Study Guide

In Memoriam A.H.H. Canto 103

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Canto 103

Lines 2165-2220

On that last night before we went
   From out the doors where I was bred,
   I dream'd a vision of the dead,
Which left my after-morn content.

Methought I dwelt within a hall,
   And maidens with me: distant hills
   From hidden summits fed with rills
A river sliding by the wall.

The hall with harp and carol rang.
   They sang of what is wise and good
   And graceful. In the centre stood
A statue veil'd, to which they sang;

And which, tho' veil'd, was known to me,
   The shape of him I loved, and love
   For ever: then flew in a dove
And brought a summons from the sea:

And when they learnt that I must go
   They wept and wail'd, but led the way
   To where a little shallop lay
At anchor in the flood below;

And on by many a level mead,
   And shadowing bluff that made the banks,
   We glided winding under ranks
Of iris, and the golden reed;

And still as vaster grew the shore
  And roll'd the floods in grander space,
  The maidens gather'd strength and grace
And presence, lordlier than before;

And I myself, who sat apart
   And watch'd them, wax'd in every limb;
   I felt the thews of Anakim,
The pulses of a Titan's heart;

As one would sing the death of war,
   And one would chant the history
   Of that great race, which is to be,
And one the shaping of a star;

Until the forward-creeping tides
   Began to foam, and we to draw
   From deep to deep, to where we saw
A great ship lift her shining sides.

The man we loved was there on deck,
   But thrice as large as man he bent
   To greet us. Up the side I went,
And fell in silence on his neck;

Whereat those maidens with one mind
   Bewail'd their lot; I did them wrong:
  "We served thee here," they said, "so long,
And wilt thou leave us now behind?"

So rapt I was, they could not win
   An answer from my lips, but he
   Replying, "Enter likewise ye
And go with us:" they enter'd in.

And while the wind began to sweep
   A music out of sheet and shroud,
   We steer'd her toward a crimson cloud
That landlike slept along the deep.

  • The next day, Tennyson gets a dream that makes him a bit happy. We have another turning point, folks (ch-ch-ch-ch-changes).
  • His vision is about a bunch of maidens who are singing around a veiled statue. It's clear the statue is of Arthur, since Tennyson recognizes its shape.
  • Then, a dove flies in and tells everyone that they're about to go for a boat ride.
  • So, they all get on a boat and sail away.
  • Okay—it's starting to become clear that these maidens are the Muses, since Tennyson brings up songs, history, and astronomy, some of the traditional territory of the Muses. Plus, later in the canto they tell Arthur that they "served [him] here" (on earth). He, too, was a poet.
  • At the end of their journey, they see a great ship and on its deck is Arthur. The Muses get on the boat and leave with Arthur.
  • Weird dream, huh? It's not just a dream, though. It's also a kind of allegory for the boat ride that's really life, and that ends for everyone in death.