Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” Essay, Research Paper

In Memoriam is a poem through which Tennyson was trying to make sense of the death of his friend, Arthur Hallam. The consistent and intentional use of imagery throughout the poem helps reveal the inner healing process that Tennyson was experiencing during the seventeen years he composed In Memoriam. One recurring image in the poem is shadow. In the early parts of the poem, Tennyson usually refers to The Shadow, and when he does, he is usually speaking of a personified Death, such as an Angel of Death or Grim Reaper type of figure. After this has been taken to fruition, he uses shadows to represent his memories and thoughts.

His purpose in personifying death is twofold. First, a shadow fills a spot with darkness that had before been covered in light. In section 22, we see this when Tennyson takes a stroll down a path he and Arthur had been down together in the past. “There sat the Shadow feared of man:/Who broke our fair companionship,/and spread his mantle dark and cold/”(12-13). His friend is no longer with him; death has replaced him.

Tennyson’s second purpose in personifying death as The Shadow is that both can be with us at any time, unnoticed, and unannounced. This too is quite visible in the final lines of section 22. Tennyson knows that death waits for him as it had for Hallam. These feelings reach their climax in section 30, where the joy of a Christmas gathering is interrupted by “…an awful sense/ Of one mute Shadow watching all”(7-8). Tennyson and his friends pause, weep over Hallam’s death, then break out in a song, singing, “…They do not die/Nor lose their mortal sympathy,/Nor change to us, although they change;”(22-24). This is a turning point for Tennyson. This song reminds Tennyson that death is only the beginning, so he no longer mentions death as a Shadow after his. In fact, a number of sections after this mention resurrection(i.e. 31,47) a belief Tennyson mostly ignores before stanza 30. By section 82, Tennyson has depersonified Death all together, saying that he ,”blame[s] not Death, because he bare/ The use of virtue out of earth;”(9-10). He is moving toward a much deeper and more spiritually mature understanding of death.

As Tennyson continues to move forward in his understanding of death, time also moves forward and Hallam’s death falls into the more distant past. Tennyson’s memory of life with his friend begins to fade. This does not mean that his memory of his friend fades, but rather only that his life has gone on so long without Arthur, that it is difficult to remember life with him. Because of this, Tennyson stops personifying Death as a shadow, and begins using shadow imagery to symbolize his thoughts and memories. The Shadow becomes a shadow. In section 70 he refers to a gulf that shuts off his “shadowy thoroughfares of thought”(8). This shift to a more general shadow is important also because shadows change and disappear all the time, while Death is always near us. Even Tennyson’s thoughts about Arthur occur less frequently and are different in form than before. The wind that is “shadowing down the horned flood”(7) in section 86 whispers “Peace” to Tennyson instead of whispering about death and doubt, as it would have earlier in the poem.

Not only have Tennyson’s memories of Arthur faded and shifted, but the world without Arthur has changed. Tennyson has moved from the house he used to live in by section 105, and the world seems very much different. He holds all the “cares that petty shadows cast”(13) and lets them fall away into the past. His moving to a new location makes everything he remembers about the past seem less concrete. Earlier in the poem, Tennyson would have fought with the healing going on within him, forcing himself to remain melancholy. But now he allows the healing to take its course, and this shift is one of the final turns in the poem. He has learned to accept his friends death, and he realizes that the world doesn’t only seem different without Arthur, but rather that it is different. In section 123, he calls the hills shadows, because they have changed so much. Instead of bemoaning these changes, he embraces them and eventually learns to celebrate even in his times of sorrow. In order for Tennyson to not be plagued by images of death, he had to grow enough spiritually to realize that Christ had killed death on the Cross and that the images he was forcing himself to think on were lapses in his faith.

A solid understanding of the deep, brilliant imagery that Tennyson included in In Memoriam is critical in order to enjoy the poem on its most intimate levels. Tennyson successfully makes a close connection to the reader by relating his feelings of grief and doubt in images like shadows. His use of shadow unifies the poem and works as a constant reminder to the reader of what he had said and what he had felt at earlier stages of the poem. The change in description of the shadows reveals the to the reader Tennyson’s inward healing from Arthur’s death.

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