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A STUDY OF ALFRED TENNYSON'S IN MEMORIAM
- A STUDY OF ALFRED TENNYSON'S IN MEMORIAM
- MIN, KYUNG HI
- Issue Date
- 대학원 영어영문학과
- Graduate School of Ewha Womans University
- In Memoriam differs from other elegies in two things. One is the fulness and intimacy with which the poem displays the poet's personal relationship with the dead and the affection and grief for him. Not like other elegies such as "Lycidas, " "Adonais" and "Thyrsis." In Memoriam bears the mark of passionate personal grief and love, and we know that the poet's conquest over sorrow, and his faith is won through the desperate struggles and sufferings that had shaken the center of his being. The slow progress until the poet emerges to the light through the darkness of doubt and sorrow is given in the poem as the phases and stages of feeling come to the poet throughout the years. Really, the poet's painstaking yet victorious "way of the soul" is disclosed in the poem as frankly and thotoughly as it was experienced in each stages. For this reason the poem is nearer to ordinary life than other elegies, and it gives us feeling as if our own feeling is expressed in the poem. The form of the poem itself is not that of pastoral elegies, and it shows this nearness and reality of feeling. One who is in sorrow would feel comfort that a great soul has suffered the same loss and that he has a company or a guide in his sorrow.
The other characteristic of the poem is that it contains many theological and philosophical problems. It may seem that the poem has too much problems for an elegy. Yet when the spirit of the age and the sensitivity of the poet are considered there may be found a reason for it . In England the first decade of Victorian age was the time of great social unrest and change. The sudden development of science influenced the material life of the people in many ways, and it naturally brought changes and restlessness to the spiritual life of the people. The religious and philosophical problems at the time in relation to the science were the concern of every mind, at least for the learned men. The poet's sensitive nature could not be indifferent to those problems. Especially, when the poet was faced with the enigmas of life by Hallam's death, such problems as the presence of God, immortality of soul, and human free will all presented themselves before the poet with a renewed force. For the poet such problems were all seriously connected with his thought and love for the dead. We receive an impression from his semi-philosophic speculations on after-life that the poet is dwelling on the matter rather tediously. Yet we also know that what is flowing at the bottom of these speculations is his desire for reunion with the dead. Despite of all these speculations in the poem, we can not help considering that In Memoriam is one of the most sincere elegies.
Yet though we may understand the circumstances under which the poet went into these speculations, we should know that Tennyson was a lyric poet, and he never was a philosopher. He does not give his speculations consecutive reasoning, and his language is imaginative but has no exactness which we required for philosophic speculation. When one takes up some problem and try to follow his logic to the poem, he has to supplement often where the poet's reasoning fails. The poet himself makes an apology for it that his speculations on religious matter are to be regarded as the phases of feeling which move over his grief and not the serious discussion of the problems.
Her care is not to part and prove; She takes, when harsher moods remit, What slender shade of doubt may flit, And makes it vassal unto love; (XLVIII)
In fact we must know that what really matters in this poem and what really mattered for the poet is not these speculations but his faith itself. Such speculation as the state of soul in life after death may have its value in showing us the world in which the poet's imagination moves, yet these are of "secondary interest" and not of the first importance. The thing of first importance for the poet was the fact of immortality. It may be said of the poem that In Memoriam lacks the archtectonic structure, although the fragmentary way in whicth the poem was written may explain for this short coming. Also Chesterton says that the poet has "much more power of expression than was wanted for anything he had to express." These may all be true in a sense. Anyhow, the poem was and is counted as one of the most outstanding philosophic and religious poems of the Victorian age, for as previously stated, in this poem is expressed almost all the Victorian doubts, view of life, the agonies of the age well as the answer for those problems. Because of this poem, the poet was, for a certain period, counted as one of the modern thinkers and had great fame and popularity. Now that the spirit of the age have transited, his popularity also has changed, and the problems which appealed to the Victoran may have appeal to us. Although the Victoran aspect in this poem may not be appealing to the modern world, the consoling, uplifting thought and faith as well as the poetical charm of this poem will have no change with the transition of the time.
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