Study Guide

In Memoriam A.H.H. Canto 3

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Canto 3

Lines 77-92

O Sorrow, cruel fellowship,
  O Priestess in the vaults of Death,
  O sweet and bitter in a breath,
What whispers from thy lying lip?

"The stars," she whispers, "blindly run;
  A web is wov'n across the sky;
  From out waste places comes a cry,
And murmurs from the dying sun;

"And all the phantom, Nature, stands—
  With all the music in her tone,
  A hollow echo of my own,—
A hollow form with empty hands."

And shall I take a thing so blind,
  Embrace her as my natural good;
  Or crush her, like a vice of blood,
Upon the threshold of the mind?

  • Now Tennyson personifies sorrow, and again uses apostrophe. He characterizes her as a deceitful "priestess" of death.
  • There's also an oxymoron going on here. She offers the speaker fellowship that is cruel, and sweetness and bitterness in the same breath.
  • She's also telling him that the stars move "blindly," not because of any purpose. Hmm...does this mean that the speaker is now doubting there is a grand purpose to life? 
  • That seems to be it. He follows this up with Sorrow's statement that Nature is a "phantom" (so, insubstantial), that her music is just a flimsy echo of Sorrow's, and that she has "empty hands." Yep—it certainly seems like Sorrow is trying to get him to believe there's nothing guiding the universe. "Hollow" is important here, too. 
  • Tennyson asks himself if he'll give in to Sorrow, or if he should instead "crush her" upon his mind. He's definitely having a struggle here that's kicked off by the grief he's feeling.