Study Guide

In Memoriam A.H.H. Canto 20

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Canto 20

Lines 417-436

The lesser griefs that may be said,
   That breathe a thousand tender vows,
   Are but as servants in a house
Where lies the master newly dead;

Who speak their feeling as it is,
   And weep the fulness from the mind:
   "It will be hard," they say, "to find
Another service such as this."

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;

For by the hearth the children sit
   Cold in that atmosphere of Death,
   And scarce endure to draw the breath,
Or like to noiseless phantoms flit;

But open converse is there none,
   So much the vital spirits sink
   To see the vacant chair, and think,
"How good! how kind! and he is gone."

  • We're getting another metaphor, folks. When Tennyson is able to express some of his "lesser griefs," these are like "servants in a house" where the master has just died.
  • So, these "lesser griefs" are just everyday type griefs that go about their business? That's what we're going to go with.
  • But wait—we find out that these servants in Tennyson's metaphor are going to find it hard to find another boss such as the guy who just passed away.
  • Okay—the servants really liked their jobs, and won't find adequate replacements. That's how Tennyson's "lesser griefs" are: they'll never find another worthy person to be so grievous over.
  • A final word from these imaginary servants: "How good! how kind! and he is gone" (436).
  • This starts to give us a bit more on what kind of man Arthur was in life. We now know he was good and kind.