Study Guide

In Memoriam A.H.H. Canto 52

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Canto 52

Lines 1001-1016

I cannot love thee as I ought,
   For love reflects the thing beloved;
   My words are only words, and moved
Upon the topmost froth of thought.

"Yet blame not thou thy plaintive song,"
   The Spirit of true love replied;
   "Thou canst not move me from thy side,
Nor human frailty do me wrong.

"What keeps a spirit wholly true
   To that ideal which he bears?
   What record? not the sinless years
That breathed beneath the Syrian blue:

"So fret not, like an idle girl,
   That life is dash'd with flecks of sin.
   Abide: thy wealth is gather'd in,
When Time hath sunder'd shell from pearl."

  • This first stanza seems to suggest that the speaker is unable to love Arthur (now the spirit-Arthur) as he should.
  • "[L]ove reflects the thing beloved," and since Arthur is so much higher than Tennyson now (literally and figuratively), his (Tennyson's) words can only reflect the surface.
  • This is nicely presented as a thought floating on the top of ocean waves, which is suggested by "topmost froth" in the first stanza.
  • Love kind of scolds Tennyson for this thought, and tells him that he won't get rid of her that easily, silly mortal man.
  • She tells him to not worry like a little girl that he has sinned during his life. At the end of time, his worth will be revealed like a pearl, and his sins will be like the oyster shell that has been worn away.
  • So, maybe "the Spirit of true love" in the second stanza is Jesus and not the spirit of secular love. Or maybe Tennyson is working on both levels.
  • Yeah—better go with the second option.