In Memoriam

January 30, 2019 by Essay Writer

“In Memoriam” is a lyric elegy written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in remembrance of his dear friend Arthur Henry Hallam. Hallam’s death’s effect on Tennyson becomes clear throughout this elegy as the reader is exposed to not only Tennyson’s mourning, but also the effect his loss had on spiritual and religious issues. Hallam’s death brought Tennyson a feeling of doubt as to the role of humankind here on earth. This doubt, combined with Victorian issues of the time due to scientific advances, was of great concern for Tennyson. Very much like the rest of the poem, verse XLV is written in iambic tetrameter. XLV is composed of four quatrains with an “ABBA” rhyme scheme, also known as envelope rhyme. Tennyson’s choice to use an envelope rhyme scheme is a stylistic choice coherent with the rest of the poem; as the name suggests, however, it also serves to “envelope” ideas within each quatrain. Similarly, the use of iambic tetrameter reminds us of larger “enveloping” idea in the entire work. The structure of verse XLV, along with the use of specific poetic devices — such as alliteration, rhyme, and choice of vocabulary — argue that the purpose of human life is to gain knowledge of one’s identity and retain that knowledge after death. The first quatrain deals with innocence. The innocence associated with the very little “time” (line 2), the “new” “baby” has spent on this “earth and sky” (line 1). The alliteration of “time” and “tender” emphasizes the relationship between a person’s innocence and how it is affected by the time they have lived. The enjambment of lines 2 and 3 and the rhyme of the words “prest” and “against” emphasizes the word “again” in “against.” This is important because Tennyson was known to have a strong interest in etymology, and the word “again” is significant to the repetitiveness and cyclical nature of humankind, as emphasized by the word “circle” (line 3). The alliteration and/or rhyme of the words “palm,” “prest,” (line 2), “against,” and “breast” (line 3) draws attention to his choice of vocabulary. Tennyson’s choice of vocabulary in these two lines creates a very sensual tone that juxtaposes the innocence of a child feeding from his mother’s breast. Furthermore, in the second quatrain, the “baby” (line 1) “grows and gathers much” (line 5). The alliteration in line 5 highlights the ambiguity of the word “much” (line 5), which brings into question what exactly the “baby” uses and needs to “grow.” The rest of the second quatrain explains that the “baby” “grows” when he “learns” the use of language such as “I” and “me” (line 6). Additionally, the quotations, “what I see” (line 7) and “things I touch” (line 8) express the “baby’s” development of the senses, which allows the “baby” to feel and absorb knowledge from their surroundings. Tennyson is stressing the importance of the relationship between feeling and language, a theme seen throughout “In Memoriam” as he battles with whether or not his words will ever be able to encompass the feelings he feels due to Hallam’s death. In this developmental stage, the “baby” does start to form a sense of self, but it is not until the third quatrain that the “baby” becomes an individual. The third quatrain is the emergence of the individual, no longer a “baby.” The use of the word “rounds” (line 9) is significant because it reminds us of the shape of the earth and the distinction between being on earth, signifying humankind and life, and not being on earth, and the mysteriousness of what happens to humankind after death. The word “round” also reflects back to the “circle of the breast” (line 2). The use of the word “circle” back when the human was a “baby” is significant because it is the one-dimensionality of the “circle” that is a metaphor for the narrow knowledge the “baby” has. In line 9, the use of the word “round” is a metaphor for the worldly knowledge the individual has attained throughout his or her lifelong development. The third quatrain also expresses the “separa[tion]” (line 9) and “isolation” (line 12) that the individual must undergo in order to “separate” the “much” (line 5) that they have acquired to “grow” (line 5) from the knowledge that “grows” (line 12) their self-identity. The “frame that binds him” (line 11), the physical body that “define[s]” (line 12) the limits of the person, allows for the “clear memory” (line 10), clear thought, that enables the individual to find his or her personal identity. The fourth quatrain affirms the “du[ty]” (line 14) of humankind’s life here on Earth as needing to create a sense of personal identity in order to be spiritually ready for life after death. If all the knowledge that an individual learned in his earthly life was lost after death and he was forced to “learn himself anew” (line 15), then his “duty” would have been “fruitless” (line 14). Tennyson’s choice of vocabulary in this quatrain carries many Biblical references. The use of the words “fruitless” and “knowledge” references the Biblical story from the Book of the Genesis about Adam and Eve’s disobedience. This story of the “Original Sin” contradicts the theme of innocence found in the beginning of the poem. Yet, the ambiguity of the word “the baby” allows the reader to infer that “the baby” refers to all babies, and all of humankind. Therefore, the development described throughout the poem is a process that all of humankind undergoes. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, the words “circle” (line 3) and “round” (line 9) metaphorically represent the cyclicality of human experience, whether it be the cyclicality of innocence to sinfulness or, as the last quatrain of the poem accentuates through rhyme, the cyclicality of “breath” (line 13), life, and “the second birth of Death” (line 16).

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