Study Guide

In Memoriam A.H.H. Canto 84

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Canto 84

Lines 1545-1592

When I contemplate all alone
   The life that had been thine below,
   And fix my thoughts on all the glow
To which thy crescent would have grown;

I see thee sitting crown'd with good,
   A central warmth diffusing bliss
   In glance and smile, and clasp and kiss,
On all the branches of thy blood;

Thy blood, my friend, and partly mine;
   For now the day was drawing on,
   When thou should'st link thy life with one
Of mine own house, and boys of thine

Had babbled "Uncle" on my knee;
   But that remorseless iron hour
   Made cypress of her orange flower,
Despair of Hope, and earth of thee.

I seem to meet their least desire,
   To clap their cheeks, to call them mine.
   I see their unborn faces shine
Beside the never-lighted fire.

I see myself an honor'd guest,
   Thy partner in the flowery walk
   Of letters, genial table-talk,
Or deep dispute, and graceful jest;

While now thy prosperous labor fills
   The lips of men with honest praise,
   And sun by sun the happy days
Descend below the golden hills

With promise of a morn as fair,
   And all the train of bounteous hours
   Conduct by paths of growing powers,
To reverence and the silver hair;

Till slowly worn her earthly robe,
   Her lavish mission richly wrought,
   Leaving great legacies of thought,
Thy spirit should fail from off the globe;

What time mine own might also flee,
   As link'd with thine in love and fate,
   And, hovering o'er the dolorous strait
To the other shore, involved in thee,

Arrive at last the blessed goal,
   And He that died in Holy Land
   Would reach us out the shining hand,
And take us as a single soul.

What reed was that on which I leant?
   Ah, backward fancy, wherefore wake
   The old bitterness again, and break
The low beginnings of content.

  • Here, Tennyson is engaging in some more flights of imagination. This time, he's thinking about how life would have been if Arthur had not died. He would have done much good in the world, and would have had a big family that would have spread his goodness.
  • In particular, Arthur would have married one of Tennyson's sisters, and so the speaker would have had a chance to bounce a little nephew on his knee.
  • They would have chatted around a table and argued in a friendly way about intellectual things.
  • Once Tenny and Arthur grew old, still the best of friends, Jesus would have taken them to Heaven at the exact same time, as "a single soul."
  • That image is more husband-and-wife-like than what Tennyson describes earlier in the canto when he imagines Arthur marrying his sister.
  • And check out some of the other marriage imagery: Tennyson is Arthur's "partner" and the two are "link'd with [...] love and fate."
  • It's almost like the sister is just a kind of surrogate for the greater love these two have for each other. Again, we wonder if there was more than just friendship—possibly not acknowledged or even on a subconscious level?
  • Whatever's going on, thinking about what might have been makes Tennyson lapse into bitterness again.