Study Guide

In Memoriam A.H.H. Canto 89

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Canto 89

Lines 1781-1832

Witch-elms that counterchange the floor
   Of this flat lawn with dusk and bright;
   And thou, with all thy breadth and height
Of foliage, towering sycamore;

How often, hither wandering down,
   My Arthur found your shadows fair,
   And shook to all the liberal air
The dust and din and steam of town:

He brought an eye for all he saw;
   He mixt in all our simple sports;
   They pleased him, fresh from brawling courts
And dusty purlieus of the law.

O joy to him in this retreat,
   Immantled in ambrosial dark,
   To drink the cooler air, and mark
The landscape winking thro' the heat:

O sound to rout the brood of cares,
   The sweep of scythe in morning dew,
   The gust that round the garden flew,
And tumbled half the mellowing pears!

O bliss, when all in circle drawn
   About him, heart and ear were fed
   To hear him as he lay and read
The Tuscan poets on the lawn:

Or in the all-golden afternoon
   A guest, or happy sister, sung,
  Or here she brought the harp and flung
A ballad to the brightening moon:

Nor less it pleased in livelier moods,
   Beyond the bounding hill to stray,
   And break the livelong summer day
With banquet in the distant woods;

Whereat we glanced from theme to theme,
   Discuss'd the books to love or hate,
   Or touch'd the changes of the state,
Or threaded some Socratic dream;

But if I praised the busy town,
   He loved to rail against it still,
   For "ground in yonder social mill
We rub each other's angles down,

"And merge," he said, "in form and gloss
   The picturesque of man and man."
   We talk'd: the stream beneath us ran,
The wine-flask lying couch'd in moss,

Or cool'd within the glooming wave;
   And last, returning from afar,
   Before the crimson-circled star
Had fall'n into her father's grave,

And brushing ankle-deep in flowers,
   We heard behind the woodbine veil
   The milk that bubbled in the pail,
And buzzings of the honied hours.

  • Oh my, "witch-elms" seem a bit ominous, don't they? But wait—Arthur liked to sit underneath them, so it's all good.
  • This is another example of Tennyson presenting nature as a positive force, in contrast to its hostility.
  • Wherever this scene is, the two of them used to hang out there and talk about law, art ("the Tuscan poets"), and philosophy (the "Socratic dream").
  • The imagery here gives us an idealized pastoral scene, with the trees, the streams, and the busy buzzing bees in the last stanza.
  • Arthur apparently once told Tennyson that the two of them "rub each other's angles down," which is a pleasant image of how they spent so much time getting to know each other that they grew closer and closer.