O Sorrow, cruel fellowship
O Priestess in the vaults of Death (77-78)
Tennyson personifies Sorrow and uses apostrophe to address her. We're not meant to think she's actually listening. Sorrow offers "cruel fellowship," which means the double-edged sword of remembrance but also plenty of pain.
Can calm despair and wild unrest
Be tenants of a single breast? (342-343)
How are "calm despair" and "wild unrest" both aspects of grief? What do you think "calm despair" looks like, and how is it different from "wild unrest"?
My lighter moods are like to these,
That out of words a comfort win;
But there are other griefs within,
And tears that at their fountain freeze; (425-428)
Tennyson has just dropped the analogy of how his "little griefs" are like servants whose master has just died. They can take comfort in speaking about their beloved departed master and can achieve some release through crying. Here, though, Tennyson says that while his lighter moods are like that, there's other types of grief deep inside him that cause his tears to freeze up and remain unshed.
'Tis better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all. (1595-1596)
Experiencing the kind of deep friendship (bromance?) that existed between Tennyson and Arthur makes the pain he's going through now worth it. Do you agree?
Yet less of sorrow lives in me
For days of happy commune dead;
Less yearning for the friendship fled,
Than some strong bond which is to be. (2597-2500)
The speaker is starting to get over his grief. He now is less sad about his lost friendship than he is yearning for a new bond that might come along. So, this experience hasn't totally put him off of friendship.
Like Paul with beasts, I fought with Death. (2556)
This is a reference to 1 Corinthians 15:32 in the Bible. Like Paul, Tennyson has fought against something savage. He's fought death through struggling to overcome, and make sense of, his grief.
Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove; (1-4)
From the very beginning it seems that the possibility of doubt is very much on Tennyson's mind. Jesus = God = Love, but humans cannot actually see him, so must take his existence on faith. There's no way to prove it. We can totes see how this might present a problem.
Thou seemest human and divine. (13)
Tennyson hedges his bets here and uses "seemest" ("seems") in relation to his views on whether Jesus is really both human and divine. Compared to the more in-your-face moments of doubt he'll later have, this is a quiet and understated moment of questioning faith.
(in Him is no before) (546)
God is all-seeing and all-knowing. He's sort of like the eye in the sky, watching your every move. He can foresee and see things at the same time, because he's outside of time. There is "no before," meaning God-time doesn't work like puny human-time that can be counted on clocks or by mere chronology.
Oh, yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill. (1033-1034)
Here's where the theodicy comes in. This is all about trying to reconcile the idea that, if God is so good, why does he allow so much suffering to exist in the world that he has created?
And all at once it seem'd at last
The living soul was flashed on mine. (1955-1956)
Woah...heavy, man—this is a moment of deep spiritual connection between Tennyson and Arthur. In the speaker's imagination, the two connect beyond the bounds of time and space (and death) when Arthur's "living soul [...] flashed upon" Tennyson's.
One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event,
To which the whole Creation moves. (2894-2897)
In the end, buoyed by the idea that Arthur now dwells with God, Tennyson accepts that all of creation is united and everything moves by God's purpose. He has found his faith again, and things don't seem as hostile and senseless as before.
And gazing on thee, sullen tree,
Sick for thy stubborn hardihood (73-74)
Tennyson is personifying the yew tree by giving it human emotions like sullenness and stubbornness, which actually reflect his own mood. Get ready for some lit jargon: this is called "pathetic fallacy."
The last red leaf is whirl'd away (323)
The cycles of nature are one way the poem marks time. The red leaf whirling away on the wind shows us that, at this point in the poem, we're in autumn.
Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life (1057-1060)
"Type" here means "species." So, Nature is more careful to preserve the various species (per the Theory of Evolution), but is completely okay with destroying individuals, like Arthur. Here, Nature (meaning reason and the scientific method) are opposed to God, representing the struggle Tennyson is having between faith and science.
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shreik'd against his creed. (1087-1088)
Tennyson characterizes Nature—the Nature of Darwin's recent Theory of Evolution—as something violent. It's so violent its teeth and claws are red with blood, and it shrieks out against God's "creed" of love.
Till at the last arose the man;
Who throve and branch'd from clime to clime. (2524-2525)
Here, we get a very simple and short statement on one huge concept of Darwin's: the adaptation of various species to their environments and the survival of those who make the best adaptations.
And, moved thro' life of lower phase,
Result in man (2877-2878)
Here's the Darwinian idea that humans are (so far, anyway) the species that has won the adapting-to-their-environment jackpot and have become the highest form of life. They've moved through the lower phases and are the "result" (which suggests something of a higher nature that has been accomplished).
For words, like Nature, half reveal
and half conceal the Soul within. (111-112)
Words are flimsy things, Tennyson notes. They don't do a completely adequate job of revealing the truth, but they at least make an attempt. Is he saying this is better than nothing?
[B]ut what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry. (1050-1052)
The speaker is struggling so much with his doubt (because he knows nothing, he's experiencing uncertainty) that he can't even articulate anything. He can only cry like a little baby.
"I watch thee from the quiet shore;
Thy spirit up to mine can reach;
But in dear words of human speech
We two communicate no more." (1673-1676)
This is a poignant moment in the poem where Tennyson imagines that his and Arthur's spirits can somehow connect, but they cannot ever communicate again in the "dear words" of "human speech." This is something that is lost to them forever.
So word by word, and line by line,
The dead man touch'd me from the past. (1953-1954)
Here's that moment of spiritual communion or contact Tennyson imagines having with Arthur in Canto 95. They appear to be able to communicate wordlessly (although Tennyson is re-creating it in his poetic lines).
Vague words! (1965)
Tennyson can't even speak in complete sentences right now. He's so frustrated that he can't find the words to convey his feelings as he's having a sort of supernatural meeting with Arthur.