Study Guide

In Memoriam A.H.H. Canto 48

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Canto 48

Lines 937-952

If these brief lays, of Sorrow born,
  Were taken to be such as closed
   Grave doubts and answers here proposed,
Then these were such as men might scorn:

Her care is not to part and prove;
   She takes, when harsher moods remit,
   What slender shade of doubt may flit,
And makes it vassal unto love:

And hence, indeed, she sports with words,
   But better serves a wholesome law,
   And holds it sin and shame to draw
The deepest measure from the chords:

Nor dare she trust a larger lay,
   But rather loosens from the lip
   Short swallow-flights of song, that dip
Their wings in tears, and skim away.

  • Tennyson now talks about how his sorrowful "lays" (which is an old-timey word for "songs") are not meant as solutions to these great cosmic questions. If so, then men might rightfully laugh at them.
  • Instead, she (that's the personified Sorrow) takes the speaker's doubts and make them a servant to his love for Arthur.
  • "Vassal" means "servant," and is used a lot in medieval courtly love poetry. Again, he's describing his powerful feelings for Arthur in terms of a relationship between two lovers.
  • Sorrow is guiding him to write this poem, but she only allows him to write in short spurts.
  • The words that she inspires are imagined by Tennyson as birds that briefly dip their wings in tears and then fly away—so sad.