26 pages 52 minutes read

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

In Memoriam

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1850

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Poem Analysis

Analysis: “In Memoriam”

In Memoriam is at its complex, emotional core a simple elegy. The poem comes to terms with the implications of the death of someone special, someone who seemed by dint of their youth, their resilience, their capacity for life impervious to even the threat of mortality. What is singular about Tennyson’s epic—apart from its sheer scale—is the deeply personal nature of the elegy. Within more conventional elegies, the focus rests on death and the poem itself stays safely, coolly abstract as the poet grapples with the concept of death and the reality of its inevitability. Elegies have long been deemed public poetry; that is, the poet, perhaps deeply troubled, puts on the persona of a public figure and hands out (down?) hard-earned wisdom to help guide the Reader (always a capital R) when inevitably it comes time for the Reader to confront death. The poet traditionally works to come across as thoughtful, philosophical, even objective. In those works, and perhaps no better comparison can be drawn than to Percy Shelley’s towering Adonais (1821), a philosophical inquiry into death at a young age using the death of John Keats, a fellow poet Shelley had only briefly met.