Study Guide

In Memoriam A.H.H. Canto 12

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Canto 12

Lines 261-280

Lo, as a dove when up she springs
   To bear thro' Heaven a tale of woe,
   Some dolorous message knit below
The wild pulsation of her wings;

Like her I go; I cannot stay;
   I leave this mortal ark behind,
   A weight of nerves without a mind,
And leave the cliffs, and haste away

O'er ocean-mirrors rounded large,
   And reach the glow of southern skies,
   And see the sails at distance rise,
And linger weeping on the marge,

And saying; "Comes he thus, my friend?
   Is this the end of all my care?"
   And circle moaning in the air:
"Is this the end? Is this the end?"

And forward dart again, and play
   About the prow, and back return
   To where the body sits, and learn
That I have been an hour away.

  • If you get the impression Tennyson's having an out-of-body experience here, you'd be right.
  • He's again imagining himself somewhere other than where he is. He's now leaving his body behind (which he describes as a "mortal ark," meaning boat), and is like a dove that carries a sad message to Heaven.
  • Not only is he like a dove, but he's also a "weight of nerves without a mind." Nerves are what conduct sensations throughout the body, so by this we think he means he is pure emotion or feeling without an intellect to comprehend it or put it into perspective.
  • He imagines himself floating around the ship, and sees his friend's body.