26 pages 52 minutes read

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

In Memoriam

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1850

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Literary Devices


In Memoriam is an elegy, albeit one on an ambitious scale to which elegies have seldom aspired. An elegy explores the impact of loss, the logic of grief, and the struggles, emotional as well as psychological, to the reality of death. Technically, In Memoriam itself is not a poem at all but a cycle of 133 loosely related cantos, each of a different length. What is absolute, what organizes the poem’s wide-ranging meditations is the form itself. It provides reassuring stability in a poem that is otherwise dangerously reckless in its emotions and its themes.

The form Tennyson uses is the quatrain, four-line stanzas, in tight iambic pentameter that, across the poem’s more than 2000 lines, creates a reassuring sort of stability and structure even when the poet himself veers dangerously closes to solipsistic emotions and careless, even reckless thoughts about life, love, and especially God. The tight form maintains the discipline of order, drawing on a poetic form that is itself grounded in centuries of British poetic tradition. Thus, despite the indulgence of hyper-emotionalism, despite raising radical and dangerous notions about the meaning and purpose of life in a bleak cosmos where nature is indifferent and God seems increasingly irrelevant, the form itself reassures that Tennyson may edge toward anarchic insights but will ultimately return to affirm the traditional response to a heart tossed so abruptly into the reality of loss.