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IN MEMORIAM-ITS STRUCTURE
THE question of this Chapter is-How was In Memoriam shaped? What is the conduct of the poem ?
It was shaped into the continuous story of two years and a half; not a story of events but the story of the voyage of a soul. First, the hurricane of sorrow came; then the fierceness of the storm grew less, but left the sea tormented and the ship of the soul tossing from wave to wave, from question to question. At last there was calm, and the soul rested; and then a clear wind arose in sunny skies, and the ship flew forward, all the sails set to victory, into a harbour of peace. But better words than these to describe the history of In Memoriam are those of the Psalm, said of those who go down into the deep: "They go up to the heavens, and down again to the depth; their soul melteth away for very trouble. They reel to and fro and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end. they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He delivereth them out of their distress. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they are at rest: so
He bringeth them to the haven where they would be."
The time of this story is well marked, and it is the first thing its reader should understand. It outlines the map of the poem. It begins in September 1833, when Tennyson hears of his friend's death at Vienna. It is autumn; the leaves are reddening to their fall, the chestnut is pattering to the ground, as the poet waits for the body of his friend. This autumn closes with a great
To-night the winds begin to rise,
Then the twenty-eighth, twenty-ninth, and thirtieth sections describe the first Christmas after the death of Arthur. In the thirty-eighth, the spring of 1834 has come, and in the forty-eighth the swallows are flying over the waters. The seventy-second records the anniversary of his friend's death, September 1834. One year has passed by.
The Christmas of 1834 is recorded in the seventy-eighth, and the spring of 1835 arrives in the eighty-third sections. Full summer is with us in the eighty-ninth and the ninety-fifth; and in the ninety-ninth the day of his friend's death dawns after storm in balm and peace. A second year has gone by, September 1835.
Another Christmas comes with the hundred and third section, and at the hundred and fourteenth these notes of time close with the April of 1836. The poem lasts, then, just two years and seven
months. The epithalamium at the end, the celebration of his sister's marriage-day, belongs to 1842; and the Prologue to the poem was written last of all, and is dated 1849.
And now, to illustrate the progress of the soul from sorrow to peace, I will take the three main marks of time: the anniversaries of the death of his friend, the Christmas-tides, the advents of spring, and dwell on the changes of mind displayed in the record of them. When Tennyson hears of Arthur's death (to take the death-days first) grief is all; it drowns the world; Nature seems purposeless, "a hollow form with empty hands"; the sullen, changeless yew-tree symbolises the hardness of his heart. When the anniversary of the death comes the memory of it is still miserable. That hour
It was a
sicken'd every living bloom
And blurr'd the splendour of the sun.
Day mark'd as with some hideous crime,
a day "to hide its shame beneath the ground." Thus even when a year has gone by the wrathfulness of sorrow is still deep. As yet there is no forgiveness of pain and no peace (lxxii.).
When the next anniversary dawns (xcix.) the tone is changed; the birds are singing, the meadows breathe softly of the past, the woodlands are holy to the dead; there has been storm, but the breath of the day is now balmy, and the swollen brook murmurs a song "that slights the coming care." But the greatest change is that he thinks less of his own
pain and more of the pain of mankind.
The dim, earth
sweet dawn awakens to myriads on the
memories of death, and he feels that he is the comrade of all these mourners :
O wheresoever those may be,
Betwixt the slumber of the poles,
This is the progress at these spaces of time. But if we wish to test it in a better way, we should choose, not the anniversaries of death when the poet is sure to have his sorrow driven home to him, but other times when the mind is freed from so close a pressure of memory. I take now the three
When the bells of the first Christmas Eve (xxviii.) ring out peace and goodwill, he remembers that he had almost wished to die in his grief before he heard them, but they control his spirit with a touch of joy; and though he scarce dare keep his Christmas Eve, so deep is regret, yet let me give, he cries, their due to ancient use and custom, though they too die. But this bitterness perishes next day. keeps his Christmas and remembers his friend who was with him the year before. A gentler feeling creeps into his heart. The dead rest, he says, their sleep is sweet; and then the first prophecy in the poem of the resurrection of the soul from the sorrow of loss is made, and the verse lifts to the thought:
Our voices took a higher range;
Once more we sang-" They do not die
Nor lose their mortal sympathy
Nor change to us, although they change;
"Rapt from the fickle and the frail
Rise, happy morn, rise, holy morn,
The light that shone when Hope was born.
A year passes, another Christmas comes (lxxviii.). The snow was silent, the day was calm, and the sense of something for ever gone brooded over all Nature; but this sense of loss was no longer stormy with passion of grief but quiet like the day. They played, he says, their ancient games, but none showed one token of distress; no tears fell. "O," he cries,
O last regret, regret can die!
No-mixt with all this mystic frame,
This is not victory, and the grief is still only personal. The poet has not escaped from himself, and the year, which has been spent in a halfintellectual analysis of doubts and the replies of the understanding to them, has not brought peace to the life of the soul.
Everything is changed at the next Christmas (civ.-cvi.). He hears the bells again, but he has left the old home for another; and the change of place has broken, like the growth of time, the bond of dying use. He holds the night of Christmas Eve solemn to the past, but as it falls, he feels that the merely personal is no more. He sees the stars rise, and the thought of the great course of time