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.
Serving as introduction and apologia, the Prologue of In Memoriam reprises the first poem of the Rime by speaking from a perspective advanced temporally and emotionally from the rest of the poem, disparaging the speaker's youthful error and petitioning the reader for absolution. Both poets ultimately raise questions of the value of their art, dismissing the "wild and wandering cries" or "scattered rhymes" as the "confus[ed]" products "of a wasted youth," "quand era in parte altr' uom da quel ch' i' sono." The value of the poems is thus intertwined with the identity of the author; that is, whether such an identity exists in any form that remains consistent over time and whether it has any value transcending its profligate fabrications. Announcing authorship with disavowal, the self-chastisement of Petrarch's "sovente / di me medesmo meco mi vergogno" is echoed in both aural and literal qualities by Tennyson's closed-lipped, reflexive line, "Forgive what seemed my sin in me." The sin, "What seemed my worth since I began," recalls Petrarch's dismissal of his poems as shameful fruit. Faced with the alarming consciousness that the most intense emotions and most beautiful productions of life only "live ... from man to man," the question whether anything persists eternally or even achieves reality torments both speakers. Yet where Petrarch consigns worldly pleasure to "a brief dream," Tennyson though deferring to the "real" creator does not thus abandon his "little systems." The systems "have their day" and "cease" like the lives of those who made them; nevertheless, their temporary nature is not evidence of their futility. Rather, the brief existence of little systems discloses the value in our ephemerality.
Petrarch's renunciation of the terrestrial dream is a product of the "conoscer chiaramente" (clarity of knowledge) acquired through painful experience, a resignation to the disjunction between pleasure and truth, the loved transience and the known perpetuity. Tennyson, on the other hand, problematizes knowledge, confining it only to "things we see," and thus precluding the answer we desire most: the object of our faith, the understanding of the invisible executive impulse of the maker. Nevertheless, the metaphor for faith that directly follows his apparent depreciation of knowledge is undeniably visual: "A beam in darkness." Such phrasing produces a difference between understanding and knowledge, making the one depend on the other not materially but structurally: our earthly knowledge, fallibly sensible, finds its solidity evaporated into concept, re-traversing the chasm from flesh to word. The difference is sewn together in the domain of the poem, where word bridges matter and concept through its own action and substantiality. The system of language mimics the system produced by our sensibility, allowing us access to faith in the form of "knowledge." Our little systems, which are "but broken lights" of real understanding, still suggest the "beam in darkness"--the truth is not different but "more" (l.20). Viewing human creation as fragment instead of error makes it possible to imagine the archetype; our muddling may not be inherently allied to the original, but it may still "grow from more to more" in a way that permits envisioning the divine by interruption. (13)
Although the Prologue ends with Tennyson's Petrarchan apology, it begins on a larger scale, in an address to "immortal Love" by a voice emanating from "man." Any invocation of a deity takes the form of apostrophe, which characterizes so much of lyric as the poetry of an individual speaking. Yet the first stanza specifies the difference between ordinary poetic address and prayer: "faith, and faith alone" (l. 3)--not the "willing suspension of disbelief" but the unwilled presence of belief. In contrast to the "I" that is "the voice of mankind speaking through [him]," Tennyson here permits himself to say "we." As if unable fully to own his universal proclamation of faith, the speaker oscillates between inhabiting the devoted "we" and displacing his uncertainties onto an abstracted "he"--the "man" whose "skull" lies beneath the foot of his maker, the one who "knows not why" he was made but with his impoverished faculties still "thinks he was not made to die." While God "madest Life," "madest Death," and "madest man," "our" only making can be to make "our wills ... thine" and flirt with truth through "our little systems." Yet a desire exists for a greater making by a greater "we":
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. (Prologue, ll. 25-29)
These lines, which spill over the previously observed confines of the stanza, build on the promise of knowledge in the face of its fallibility. If our awe for real creation develops in proportion to our discovery of the extent of our lesser human inventions, it would be possible to form a greater choir of faith, a real "we" who "have but faith." The music the speaker describes is no polyphony, merely layer upon layer of unison, a mass of individuals whose unity of belief is multiplied, an image of communion with God that permits human knowledge to have a place and a purpose in reinforcing and increasing true creativity.
The overflow of lines 25-29 also has bearing on the form of In Memoriam, short lyrics composed of stanzas rhyming abba. The rhyme scheme of the stanza allows each to stand alone, its formal parameters fulfilled, rhyme neither left open nor demanding addition. The iterability of the stanza allows a section to stretch to indefinite lengths, its couplet never signaling a terminus, its resemblance to the sonnet suggesting resolution always ahead. The section is thus gathered from a collected whole of repeating units, divided into groups by a formula of emotional resonance. The way line 29 drops from the previous stanza suggest that the whole is "vaster" than the sum of its parts--the divisions cannot stop the lines from bleeding and blending into each other, and the larger truth is in the chorus of lyrics that join to make "one music" reverberating with a single intent.
As goes the prosody of Tennyson's prologue, so too go the pronouns. Following the core of his prayer, the first and third person move from general to specific, from "we" to "I" and from "man" to "one" man, in the poem's first hint of what will be its ongoing endeavor: an individual voice striving to lend its voice to the multitude. (14) Analogically, allegorically, fragmentarily, the poem tries out ways in which our identification and interplay through pronominal substitution allow us to speak and act for each other. If "I" can be "we" and "Hallam" can be "man," our substitutability indicates our value rather than the lack of it. The shifting of pronouns throughout In Memoriam, in which the speaker occupies a span between "I," "we," and "he," and where his lost friend is at times "he" and other times "you," demonstrates another kind of weaving, an oscillation between symptoms of melancholic inability to establish firmly the borders of the ego and its possible cure in the logic offered by the concept of substitution.
In Memoriam's most persistent refrain, "'Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all," appears first in its well-known form in section XXVII as the conclusion to Tennyson's paean to noble privation. His insistence that consciousness is not possible without the pain of loss culminates in these lines, now so familiar as to be aphoristic. Like "to be or not to be," the question no longer matters; the either-or moves from tremor into sequence. "To love or not to love": that isn't the question--we merely wonder what to do with the loss that inevitably ends the series. The matter of loving is also the matter of losing; the love lyric is always already an elegy.
Though "'Tis better ..." appears only twice as such in In Memoriam (in sections XXVII and LXXXV), love and loss appear together and apart in nearly every section--they are the parameters of the speaker's identity, "the man that loved and lost" (I.15). In section IX, the same limits modify the deceased friend: "my lost Arthur's loved remains." This is the first time the dead man is explicitly cited; naming him in combination with "the Italian shore," Tennyson invites the reader by markers of name and place to remember the "A.H.H." of the poem's title and read an account of particular rather than allegorical love and loss. Yet Hallam's first overt mention is also an erasure. He is no longer the Arthur specified by the speaker's love, but only "my lost Arthur's loved remains." The love for Arthur is displaced onto his remains, the remains which are the product of the divisive consequences of departure. The love is a love for tangible things: remains are loved as refrains are loved. Deprived of original vitality, of voice, breath, and spirit, they are loved in an attempt to gather what cannot be gathered--to transform a fragmented relic into a living part, to make metonymy function as synecdoche does, to let a disjoined part find its way back to the whole without having to travel through the insubstantiality of human systems of connotation. (15)
"Loved and lost," which concludes section XXVII, begins LXXXV in an unmistakeable echo that is both narrative and lyric: it seems to pick up where the other left off but also implies that the intervening fifty-eight sections have only led back to the obsession that began the poem. Yet within the lyric repetition are signs of a turn. Though earlier "loved and lost" is what the speaker subjectively "hold[s] ... true, whate'er befall" (XXVII.13), section LXXXV opens with the staunchly affirmative "This truth came borne with bier and pall, / I felt it, when I sorrowed most, / 'Tis better to have loved and lost" (ll. 1-4). While the tentative "I hold it true" in section XXVII reprises the disillusioned "I held it true" of section I, the revision from "hold[ing] true" to "this truth" allows a potential resolution to weak human "truths"--that the self can verify them by feeling and, by feeling, can also recognize itself and its relation to humankind. Indeed, the modulation of "I feel it, when I sorrow most" in section XXVII to "I felt it, when I sorrowed most" in section LXXXV records such a development. Unfailingly followed by the lines on love and loss, the repetition with the shift in tense gives emphasis to the necessarily opposing movements of hold-true and held-true, feel and felt. To declare the lesson "felt" registers its having been incorporated rather than dismissed: truths formerly supposed have now achieved credence and entered the emotional lexicon, not by events but by way of the body, by an unrelenting return to the same thoughts and feelings.
The line that opens the second stanza appears at first to affirm the triumphant lesson of the previous stanza: "O true in word, and tried in deed." However, the stanza meanders into the next and the next--finally, after tortuous rambling, coming to the section's first full stop at the end of the sixteenth line. It is not clear whether Tennyson's own moral or his interlocutor's (named as his friend Edmund Lushington) "demanding ... words" are meant as the object of this esteem for a sustained correspondence with the empirical world and for adherence to more abstract measures of a "true ... word." Lushington's question and Tennyson's aphorism form a closed set: Lushington asks whether sorrow destroys or nourishes faith, whether love for one promotes or extinguishes love for others, and, above all, "what kind of life" Tennyson in mourning sustains. The poet counters with his argument for the self-justifying greatness of an individual love and thus for the central experience of life as this love's growth and loss. Yet Tennyson makes his certain reply before Lushington speaks--in fact, Lushington does not speak except as represented in Tennyson's versification. Tennyson's words come in an evenly weighted iambic tetrameter; Lushington's unheard questions are couched in "light reproaches, half exprest." Despite their imperfection, these "half exprest" words "have virtue such as draws / A faithful answer from the breast"--the words may have no "truth" in them; they may not touch, but by indirect influence--gravity, magnetism, resonance--they lightly, and by halves, invisibly and inexplicably, "draw" a reply visceral and sincere, apparently bypassing the circumlocutions of language.
Thus when the next stanza ventures into a narration of the past, the speaker begins with the "even tenor" of his "blood," giving corporeal rhythm a legitimate place in emotional narrative and moreover reminding us that the breast's "faithful answer" is, most plainly, the pulse. (16) "Faithful answer" takes both the form of the forward motions of narration and the repetition of a measure, blood advancing with a constant impulse and cycling back to begin again, unified in its constant manifestation under the name of individual being. In keeping with these particular and recurrent motions, the incident Tennyson narrates is of that other time when "faithful answer" was drawn from the breast--that is, by a "message fall[ing]" "on [his] ear": the news of Hallam's death. In contrast to the gravitational pull of language on breast, the death is described as contact in its most direct form: "God's finger touched him, and he slept." Indeed, Hallam receives the clarity and joy of "All knowledge that the sons of flesh / Shall gather in the cycled times," communicated wordlessly by beings distilled to their perfect nature as "great Intelligences fair." Tennyson, on the other hand, is plunged into darkness and disorientation, a landscape filled with association but no essence, a speaking landscape "where all things round me breathed of him," but one which offers no destination, no substance to support the wickedly deceptive refrain. The speaker "wander[s]," locked in the indistinction of "dim" hopes and "darkened earth," not achieving a sympathy with his surroundings but dissolving indefinitely into them.
From this uncertain position the speaker bursts into a series of "O"s:
O friendship, equal-poised control, O heart, with kindliest motion warm, O sacred essence, other form, O solemn ghost, O crowned soul! (LXXXV.33-36)
This fraught stanza distorts and exaggerates lyric exclamation; it is a moment of strangeness and excess, a suspension that interrupts the narrative, an interjection of incoherent feeling into the recitation of memory. The subject leaps from "O" to "O"; we are at pains to read whether "equal-poised control," "with kindliest motion warm," and "other form" apply to the "O" that precedes or follows them, or whether they are perhaps the subjects of their own embedded "O"s. We cannot determine whether "control," "motion," and "form" describe objects, persons, feelings, or poetic structures. The stanza achieves a peculiar unreadability: most "meaningful" to the speaker, it is an embarrassment to the reader, who is least able to sympathize with this unsweet moaning that stands in for emotion that, like the chilled vase of tears in section IV, strains but refuses to crack open.
Yet experiencing the same division of heart, will, and speech that he depicts in section IV, Tennyson claims that the will reactivates itself--"none could better know than I, / How much of act at human hands / The sense of human will demands" (LXXXV.37-39)--that motion proceeds by a will that is mysteriously neither conscious nor unconscious, but intrinsic to the broader participation in human existence. The will is therefore not an individual impulse but akin to a motion and a spirit that impels all human things, a communal expression of community, a chorus activated by love--and loss. Returning to the proof of feeling, Tennyson takes himself for the example of how the will of his loved, lost friend produces individual action:
Whatever way my days decline, I felt and feel, though left alone, His being working in mine own, The footsteps of his life in mine. (LXXXV.41-44)
Independent of time and sorrow, the memory of Hallam manifests as motion and rhythm in Tennyson's sensorium, "his being working" and "the footsteps of his life" occupying space in Tennyson's experience. What allows continuity between the past and present, in what has been "felt" and what the speaker now "feel[s]," is a correspondence of the relentless rhythms of his breast's faithful answer and these ceaseless footsteps, a correlation of psyche and soma on a level that exceeds cognizance and carries him forward to repeat his former actions, but anew: "My pulses therefore beat again / For other friends" (LXXXV.57-58). This rhythm--this meter circulating through his continued living--seems static in its repetitions but has the quieter merit of unconscious progress that moves through rime despite its resemblance to melancholic loitering.
Through its infinite repetitions, Tennyson traces the origin of the meter to one incident, the "imaginative woe," which "diffused the shock through all my life / But in the present broke the blow" (LXXXV.55-56). That is, the origin of pain is always in the present sensation of loss; the present is a center of pain, altering all perception of past and future. The speaker conceives of himself suspended in the moment of impact, the "blow" whose reverberations "diffuse" and multiply into a refrain of shocks, a single strike over and over evolving and merging with the pulse and the ever-returning tread of loss, memory transforming the experience of rime into an ongoing rupture between a past of possession and a present of loss.
Through the metamorphosing work of linguistic memory, Hallam evolves into the purer extremes of his nameable properties. Whether what is altered is an ideal other or the living self is irrelevant; rather, in a way that reflects those who memorialize, all become ideal means for the expression of the bereft's grief. In Hallam's case, his mortal life is mythically celebrated as
A life that all the Muses decked With gifts of grace, that might express All-comprehensive tenderness, All-subtilising intellect (LXXXV.45-48).
Notably, the aspect of Hallam's life which brings "an image comforting the mind" is the very same that eludes the poet as elegist--the ability to express both the scale and the complexity of the emotional problem before him. His grief-ridden outpourings are not the "weak" works of an obsessive unable to overcome his mania but the "strength reserved" in his sorrow, the impulse to accuracy that keeps him pacing over the same stretch. This strength, like the faithful answer of his breast, is the strength to hold the past in the present, to survive and speak at the unalterable ground zero of his loss. (17)
What appears to be the section's chief turn, Tennyson's turn from Hallam to Lushington--which I shall argue also constitutes the chief turn of the poem In Memoriam--occurs with inconspicuous ease: "My pulses therefore beat again" (LXXXV.57). That the heart beats now "for other friends" (l. 58) is taught by its inherent constancy, always to "beat again." Isobel Armstrong describes the beating of the heart in section 7 as a moment of termination, the heart beating vainly against an unresponsive door. (18) Here, the beating of the heart propels the unconscious impulse to go on: beat simply follows beat, instant after instant, n after (n-1). Recovery occurs through the principle of substitution; that "other friends" may stand in for the friend--in other words that the machine of language stutters back into use--proceeds from the succession of beats, the substitution of each one for its double in the perpetually narrow context of the present. However, the consequences of unconscious quantification come out in Tennyson's overture of friendship:
I woo your love: I count it crime To mourn for any overmuch; I, the divided half of such A friendship as had mastered Time.(LXXXV.61-64)
Tennyson's address to Lushington slips into a discourse on numbers that attempts to enforce the limitations of the elegist, who both quantifies his subject and rations the performance of mourning. Declaring that he "count[s] it crime" to indulge in "overmuch" mourning, he first reins himself in as the precise "half" of "a friendship as had mastered Time," and then, catching himself in an error that reveals memory's vulnerability to time, frantically corrects himself with lines that are openly revisionary:
Which masters Time indeed, and is Eternal, separate from fears: The all-assuming months and years Can take no part away from this. (LXXXV.65.68)
The need to keep affirming mastery in the present is bettered by a friendship pronounced "eternal" and "separate," incomprehensible in a realm governed by the rules of computation. If the friendship can withstand all substitution--if the substitution neither supplements nor alters (the greatest fear being subtraction, or loss), then can the speaker dare to include another object in his affection? The trouble lies in the conflict between the elegist's persistent accounting and the melancholic's pact with inconsolable magnitude; the regularity of counting both precipitates progress and reveals its mortal limit. In the midst of quantification and drifting, Tennyson incorporates the intolerable consequence of measurement into himself: the friendship and the friend remain "eternal," "all-comprehensive," and "all-subtilising" at the expense of an "I" which is "divided," a self which interrupts, a "half"-being which suffers the forward heaves of time when the infinite and eternal are closed off in the past.
Though the motions of rime are experienced in the "steaming," "swell[ing]," "noise," and "waning"--in growth, disorder, and decline coincident with seasons--"every pulse of wind and wave" describes in its measured presence and absence the present desire for the past (LXXXV.69-73). Submission to the inescapable conditions of the present results in a general necrophilia, the past love displaced onto the present remains, "My old affection of the tomb, / And my prime passion in the grave" (LXXXV.75.76). In an astounding reversal of circumstances, the speaker falls silent and yearningly projects the power of speech onto the dead Hallam, lyric's faith in apostrophe yielding to a fabricated dialogue:
'Arise, and get thee forth and seek A friendship for the years to come. 'I watch thee from the quiet shore; Thy spirit up to mine can reach; But in dear words of human speech We two communicate no more.' (LXXXV.79-84)
As in section 12, where by astral travel he visits Hallam's ship and ends gazing "where the body sits," the speaker attempts to achieve communion with the dead by making himself into the corpse. Here, the speaker's desire for the dead to speak is transmuted into the dead's own wish to speak, and the speech-animated dead man urges the living speaker to "arise," act, and go on. The exchange figured here as verbal is really an exchange of more primary characteristics of the living and dead--desire for a condition beyond appetite, "human speech" from the impenetrable silence of the grave. Presumably the dialogue between the speaker and his lost friend is meant to be more pure--spirit to spirit--than "dear" but imperfect words; yet what remains truly unspoken is the strangest of all, that this outpouring, which never was "human speech," is represented as direct citation.
Indeed, Tennyson's wondering reply, "Canst thou feel for me / Some painless sympathy with pain?" (LXXXV.87-88), suggests a further function for this remarkable interjection of dialogue. "Painless sympathy with pain" comprises the premise of all sympathy--that one might know another's feeling while not being subject to the same condition. The speaker's concern to communicate in human words his encounter with the spirit is not for Hallam's benefit, but rather for the silent party in this transaction: the real apostrophized figure, the "you" of the section, Lushington. As the authorized eavesdropper on Tennyson and Hallam's private dialogue, Lushington mediates between the reader and the text, serving thereby as a figure for our own observation of Tennyson's address to Lushington. J. S. Mill has famously pronounced lyric poetry as not "heard" but "overheard." (19) Yet the eavesdropper does not achieve demonstrable effect within the poem. Much like sympathy, the redemptive potential of listening cannot be confirmed; that is, if we cannot know that others feel like us (in other words, know how they feel), how can someone else have felt like us to begin with? Ideal sympathy would require feeling to travel in both directions in a continuous oscillation of conscious fellowship. However, in practice, sympathy functions more like the production of text--a weaving of writing and reading that achieves meaning at their points of intersection. Thus "achieving" sympathy with someone, present or absent, depends on a certitude not far removed from holding "commerce with the dead."
The literary counterpart to "commerce with the dead" is apostrophe. Apostrophic address does not tolerate dialogue; it works only in the poetic faith that one's message reaches the desired ears, leaving open an implicitly questioning silence rather than willfully producing one's own answer. (20) It is for the sake of that faith that Tennyson next rescinds his claim to have heard the voice of Hallam and admits to his own creative role in the foregoing conversation: "Or so methinks the dead would say; / Or so shall grief with symbols play / And pining life be fancy-fed" (LXXXV.94-96). The admission that writing poetry is only shuffling around symbols characterizes human creativity as vain diversion in the face of unalterable reality. Yet couched in this despairing renunciation of poetry's creative powers is the key to its restoration, the claim that fancies are the only food for "pining life" on earth, which would otherwise be an impoverished waiting for death. Fancy turns the passing of time into pastime, enabling humans to be makers and perceivers of something other than the original creations of God and Nature, giving them active access to the "more" that characterizes divinity in the Prologue. To lose faith in the language that "lives from man to man" (Prologue, l. 35) would alienate the speaker from the metaphors that line the pathway from God to man.
If things that live from man to man have value because of their wholeness-mimicking illusions, the eavesdropper is then not merely a surreptitious witness or a goggle-eyed spectator to a feeling that excludes us, but rather a coconspirator in fantastic invention, the receptive second "man" that completes the circuit of communion. Tennyson senses this creative potential when he turns to the living--to his apostrophized listener:
Now looking to some settled end, That these things pass, and I shall prove A meeting somewhere, love with love, I crave your pardon, O my friend. (LXXXV.97-100)
Reviving the forsaken apostrophe with a clarion "O," the speaker asks not sympathy but "pardon." The pardon Tennyson requests from Lushington for indulging his endless straining toward Hallam is also the pardon an apostrophizing poet grants to his reader for intercepting a wandering cry in the dialogic capacity of a surrogate, less-desired other. (21) To give pardon requires no understanding, only forgiveness; and, indeed, the speaker indicates that we eavesdroppers will never gain access to the original experience, the coincidence of "first love" and "first friendship" that make the closed circle of the "golden hours." Instead our presence to each other is compensatory, diminished, and incomplete. Language moves from man to man; what renders it living is our mutual forgiveness for our failure truly to experience each other's feeling.
The only certain answer that belongs to life rests in the continuation of autonomic repetition. The "faithful answer" that still beats in the "widowed" heart "may not rest" (LXXXV.13, 113), continuing its measures in seeking the corresponding familiarity of Hallam's unreturning "footstep." Finding no potentiating footstep to exalt the beat to a leap, Tennyson submits his sympathy-seeking words to meter, the involuntary somatic pressure to go on, to seek "to beat in time with one / That warms another living breast" (LXXXV.115-116). This constant measure of time carries him forward while seeming always to be the same, slowly altering the allegiance to a supposedly "intact," immutable ego by intimating a more fluid but durable presence that agrees to surrender the will to the larger company of rhythm.
Alan Sinfield, along with many others, cites "the mystical experience of section XCV," in which Tennyson achieves a kind of reunion with Hallam, as "the main cause of the poet's eventual satisfaction with rime and existence in general." (22) While Sinfield's assessment of Tennyson's growing understanding of the "cycled times" characterizes the poem's shift to consolation, the turn seems to me to have occurred already, and more explicitly, in the physiological sensation of the pulse in LXXXV, an effect which is transmitted to the readers via the repetitions, metrical and otherwise, of the poem. Though XCV appears to manifest a contact with Hallam that is more authentic than the manufactured "dialogue" of section LXXXV, in fact the mode of communication--that is, writing--has already been established in the earlier section's shifting practice of apostrophe and its recognition of melancholy's subtle progress. Section XCV is therefore not the "turn" of In Memoriam, but the picture of the triumph that LXXXV's strategies have enabled.
"By night we lingered on the lawn." Unlike the melancholic loitering of previous sections, this is a desirable hanging back; it is a prolongation of the present for the sake of beauties still to be enjoyed, not for fear of their loss. For once, the scene is blessed with the proper amounts of wind and water; the "herb" is "dry" and the sky softly gleams with "the silvery haze of summer (XCV. (2,4). It is real "calm," not the taut coil of "calm despair" (XI.16) but permissive calm that "let[s] the tapers burn / Unwavering" (ll. 5-6). The "we" that lingers is no abstract congregation but a real company who "now," as agents of the present, sing "old songs that pealed / From knoll to knoll" (ll. 13-14). In contrast to previous sections, the singing is not a forced, dim-eyed ritual in lugubrious remembrance of times past, nor is it quite the "merry song" sung "impetuously" with Hallam (XXX.15,16); instead it is merely untroubled singing within the quiet and calm of a natural present, fully inhabited by being unconscious of time.
The fifth stanza begins time again with a trickling away of "those others"; the party separates into a series of faceless individuals, leaving "one by one" until the only remaining figures are "me and night" (ll. 17-18). "All alone," the speaker, "seized" "with hunger"--that is, wakened again to desire--reads "the noble letters of the dead," experiencing the unnatural contradictions of "in those fallen leaves which kept their green," "silent-speaking words," "love's dumb cry" (ll. 21-28). "Strange" are the letters (ll. 25-28), lambent with "faith" and "vigour," still "keen" with "wordy snares," strange the vital "dead man" with his "living soul" (ll. 29-34). The silence is shattering; it breaks through the conceptions of absent and present prescribed by the earlier stanzas, and it permits an individual silently rehearsing letters from one absent and past to achieve a dialogic monologue--an apparent illumination of his own "living soul" by the projection of his friend's upon it:
And all at once it seemed at last The living soul was flashed on mine, And mine in this was wound, and whirled About empyreal heights of thought, And came on that which is, and caught The deep pulsations of the world. (XCV.35-40)
Astounded by the vibrant conjunction of past and present, the speaker finally alights on "that which is," daring to recognize motion of and in time: "Aeonian music measuring out/The steps of Time--the shocks of Chance--/The blows of Death" (ll. 41-43). The motion is rhythmic, discrete, repetitive--characterized by waves of presence and absence--and just as quickly as the moment comes, it departs: "At length my trance / Was cancell'd, stricken through with doubt." His experience is not erased, but sous rature, both present and absent simultaneously, a trace present only under the condition of its absence.
Until 1872, lines 36-37 read: "His living soul was flashed on mine, / And mine in his was wound." The change from "his" to "this" is not erasure but augmentation, another act of writing that effects a substitution within the very economy of substitution. Tennyson in revision turns from another act of writing that changes the word from substituting for someone absent to indicating something present, a "T" away, a touch away. Tennyson's alteration makes the "first reading" the reader's encounter with verses in In Memoriam, not the speaker's reading of his friend's letters; he changes from speaker to writer, turning from his communion with Hallam as a reader to an author producing such moments for readers in the world.
The same turn is already embedded in verses unchanged from the 1850 text:
Till now the doubtful dusk revealed The knolls once more where, couched at ease, The white kine glimmered, and the trees Laid their dark arms about the field. (ll. 49-52)
These lines make refrain with the earlier stanza:
While now we sang old songs that pealed From knoll to knoll, where, couched at ease, The white kine glimmered, and the trees Laid their dark arms about the field. (ll. 13-16)
The repetition returns the speaker to the present and the past, a scene made visible once the striking through of the trance brings it back into sight a second time. For the reader, the reappearance of this unremarkable picture of cows and trees is perhaps the most crucial part of the section. We do not know what words and lines of the dead friend brought the speaker his revelation; the only analogue we experience for the speaker's moment of simultaneous familiarity and epiphany is our rereading of these lines. Initially pastoral and narrative, they both close his narration of the great communion and open his memory of it, and then become to the reader an experience of return(ing to text) that is shared with Tennyson and multiplied over the numerous refrains reverberating through the poem. Broken light to the beam in darkness of the "noble letters of the dead" (l. 24), the knolls and white kine and trees present the reader with lyric revelation through the small action of recognition--silent heralds, they that were only phenomena to the speaker's encounter with the real are now white and dark marks legible as inscription.
The landscape itself changes in consequence; the perfect calm yields to a stirring breeze that inspirits the suddenly lush field, "trembl[ing]" and "fluctuat[ing]" and "rock[ing]" and swinging and flinging through the trees and flowers, which are no longer an undifferentiated mass of foliage but "sycamore," "elms," "rose," and "lilies." The wind rushes through the scene leaving nothing unmoved,
and said 'The dawn, the dawn,' and died away; And East and West, without a breath, Mixt their dim lights, like life and death, To broaden into boundless day. (ll. 60-64).
The landscape breathes just long enough to voice its message, naming light that will bring the darkened features of the setting into view, yet the landscape retains a trace of the prophetic flash. In the wake of the dead wind, the fusion of not light and dark, but the "dim lights" of fading night and emerging day, holds a moment of coincidence before it "broaden[s] into boundless day." The event recalls the close of section VII:
He is not here; but far away The noise of life begins again, And ghastly through the drizzling rain On the bald street breaks the blank day. (7.9-12).
Armstrong has used these lines to illustrate how fragmentation threatens to halt the poem. (23) Again recalling Hallam's absence and distance, poised on the crux of night and day, section XCV through the mingling of past and present lights results in a day that is not "blank" but "boundless," open to reading and rereading, a day that does not "break" but "broadens," growing expansive with meaning and memory without fear of rupture.
Confronted by In Memoriam, the reader must resist the impulse to complete its internal fragmentation by splintering each section from the whole, an act of reading that puts faith in the speaker of the lyric as a distinct and whole individual. In the case of the elegiac speaker, the issue is a paradox of sincerity--he of thee must give us the unconsoled grief of mourning and its resolution. The elegy propagates the illusion, paying tribute to mourning, and, through the speaker's recommitment to language, endorsing his reintegration with the living. The form that In Memoriam creates for the elegy, hundreds of units of abba, demonstrates both the internal circularity of the lyric and the unfulfilled narrative potential of an infinitely extensible larger structure. Recalling the love lyric in its resemblance to a fragment of the Petrarchan octave, the In Memoriam stanza produces instead a "loss" lyric, one which lacks the consolation of formal finitude and which suggests that its division into sections is arbitrary. On the edges of any stanza, another may be interposed; still others may rhizomically link back to an earlier unit by making a refrain of its contents. Such an elegy persists melancholically, denying its own borders and thus its own end.
(1) Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id, trans. Joan Riviere, ed. James Strachey (New York: Norton, 1962), p. 18.
(2) A.C. Bradley suggests that In Memoriam is such a narrative, and that "The Way of the Soul" is therefore a fitting name for the piece: "The 'Way of the Soul' we find to be a journey from the first stupor and confusion of grief, through a growing acquiescence often disturbed by the recurrence of pain, to an almost unclouded peace and joy" (A Commentary on Tennyson's In Memoriam [London: Macmillan, 1929], p. 27). Others have found In Memoriam's resolution less convincing, echoing T.S. Eliot's assertion that its "faith is a poor thing, but its doubt is a very intense experience" ("In Memoriam," Essays Ancient and Modern [London: Faber and Faber, 1936], p. 187).
(3) Hallam Tennyson, Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir, 2 vols. (New York, 1898), 1:304.
(4) See Christopher Ricks, Tennyson (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1972), Timothy Peltason, Reading In Memoriam (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1985), and Gerhard Joseph, Tennyson and the Text: The Weaver's Shuttle (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992).
(5) James Knowles, "Aspects on Tennyson," Nineteenth Century 33, no. 191 (1893): 182.
(6) J.C.C. Mays cites Bradley's Commentary and Valerie Pitt's Tennyson Laureate (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1962) as representative readings of In Memoriam's form as cyclical and linear, respectively ("An Aspect of Form" [ 1965], in Tennyson: In Memoriam: A Casebook, ed. John Dixon Hunt [London: Macmillan, 1970], p. 259).
(7) "Water can be brought below freezing-point and not turned to ice--if it be kept still; but if it be moved suddenly it turns to ice and may break the vase" (Tennyson's annotation from The Works of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, ed. Hallam, Lord Tennyson [London: Macmillan, 1907-08]). Tennyson's note conceals another facet of the emotional quandary: if he were "moved," that is, if the grief he describes were to be experienced fully, the effect would irreparably devastate the subject. Melancholia evolves into a disease of possession, a subject obsessed by an unnameable feeling, orbiting it but never daring to possess it fully.
(8) Kirstie Blair writes, "This image of the 'deep vase' is the first explicit metaphor for the heart [in In Memoriam], changing it from a living organism, possessed of voice and movement, to a cold and inanimate container" (Victorian Poetry and the Culture of the Heart [Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006], p. 194). Blair suggests that metaphorizing the heart is another evasion, one that refuses to acknowledge, and therefore defers, the possibility that the heart itself may break.
(9) Christopher Ricks, Tennyson (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1972), p. 214.
(10) Alan Sinfield describes In Memoriam as a novel that "lacks all the linking passages" and gives "no information that is not immediately relevant to [the speaker's] inner emotions" in The Language of Tennyson's In Memoriam (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1971), p. 27.
(11) In an essay that foreshadows the mode of In Memoriam's critical reception, Hallam wrote of Petrarch's sonnets, "Few men have laid bare their hearts so completely .... His vanity, his dependence on the sympathy of others, led him to commit to writing every incident of his life, every turn in the troubled course of his feelings. But he gains rather than loses by his voluntary exposure. His Christian faith and Christian principles of philosophy, however swayed by occasional currents of passion, stand out beautifully amidst the corruptions of that age" (The Writings of Arthur Hallam, ed. T. H. Vail Motter [New York: MLA, 1943], p. 292).
(12) Petrarch's Lyric Poems: The Rime Sparse and Other Lyrics, trans, and ed. Robert M. Durling (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1976), pp. 36-37.
(13) In his "Theodicaea Novissima," Hallam declares, "I am a man, and I believe [the Bible] to be God's book because it is man's book" (repr. in Hunt, p. 38).
(14) Walker Gibson has described Tennyson's pronominal vacillations as linguistic markers of scientific distance from his subject in "Behind the Veil: A Distinction Between Poetic and Scientific Language in Tennyson, Lyell, and Darwin" (1956) (reprinted in Hunt, pp. 176-187). In contrast, Sinfield suggests that Tennyson progresses from "he" to "thou" as he achieves greater communion with his dead friend through the work of the elegy (pp. 81-83).
(15) Sinfield explains, in The Language of Tennyson's In Memoriam (pp. 149-156), how Tennyson creates a connotative system of symbolism by using recurring images; later he revises this idea to include diction, syntax, sound, and rhythm ("'The Mortal Limits of the Self': Language and Subjectivity" , Critical Essays on Alfred Lord Tennyson, ed. Herbert F. Tucker [New York: Macmillan, 1993], pp. 250-251).
(16) Blair calls In Memoriam a poem "about the heart's progress ... from sickness to health" (p. 184). She notes, "In Memoriam's affective power substantially rests on its constant invocations of heart and on the embodiment of the pulse in metre, creating a flexible yet insistent beat which operates on poet as well as reader" (p. 187). At the same time, the poem's deviations from meter are even more important in signalling Tennyson's commitment to living: "moments of metrical or linguistic disturbance, like pangs of grief intruding into the slow, steady pulse, keep the heart embodied in the rhythm alive and responsive, not permitting it to sink into the lassitude of grief even as they are painful and damaging" (p. 191). While I find her reasoning powerful, I think that the impulse to go on is heavily inscribed into the regularity of the meter, its monotony a melancholic lesson in persistence.
(17) Perceiving Hallam as he is written, we become the witnesses who bring into true account the poetic revision of Hallam and, by extension, Tennyson. For the problem of the lyric as impenetrable speech, like Freud's narrative of mourning, arises from a misconception of the ego itself as an impervious whole. The audience of the lyric is not discovered but written into being; the speaker of the lyric is not deciphered but read into being--each makes the other legible through the curvature of a sympathetic language.
(18) Isobel Armstrong, "The Collapse of Object and Subject: In Memoriam," repr. in Tucker, p. 140.
(19) John Stuart Mill, "Thoughts on Poetry and its Varieties," Dissertations and Discussions (Boston, 1859), p. 71.
(20) Jonathan Culler has written that apostrophe is the essence of lyric artifice, a mode of speaking that is not meant to be address, but signals "poetic pretension" (The Pursuit of Signs [Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1981], p. 143). Though Tennyson is performing exactly that self-aware artifice in addressing Hallam in the poem, I would argue that the speaker's turn to Lushington marks a different class of apostrophe, which does not "turn ... his back on his listeners," as William Waters characterizes Northrop Frye's and Culler's idea of apostrophe in Poetry's Touch: On Lyric Address (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 2003), p. 3. The turn to Lushington is a turn toward the reader, one that acknowledges and asks sympathy for the awkwardness of dialogue itself.
(21) Mays also remarks, "One of the most characteristic of Tennyson's techniques is to speak in a way that leads us to assume not that we have heard, but have overheard" (Hunt, p. 264). However, whereas Mays asserts that "we tend instinctively to assume to some degree the role of what is apostrophized" (p. 265), my argument underscores both our inability to assume that role and our uncomfortable awareness of that inability.
(22) This satisfaction cornes from an understanding of time "not as a closed system from which there is no escape, but as a cycle, an onward moving progression" (1971, p. 148).
(23) "The day dawns or fragments, breaking like something brittle on or against the bald street .... Bald and blank repel the reciprocity the pairing alliteration attempts to assert" (in Tucker, pp. 139-140).
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|Title Annotation:||Alfred Tennyson|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2009|
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