Monday, June 27, 2011

Tennyson; In Memoriam - 10

Poem number 10 from In Memoriam continues the theme of the previous poem that the ship carrying Arthur Hallam’s body will make it back safely to England. Tennyson knows he would feel better if his friend were buried than if he should be lost at sea.


I hear the noise about thy keel;
I hear the bell struck in the night:
I see the cabin-window bright;
I see the sailor at the wheel.

Thou bring'st the sailor to his wife,
And travell'd men from foreign lands;
And letters unto trembling hands;
And, thy dark freight, a vanish'd life.

So bring him; we have idle dreams:
This look of quiet flatters thus
Our home-bred fancies. O to us,
The fools of habit, sweeter seems

To rest beneath the clover sod,
That takes the sunshine and the rains,
Or where the kneeling hamlet drains
The chalice of the grapes of God;

Than if with thee the roaring wells
Should gulf him fathom-deep in brine;
And hands so often clasp'd in mine,
Should toss with tangle and with shells.

I don’t find this one of the stronger portions of In Memoriam, but it has its moments. The opening stanza with its repeated “I hear” and “I see” and end-stopped lines has rhetorical power and brings the scene right before the reader’s eyes and ears. The positive list in the second stanza closes with the idea that the ship is also carrying a “vanish’d life”, which is a great phrase – very moving.

I really like the third stanza. It’s not quite what I was expecting – idle dreams, home-bred fancies – a detour into the hearts and minds of those waiting for the ship, which continues in the ideas expressed in the closing stanzas. He wants Hallam to have a proper burial: the earth is fed with sunshine and rain, and the prayerful people are depicted as the hamlet where the chalice of God’s grapes is drained. There is nurture and peace compared to the “roaring wells” and “toss with tangle” of the final stanza’s sea. It may be possible to read this as a depiction of Tennyson's own emotional state. At the beginning, he's beset by anxiety, noise and turbulence, and his hope for a resting place for Hallam's body may reflect his own hope that a burial might bring about some comparable inner peace.

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