Study Guide

In Memoriam A.H.H. Canto 6

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Canto 6

Lines 121-164

One writes, that "Other friends remain,"
  That "Loss is common to the race"—
  And common is the commonplace,
And vacant chaff well meant for grain.

That loss is common would not make
  My own less bitter, rather more:
  Too common! Never morning wore
To evening, but some heart did break.

O father, wheresoe'er thou be,
  Who pledgest now thy gallant son;
  A shot, ere half thy draught be done,
Hath still'd the life that beat from thee.

O mother, praying God will save
  Thy sailor,—while thy head is bow'd,
  His heavy-shotted hammock-shroud
Drops in his vast and wandering grave.

Ye know no more than I who wrought
  At that last hour to please him well;
  Who mused on all I had to tell,
And something written, something thought;

Expecting still his advent home;
  And ever met him on his way
  With wishes, thinking, "here to-day,"
Or "here to-morrow will he come."

O somewhere, meek, unconscious dove,
  That sittest ranging golden hair;
  And glad to find thyself so fair,
Poor child, that waitest for thy love!

For now her father's chimney glows
  In expectation of a guest;
  And thinking "this will please him best,"
She takes a riband or a rose;

For he will see them on to-night;
  And with the thought her colour burns;
  And, having left the glass, she turns
Once more to set a ringlet right;

And, even when she turn'd, the curse
Had fallen, and her future Lord
Was drown'd in passing thro' the ford,
Or kill'd in falling from his horse.

O what to her shall be the end?
And what to me remains of good?
To her, perpetual maidenhood,
And unto me no second friend.

  • Other people try to diss Tenny's grief by telling him that he still has other friends, or that loss is a common thing. Wow...way to discount a guy's sad feelings. Understandably, Tennyson seems to take exception with people saying this is common. He thinks that common isn't good.
  • And he uses a well-placed metaphor to illustrate his point. This advice is to him like chaff, the worthless pieces of hull that are left over when wheat is processed into grain. Plus, just because people die and this is a common occurrence doesn't make his loss any easier to bear. Fathers lose their sons when their lives have only half been lived. 
  • Apostrophe alert: Tennyson is addressing these peeps as if they were sitting right next to him. He addresses mothers in general (through this specific mother that he speaks to) who have lost their sons, for example at sea.
  • Then the speaker moves on to lovers who have lost their beloveds. He uses the sad example of a girl braiding her hair and waiting for her boyfriend to come back.
  • The speaker imagines her anxiously awaiting his return, only to find out that he's drowned, or has fallen off of a horse. There are so many ways people can die.
  • And too bad for that girl. Because her beloved is gone, she'll forever remain in the state of "maidenhood" (meaning a virgin, so no love for her).
  • But what's this "second friend" deal? Hmm....we know from Tennyson's biography that Arthur was supposed to marry one of Tennyson's sisters, so maybe this canto is more personal than just describing the universal human condition of everyone eventually having to deal with grief. (Check out "Speaker" for more.)