Tennyson´s vision of Nature in the LVI Canto of In Memoriam A.H.H.
Alfred Lord Tennyson was born on August the 6 th , 1809 in Somersby, Lincolnshire . His father, George Clayton Tennyson was a clergyman and rector, due to having being disinherited by his father in favour of his younger brother. It has been said that this reason had much to do with the mental illness Tennyson's father suffered during his life, although it is possible as well that these problems were due to epilepsy and were complicated also with his tendency to drink heavily. This sickness his father suffered cursed with hard attacks and complex situations that may have influenced in the personal development of our author. And in his, many times emphasized, melancholic character.
After four years attending a local school he was tutored at home and in 1827 he went to Trinity College , Cambridge . Where he became well known after winning the Chancellor's Gold Medal, a prize for poetry awarded for Timbuctoo . In 1829 The Apostles, an undergraduate club invited him to join. The group used to meet to discuss major philosophical topics and other issues. Some of the people who belonged to this club were Edward Lushington (who became his brother in law after marrying Tennyson's sister, Cecilia) and Arthur Henry Hallam.
Arthur H. Hallam and Tennyson became very good friends. They knew each other for four years and after a summer visit Arthur paid to his friend he became engaged with Alfred's sister, Emily. But Hallam died of a sudden illness during a tour around Europe with his father in Vienna . His death affected Tennyson deeply, and his grief made him write his important poem In Memoriam A.H.H.
In the 1830s Tennyson visited Dr. Matthew's sanitarium to treat his mental disorders. He invested money received after his grandfather's death and some of his family's money with Dr. Allen. But the method of Dr. Allen went bankrupt and Tennyson had to end his engagement to Emily Sellwood.
In 1830 he published Poems, Chiefly Lyrical which included the famous Mariana.
His next book, Poems , published in 1833, received unfavourable reviews, and Tennyson remained ten years without publishing any of his works. This was the year Hallam died and he began to write In Memoriam A.H.H , an elegy for his friend Arthur H. Hallam, this work took him seventeen years.
In 1842 he published the two-volume Poems , where appeared The Lady of Shallot , The Lotus-eaters , Morte d'Arthur and Ulysses . This work established his reputation as a writer. In 1845 he received a Civil List pension of 200 pounds a year which helped him to overcome his financial problems and in 1850 he was appointed Poet Laureate after Wordsworth's death.
After marrying Emily Selwood, they settled in Farringford, a house Freshwater on the Isle of Wight in 1953. They moved to Aldworth, Surrey in 1869. During these later years he produced some of his best poems.
Among Tennyson's major poetic achievements we can find poems such as In Memoriam A.H.H . (1850), the patriotic poem Charge of the Light brigade , published in Maud (1855), Enoch Arden(1864), and Idylls Of The King (1859-1885), an Arthurian poem.
In 1870s He wrote several plays, among them, we find Queen Mary (1875) and Harold (1876), poetic dramas. In 1884 he was created a baron.
Tennyson died at Aldwort on October the 6 th , 1892 and was buried in the Poets Corner in Westminster abbey.
In Memoriam A.H.H.
In Memoriam A.H.H . is an elegiac poem written by Tennyson as a tribute to his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, early dead at the age of 22 of a cerebral haemorrhage in Vienna
It was written over a period of seventeen years. This poem discusses many of the issues that were being questioned in the Victorian society at the time. In this composition Tennyson reaches his highest musical and rhyming peaks. It is considered one of the most important works of British poetics works of the nineteenth century.
Its original title was The Way of the Soul , the poem explains Tennyson's thoughts and feelings as he copes with his sorrow over this long period. It is not arranged in the order it was written. The prologue is thought to have been one of the last parts he wrote. But it is thought to be chronological in terms of the progression of Tennyson's s grief. The time line is marked by three descriptions of Christmas at different points of the poem and the poem ends with a description of Tennyson's sister marriage.
The poem is written in four line ABBA stanzas of iambic feet. It is divided in 133 cantos, being two of them the prologue and the epilogue. Although its metrical form is constant and regulate the subjects of the argument are varied, spiritual experiences, philosophical speculations and many other matters. The central subject is the death of Hallam and Tennyson's attempts to cope with it.
‘So careful of the type?' but no.
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, ‘A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go.
‘Thou makest thine appeal to me:
I bring to life, I bring to death:
The spirit does but mean the breath:
I know no more.' And he, shall he,
Man, her last work, who seem'd so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll'd the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law–
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed–
Who loved, who suffer'd countless ills,
Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal'd within the iron hills?
No more? A monster then, a dream,
A discord. Dragons of the prime,
That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music match'd with him.
O life as futile, then, as frail!
O for thy voice to soothe and bless!
What hope of answer, or redress?
Behind the veil, behind the veil.
Personal interpretation of the LVI Canto of In Memoriam AHH.
It is my intention to interpret the sense of the LVI Canto of In Memoriam AHH and Tennyson's vision of nature reflected in it.
The first stanza begins with the verse “So careful of the type? But no”. This verse relates to the second stanza of the previous Canto where Tennyson says:
Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life;
In this second stanza of the LVI canto Tennyson expresses the idea that Nature is interested in the human subject as a whole but has no interest in the single human being.
This idea links directly with the main reason why this poem was written, the incomprehensible death of a young man as Arthur Hallam.
Therefore in the first stanza of the Canto LVI, the one I intend to interpret, he says that Nature does not care about the human subject, as a lot of subjects have passed by and have gone after his existence. The verses of this stanza are written as if those were Nature's words on the issue. As if it was Nature herself who was talking to us And Tennyson's ideas on Nature as an evil being, as a destructive force, ideas explained in the next section of this research, are well reflected in this stanza.
In the second stanza Nature continues speaking and expresses her power to give and take away life at her will, an action that has to be done without having on account anything else but her desire and no reason at all. The final verse of this second stanza links with the beginning of the third one where the idea of man as Nature's last work, is expressed. This idea of man as the last work of creation brings to my memory the Christian theory of the creation of the world, in which God created the man after having created the world, the scenery where man was to be set. But in this case the creator is Nature instead of God. In this third stanza Tennyson describes man by his actions as an innocent being, believer of the power of a superior being. These ideas are expressed by the sentences underlined below:
“Man, her last work , who seem'd so fair.
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll'd the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer”
Man raises his prayers to the high but they seem to be worthless, as they are fruitless.
In the fourth stanza the idea of man as a believer on a superior entity is directly set. And man believes in a loving God whose final law is love but this statement is broken by Nature, who is “[…] red in tooth and claw […]”. This expression reflects Tennyson's idea of Nature as an evil power describing her with predatory animal terms. This stanza finishes expressing how Nature acts against man's beliefs.
In the fifth stanza Tennyson continues describing the situation where although man is just, although man fights against sorrow, illness and battles for truth his end will be death. Something of which it seems Tennyson blames Nature
In the penultimate stanza Tennyson asks himself if there is no more after that and then he describes the situation as a discord; as a dream where monsters, dragons were tarring each other in their slime. Being this dream a music that matches with man.
In the last stanza the idea of the fragility of life is set. And the question of a superior being's power to soothe and bless human sufferings and acts He wonders if there is a hope for humans to get an answer to their prayers or a redress of all the sufferings.
The Canto finishes with the line: “[…] behind the veil, behind the veil”.
This veil may refer to the beliefs and ideas that humans use to cope with their lives in this world of sorrow.
Tennyson and Wordsworth processing Nature.
It is my intention to compare Tennyson's approach to Nature with that we could see of Wordsworth in my previous research.
Wordsworth had the idea of that art and literature advance beyond the audience's expectations and that means that the poet must create the taste by which his works have to be enjoyed. Tennyson, on the other hand, took into account the tastes of the audience of his time and tried to develop his work within some restraints of his art. As we have seen at the beginning of this research he was terribly influenced by the opinions of the critics.
Tennyson's representation and concept of Nature in this canto, the LVI canto, differs of that we found in Wordsworth in the tones both authors use. Whilst Wordsworth considers Nature as something delighting, in which a man can rejoice, pure, even identified with God, Tennyson has a more obscure vision of Nature. Due to the change that supposed Darwin 's Theory of Evolution, in which Nature implies a selection by which the stronger individuals of every species are the ones who will survive and this implies that those different species will take the changes in their evolution needed to adapt themselves better to the development of life.
This theory supposed an important change in human beliefs, it clashes directly with religious beliefs that justify the creation and development of Nature and every change occurred in her as products of God's will.
Being influenced by the impact caused by Darwin 's theory, by the fact of his friend's death, a death that came when Arthur was so young, and by the sorrow that this death brought to him, Tennyson personifies Nature, therefore gives her human attributes, human will and ability of action as we saw in Wordsworth's Lines Written in Early Spring . But as Wordsworth considers Nature as a benevolent being, a creator, even identified with God that suffers the destructive actions of men Tennyson presents her as someone that acts indifferent in her natural selection, someone who causes sorrow and despair.
This melancholic vision of Tennyson may come from, firstly, the sadness suffered in his childhood and youth. Being his father disinherited and affected by mental illness, something that seems to be common in Tennyson's family, and that made him live very hard situations. And secondly, it comes as well from the grief that the incomprehensible fact of his young friend's death brought to him.
-The Literature Network.
Section: Lord Alfred Tennyson
-The Victorian Web. Literature, history & culture in the age of Victoria .
Section: Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Brief Biography by Glenn Everett , Associate Professor of English, University of Tennessee at Martin
-Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Article: In Memoriam A.H.H.
-Alfred Lord Tennyson Poetry.
LVI canto of In Memoriam A.H.H.
-The Victorian Web. Before Victoria : Selected Authors from the Eighteenth and nineteenth century.
Section: Nature in Wordsworth and Tennyson by David Stevenson '96, 1992
Bibliographical note: All the webs used and cited have been visited several times during January and February of 2007.
The paragraphs where no bibliography is mentioned below are composed using my own opinion.
Academic year 2006/2007
© a.r.e.a./Dr.Vicente Forés López
© Mª Elena Mármol Rodríguez
Universitat de València Press