A Critical Analysis Of Alfred Tennyson's "In Memoriam A.H.H."

4465 words - 18 pages

During the Victorian Period, long held and comfortable religiousbeliefs fell under great scrutiny. An early blow to these beliefs camefrom the Utilitarian, followers of Jeremy Bantam, in the form of a testby reason of many of the long-standing institutions of England,including the church. When seen through the eyes of reason, religionbecame "merely an outmoded superstition" (Ford & Christ 896). If thiswere not enough for the faithful to contend with, the torch of doubt wassoon passed to the scientists. Geologists were publishing the resultsof their studies which concluded that the Earth was far older than thebiblical accounts would have it (Ford & Christ 897). Astronomers wereextending humanity's knowledge of stellar distances, and NaturalHistorians such as Charles Darwin were swiftly building theories ofevolution that defied the Old Testament version of creation (Ford &Christ 897). God seemed to be dissolving before a panicked England'svery eyes, replaced by the vision of a cold, mechanistic universe thatcared little for our existence.Alfred, Lord Tennyson was painfully aware of the implications ofsuch a universe, and he struggled with his own doubts about theexistence of God. We glimpse much of his struggles in the poem InMemorial A. H. H., written in memory of his deceased friend, ArthurHallam. The poem seemed to be cathartic for Tennyson, for through itswriting he not only found an outlet for his grief over Hallam's death,but also managed to regain the faith which seemed at times to haveabandoned him. Tennyson regained and firmly reestablished his faiththrough the formation of the idea that God is reconciled with themechanistic universe through a divine plan of evolution, with Hallam asthe potential link to a greater race of humans yet to come.In the first of many lyric units, Tennyson's faith in God andJesus seems strong. He speaks of "Believing where we cannot prove" (l.4), and is sure that God "wilt not leave us in the dust" (l. 9). Theincreasing threat posed to religion by science does not worry Tensionhere, as he believes that our increasing knowledge of the universe canbe reconciled with faith, saying:"Let knowledge grow from more to more,But more of reverence in us dwell;That mind and soul, according well,May make one music as before" (1. 25-28).He does anticipate doubt, though, as he asks in advance for God'sforgiveness for the "Confusions of a wasted youth" (l. 42). Tennysonhere foresees the difficulties inherent in reconciling God with the colduniverse slowly emerging for the notes of scientists.In order to deal with the tasks set before him, Tennyson mustfirst boldly face the possibility of a world without God. In stanzanumber three, Sorrow, personified as a woman, whispers thesedisconcerting possibilities to a grief-ridden Tennyson, saying, "And allthe phantom, Nature, stands-... / A hollow form with empty hands" (3.9,12). He questions whether he should "embrace" or "crush" Sorrow withall her uncomfortable...

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