26 pages 52 minutes read

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

In Memoriam

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1850

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The Redemptive Power of Grief

Grief serves a purpose. For Tennyson, grief is a verb, not a noun. Despite its considerable length, or perhaps because of it, there is a restlessness that drives Tennyson’s elegy. The poet, for all his heavy contemplations of the different aspects of loss and the psychology of mourning, brings to his grief a determination not to concede to the gravitational curve of sorrow. As the elegy, across its cantos (and across time, years in Tennyson’s own life), examines different questions about the dimension and depth of loss, whether nature or art or family or even God can provide solace, what drives the elegy is the poet’s obvious determination not to surrender to grief, to upcycle grief into consolation, into some workable strategy that can provide comfort, what he terms “mortal sympathy” (Line 23) in Canto 31. The grief does not dissipate—that is the “cheap” and “shoddy” wisdom of funeral home cliches.

But grief in its integrity, in its formidable reality, becomes the avenue toward redemption. More than a century before what is termed now “thanapsychology,” which explored particularly the dynamics of profound loss and the strategy (or stages) of adjustment, Tennyson charts how grief, without losing its dark integrity, drives itself to consolation.