Title Page From "In Memoriam" Edition One - British Public Library Online
Title Page From "In Memoriam" Edition One - British Public Library Online


In Memoriam A.H.H. is a long-form poem written by Tennyson over the course of 17 years. Though the disparate settings, moods, and tones throughout the poem lend it a somewhat scattered sense, the overarching style and subject matter leave it clearly identifiable as an elegy- or a dirge-style work. The poem centres around a very close friend of Tennyson, a man called Arthur Henry Hallam, who died rather suddenly in 1833 at age 22. According to some, “this was the most important event in Tennyson’s life, and the one which most shaped his work” (Furneaux). The poem is written almost entirely in a very rigid fashion, using iambic tetrameter and an “A-B-B-A” rhyme scheme throughout - potentially as an allusion to the rhythmic and repetitive nature of life (and bodily functions related to life, such as a beating heart and breathing lungs). Over its course, the poem deals primarily with the concepts of doubt, hope, loss, and love - through the lens of a bereaved friend, Tennyson’s poem grapples with the same issues his contemporary countrymen were facing in reconciling the natural world with the spiritual. Tennyson himself said that the poem is not supposed to be read as a biography; rather, it is more like a divine comedy ending with happiness. “The different sections were written at many different places, as as the phases of our intercourse came to my memory and suggested them” (Broadview, 204). Just as Hallam’s death had a massive impact on Tennyson, In Memoriam made a great impact on the literary world. Queen Victoria herself recommended the poem, as it helped her through her grief over the death of Prince Albert. The poem is also responsible for popularizing the A-B-B-A rhyme scheme, so much so that many sources consider the “In Memoriam” stanza to be an quatrain with an A-B-B-A scheme written in iambic tetrameter (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

"In Memoriam" Section Eight - Flikr User "narobear"
Arthur Henry Hallam:

Born 1811, attended Eton college from 22 to 27, immediately winning recognition as a writer and a poet - lauded as “the school’s best poet”, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Politically, he was a Whig (as opposed to a Torie - The Whigs were supporters of those involved with industry and mercantilism, whereas the Tories were more for the landed wealthy and the royals ). Following Eton Hallam travelled throughout continental Europe with his parents, keeping up with his poetry-writing. While in Spain, Hallam met a woman called Anna Wintour, ostensibly the inspiration for eleven of his poems (Lang). In 1828, Hallam entered Trinity College at Cambrige, where he met the young Alfred Tennyson. Owing primarily to their shared love of poetry, the two immediately became friends. They were so close, in fact, that they very nearly jointly published a book of poems - Hallam’s father was not on board with the plan, however, so it was abandoned. In 1830, while visiting Alfred, Hallam met and later became engaged to Alfred’s sister Emily. Later, he and Tennyson travelled to northern Spain in an (unsuccessful) attempt to assist the Spanish rebellion against King Ferdinand the 7th. Three years later, in the midst of a vacation with his father, Hallam suffered a ruptured aneurysm, killing him immediately at only twenty two years old. Following Arthur’s death, a selection of heavily-edited poems were published by Hallam’s father. Having been school-mates, colleagues, co-creators, mutual admirers of skill and ideology, and nearly brothers-in-law, Arthur Henry Hallam and Alfred Tennyson no doubt had quite a powerful friendship. Knowing the density of the history between the two, and the promise of Hallam’s career (either as a poet, or his father’s choice, in law), one can easily see why Tennyson spent a total of 17 years creating In Memoriam. Additionally, some of Tennyson’s most recognized works were begun within a month of Hallam’s passing - “Ulysses”, “Morte d’Arthur”, and “Tithonus”. Clearly, the death of Hallam was a massive blow to Tennyson, one that shaped the tone of many, if not all, Tennyson’s following poems.

"In Memoriam" - Flikr User "bepster"
Between Hallam’s Death and Tennyson’s Publication:

The seventeen years between Arthur Hallam’s death and the publication of In Memoriam were spent, not surprisingly, working on various poetic projects. Though Tennyson had created the first sections of In Memoriam relatively quickly following Hallam’s death (according to the ODNB, the earliest section was written on October 6, 1833 - Tennyson and his family received notice of Arthur’s death on October 1), he felt the need to create something what would wholly honour Hallam, striving to create something which would “duly … render such dearest service—to Hallam, to Tennyson himself, and to all his readers then and since, to all those who, like Queen Victoria and whatever their beliefs, have found, in its mourning and in its recovery, lasting consolation” (Ricks).

In Memoriam as an Elegy:

Technically, according to M.H. Abrams’ A Glossary of Literary Terms, the term “elegy” is used for a poem written in what is known as elegiac meter. Elegaic meter contains alternating pentameter and hexameter lines. However, the content typically covered in elegaic format also became associated with the term “elegy” - namely, loss and change in relation to love and loved ones - and since the seventeenth century an elegy is typically a “formal and sustained lament in verse for the death of a particular person, usually ending in consolation” (Abrams, 92). In Memoriam is fairly regular in its meter, primarily acting through iambic tetrameter, so it does not fall under the old definition of an elegy. However, in the unfailing attention to meter and formal language lamenting the loss of Hallam, eventually resolving itself with Tennyson realizing that everyone moves towards God at some point, the poem is no doubt part of the Elegaic tradition.

Works Cited:

Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 7th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College, 1999. Print.

Collins, Thomas J. The Broadview Anthology of Victorian Poetry and Poetic Theory. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 1999. 204-253. Print.

Furneaux, Holly. "An Introduction to In Memoriam A.H.H." British Library Online. Web. 31 Jan. 2015. <http://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/in-memoriam>.

Lang, Timothy. "Hallam, Henry (1777–1859)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 1 Oct. 2004. Web. 31 Jan. 2015. <http://www.oxforddnb.com.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/view/article/12002/12001>.

Ricks, Christopher. "Tennyson, Alfred, First Baron Tennyson (1809-1892)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 1 May 2004. Web. 31 Jan. 2015. <http://www.oxforddnb.com.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/view/article/27137?docPos=2>.

"In Memoriam stanza". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 31 Jan. 2015 <__http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/284377/In-Memoriam-stanza__>.

Further Resources:

Full Online Text via Online-Literature.com

Full Online Text via WikiSource

A. C. Bradley: A Commentary on Tennyson's in Memoriam (Full Online Text Here )