Study Guide

In Memoriam A.H.H. Canto 5

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Canto 5

Lines 109-120

I sometimes hold it half a sin
  To put in words the grief I feel;
  For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.

But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
  A use in measured language lies;
  The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.

In words, like weeds, I'll wrap me o'er,
  Like coarsest clothes against the cold:
  But that large grief which these enfold
Is given in outline and no more.

  • He considers it a sin to write about his grief, because words can't really convey the Truth (yes—with a capital T) of what he's feeling.
  • Writing poetry, though, gives him some pain relief.
  • He's here comparing the "mechanic exercise," or precision involved in writing poetry ("measured language"), to the feeling you get when using narcotics. It's taking his mind off things.
  • So, he's going to wrap himself in words like a set of clothes that will protect him from the cold (simile alert).
  • He's only going to be able to give an outline of his true grief in words, though, since it's so difficult to convey.