Study Guide

In Memoriam A.H.H. Canto 128

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Canto 128

Lines 2689-2712

The love that rose on stronger wings,
   Unpalsied when he met with Death,
   Is comrade of the lesser faith
That sees the course of human things.

No doubt vast eddies in the flood
   Of onward time shall yet be made,
   And throned races may degrade;
Yet, O ye mysteries of good,

Wild Hours that fly with Hope and Fear,
   If all your office had to do
   With old results that look like new;
If this were all your mission here,

To draw, to sheathe a useless sword,
   To fool the crowd with glorious lies,
   To cleave a creed in sects and cries,
To change the bearing of a word,

To shift an arbitrary power,
   To cramp the student at his desk,
   To make old bareness picturesque
And tuft with grass a feudal tower;

Why then my scorn might well descend
  On you and yours. I see in part
  That all, as in some piece of art,
Is toil cöoperant to an end.

  • The love Tennyson felt for Arthur was not diminished (it remained "unpalsied," which means "unshaken") when his friend died.
  • This love is also like the "lesser faith," though, which means earthly, human things that will eventually pass away.
  • The next four stanzas develop this idea and emphasize earthly actions as being futile and useless.
  • What makes them worth anything is that they work together ("toil cöoperant") to a greater end, like a piece of art.
  • This conveys the idea of a spiritual evolution of man. What good is the whole of history if man just stays the same?
  • There has to be something higher—a greater purpose.
  • There seems to be a hint here that Tennyson might be reconciling his belief in a larger spiritual evolution with his (maybe) belief in physical evolution (as recently presented through Darwin's theories).
  • Evolution and the idea of an uncaring nature has plagued the speaker throughout the poem. Here, the tide seems to turn and he's on more solid footing.