Study Guide

In Memoriam A.H.H. Canto 90

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Canto 90

Lines 1833-1856

He tasted love with half his mind,
   Nor ever drank the inviolate spring
   Where nighest heaven, who first could fling
This bitter seed among mankind;

That could the dead, whose dying eyes
   Were closed with wail, resume their life,
   They would but find in child and wife
An iron welcome when they rise:

'Twas well, indeed, when warm with wine,
   To pledge them with a kindly tear,
   To talk them o'er, to wish them here,
To count their memories half divine;

But if they came who past away,
   Behold their brides in other hands;
   The hard heir strides about their lands,
And will not yield them for a day.

Yea, tho' their sons were none of these,
   Not less the yet-loved sire would make
   Confusion worse than death, and shake
The pillars of domestic peace.

Ah dear, but come thou back to me:
   Whatever change the years have wrought,
   I find not yet one lonely thought
That cries against my wish for thee.

  • Tennyson muses about what it would be like if the dead came back. It's not a pretty picture, folks—even leaving aside how they'd look all Walking Dead-y.
  • They'd find their wives with new husbands and in general an "iron welcome." Iron is a hard metal, so getting a welcome of this type would be like getting whapped upside the head with something hard—in other words, a rude awakening.
  • Basically, the living grieve over the dead, but don't really want them back. Yep, Tennyson's getting his cynicism on here.
  • He, however, is different. Even though it would be crazy (it would cause "confusion worse than death"), he wants his friend back, no matter how the years have changed him.