26 pages 52 minutes read

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

In Memoriam

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1850

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Symbols & Motifs


The poem uses Christmas and the festive Christmas season to symbolize the poet’s struggle to tap into authentic Christian hope in the face of his deep loss. The flow of time, more than a decade, measured against the grieving of the poet is marked by three different celebrations of Christmas in Canto 28, Canto 78, and Canto 104. Initially Christmas, shortly after Hallam’s death, only reminds the poet how distant and apart he is from the traditional celebrations of the season, the church services (praising a God the poet now sees as either cruel or indifferent), the joyous songs (which ring hollow in the poet’s ear), and the festive gatherings around food and drink. The season seems ironic to the poet. He is grieving, and a joyous world seems distant and irrelevant, which he admits starkly in Canto 29: “I almost wish’d no more to wake” (Line 14).

The second Christmas season marks the poet’s emotional nadir. He is now too content with his despair, too set in his resignation to a God distant and unfeeling, a season that is an escape, a cruel dodge that must inevitability wane. The joyous carols in Canto 78 are little more than “mortal lullabies of pain” (Line 5).