Study Guide

In Memoriam A.H.H. Canto 44

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Canto 44

Lines 873-888

How fares it with the happy dead?

  For here the man is more and more;
  But he forgets the days before
God shut the doorways of his head.

The days have vanish'd, tone and tint,
  And yet perhaps the hoarding sense
  Gives out at times (he knows not whence)
A little flash, a mystic hint;

And in the long harmonious years
  (If Death so taste Lethean springs),
  May some dim touch of earthly things
Surprise thee ranging with thy peers.

If such a dreamy touch should fall,
  O, turn thee round, resolve the doubt;
   My guardian angel will speak out
In that high place, and tell thee all.

  • "Happy" can mean two things here: 1) full of joy or extreme contentment, or 2) fortunate. So, the happy (or fortunate) living people (those who are "here") grow in their abilities and their minds.
  • But people forget the time "before God shut the doorways" of our heads. Um…what in the world does this mean?
  • Well, think about babies. You have to be really careful with their heads because they have soft spots, or "fontanels."
  • These are places where the skull bones haven't grown together yet.
  • Tennyson is poetically saying that we forget things that happen to us when we are babies.
  • Sometimes, though, we might get brief flash of memory (not flash memory) of our previous lives.
  • Remember when Tennyson used "flash" in Canto 41? There's a sense of urgency in the idea of things "flashing" or appearing immediately or unconsciously.
  • Similarly, once we die and forget our mortal lives because we have to drink from Lethe (the river of forgetfulness in Greek mythology), we might only recall some memories from when we lived.
  • Tennyson doesn't want the river's "dreamy touch" to affect Arthur. He wants his friend to be able to remember him.
  • He considers Arthur his "guardian angel" who will speak of him in Heaven and not forget him.