26 pages 52 minutes read

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

In Memoriam

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1850

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Adonaisby Percy Shelley (1821)

A monumental expression of the traditional elegy, written on the death of young poet John Keats, Shelley’s ode can be helpfully read to reveal how radical Tennyson’s elegy was. Both elegies take as their subject the too-early death of a promising poet—but for Tennyson, Hallam was not so much a poet as he was a friend. Shelley’s elegy is quite calmly conceived, a deliberate attempt to catapult the figure of a poet into the firmament of the heavens that is only lightly touched by the actual poet John Keats (Shelley barely knew him and the poem was composed months after Keats’s death). Unlike Tennyson, whose grief is real and raw and immediate and confusing, and whose struggle through grief he charts across years, this elegy seems deliberate and even contrived for the ultimate celebration of the Poet, capital “P.”

Break, Break, Breakby Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1842)

This is an early lyric Tennyson wrote on the death of Arthur Hallam. Completed and published before In Memoriam, this brief melancholic lyric about the experience of loss and the little help the natural world provides can be read as an early sketch of the ideas Tennyson would use, a storyboard for the early cantos of In Memoriam.