Musings on Immortality: Tennyson’s in Memoriam
Lord Alfred Tennyson was so shaken by the death of his great friend Arthur Henry Hallam that he spent the next seventeen years composing poems of grief that later came together as one in In Memoriam. In a country so undisputedly Christian as England, there were very few Victorians who would denounce God or the church despite the great scientific discoveries that contradicted the Bible. While Tennyson did not denounce either, still he doubted. His belief in the immortality of the soul had been undoubtedly shaken by science and the death of Hallam. In Memoriam addresses both Tennyson’s faith and his doubt in religion, immortality of the soul and his conflict with science. Through these doubt filled lines, Tennyson found strength and hope. In the prologue, Tennyson addresses Christ directly, giving voice to his skepticism while at the same time claiming to have faith. The poet creates an image of an all loving, omniscient, and divine God while at the same sprinkling his stanzas with expressions of doubt: “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. 5-8). This stanza expresses succinctly the poet’s conflict of doubt and faith. God made man, and God with his foot on man 's skull will take him back at will. In section 54, Tennyson writes that “nothing walks with aimless feet: / That not one life shall be destroy’d” (LIV. 5-6). He writes in high hope, but in the last two stanzas he falls into doubt again: “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. 17-20). This pattern of faith being constantly overtaken by grief-stricken doubt is present throughout the poem. One of Tennyson 's recurring doubts concerns the scientific evidence that would seem to doom the human race to eventual extinction. Tennyson 's
Cited: Eliot, T.S. “In Memoriam.” In Memoriam. Ed. Erik Gray. New York: Norton, 2004. 135-39. Print. Tennyson, Alfred. In Memoriam. Ed Erik Gray. New York: Norton, 2004. 5-101. Print. Tennyson, Hallam. “In Memoriam.” In Memoriam. Ed. Erik Gray. New York: Norton, 2004. 105-10. Print.