Study Guide

In Memoriam A.H.H. Canto 85

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Canto 85

Lines 1593-1712

This truth came borne with bier and pall
   I felt it, when I sorrow'd most,
   'Tis better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all—

O true in word, and tried in deed,
   Demanding, so to bring relief
   To this which is our common grief,
What kind of life is that I lead;

And whether trust in things above
   Be dimm'd of sorrow, or sustain'd;
   And whether love for him have drain'd
My capabilities of love;

Your words have virtue such as draws
   A faithful answer from the breast,
   Thro' light reproaches, half exprest,
And loyal unto kindly laws.

My blood an even tenor kept,
   Till on mine ear this message falls,
   That in Vienna's fatal walls
God's finger touch'd him, and he slept.

The great Intelligences fair
   That range above our mortal state,
   In circle round the blessed gate,
Received and gave him welcome there;

And led him thro' the blissful climes,
   And show'd him in the fountain fresh
   All knowledge that the sons of flesh
Shall gather in the cycled times.

But I remain'd, whose hopes were dim,
   Whose life, whose thoughts were little worth,
   To wander on a darken'd earth,
Where all things round me breathed of him.

O friendship, equal-poised control,
   O heart, with kindliest motion warm,
   O sacred essence, other form,
O solemn ghost, O crowned soul!

Yet none could better know than I,
   How much of act at human hands
   The sense of human will demands
By which we dare to live or die.

Whatever way my days decline,
   I felt and feel, tho' left alone,
   His being working in mine own,
The footsteps of his life in mine;

A life that all the Muses deck'd
   With gifts of grace, that might express
   All-comprehensive tenderness,
All-subtilising intellect:

And so my passion hath not swerved
   To works of weakness, but I find
   An image comforting the mind,
And in my grief a strength reserved.

Likewise the imaginative woe,
   That loved to handle spiritual strife
   Diffused the shock thro' all my life,
But in the present broke the blow.

My pulses therefore beat again
   For other friends that once I met;
   Nor can it suit me to forget
The mighty hopes that make us men.

I woo your love: I count it crime
   To mourn for any overmuch;
   I, the divided half of such
A friendship as had master'd Time;

Which masters Time indeed, and is
   Eternal, separate from fears:
   The all-assuming months and years
Can take no part away from this:

But Summer on the steaming floods,
   And Spring that swells the narrow brooks,
   And Autumn, with a noise of rooks,
That gather in the waning woods,

And every pulse of wind and wave
   Recalls, in change of light or gloom,
   My old affection of the tomb,
And my prime passion in the grave:

My old affection of the tomb,
   A part of stillness, yearns to speak:
   "Arise, and get thee forth and seek
A friendship for the years to come.

"I watch thee from the quiet shore;
   Thy spirit up to mine can reach;
   But in dear words of human speech
We two communicate no more."

And I, "Can clouds of nature stain
   The starry clearness of the free?
   How is it? Canst thou feel for me
Some painless sympathy with pain?"

And lightly does the whisper fall:
   "'Tis hard for thee to fathom this;
   I triumph in conclusive bliss,
And that serene result of all."

So hold I commerce with the dead;
   Or so methinks the dead would say;
   Or so shall grief with symbols play
And pining life be fancy-fed.

Now looking to some settled end,
   That these things pass, and I shall prove
   A meeting somewhere, love with love,
I crave your pardon, O my friend;

If not so fresh, with love as true,
   I, clasping brother-hands, aver
   I could not, if I would, transfer
The whole I felt for him to you.

For which be they that hold apart
   The promise of the golden hours?
   First love, first friendship, equal powers,
That marry with the virgin heart.

Still mine, that cannot but deplore,
   That beats within a lonely place,
   That yet remembers his embrace,
But at his footstep leaps no more,

My heart, tho' widow'd, may not rest
   Quite in the love of what is gone,
   But seeks to beat in time with one
That warms another living breast.

Ah, take the imperfect gift I bring,
   Knowing the primrose yet is dear,
   The primrose of the later year,
As not unlike to that of Spring.

  • Remember that famous line way back at 567? Well, Tennyson is saying here that it's super-duper hard to make that work. It's a snap to spout this off, but when it's put into practice, it's difficult.
  • The speaker imagines his dear friend up with the "great Intelligences" in the afterlife, and they're basically showing him the ropes and helping him become something even greater.
  • This doesn't make Tennyson feel any better, though, because he's been left behind.
  • And to make matters worse, everything reminds him of Arthur.
  • The despairing series of apostrophes highlights just how sad Tennyson is.
  • But he's starting to regain his strength by imagining that Arthur's spirit is watching over him and making him a better person, even though he's in Heaven and Tennyson still walks the earth.
  • He's even thinking that it may be time to start new friendships.
  • He feels "widow'd" (remember that recurring pattern—the two are almost like a married couple), but his soul is wanting to find someone else who might end up being as close to Tennyson as Arthur once was.
  • The closing metaphor we get compares Arthur to a primrose (which blooms in winter) and the potential new friend Tennyson might find to a flower blooming in spring.
  • So, again, rebirth and renewal is significant. And if you think this feels like a turning point in the poem…you're totally correct.
  • The length sort of gives it away, indicating the poet's dwelling more on some of the thoughts there and working things out.