Study Guide

In Memoriam A.H.H. Canto 95

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Canto 95

Lines 1921-1984

By night we linger'd on the lawn,
   For underfoot the herb was dry;
   And genial warmth; and o'er the sky
The silvery haze of summer drawn;

And calm that let the tapers burn
   Unwavering: not a cricket chirr'd:
   The brook alone far-off was heard,
And on the board the fluttering urn:

And bats went round in fragrant skies,
   And wheel'd or lit the filmy shapes
   That haunt the dusk, with ermine capes
And woolly breasts and beaded eyes;

While now we sang old songs that peal'd
   From knoll to knoll, where, couch'd at ease,
   The white kine glimmer'd, and the trees
Laid their dark arms about the field.

But when those others, one by one,
   Withdrew themselves from me and night,
   And in the house light after light
Went out, and I was all alone,

A hunger seized my heart; I read
   Of that glad year which once had been,
   In those fall'n leaves which kept their green,
The noble letters of the dead:

And strangely on the silence broke
   The silent-speaking words, and strange
   Was love's dumb cry defying change
To test his worth; and strangely spoke

The faith, the vigour, bold to dwell
   On doubts that drive the coward back,
   And keen thro' wordy snares to track
Suggestion to her inmost cell.

So word by word, and line by line,
   The dead man touch'd me from the past,
   And all at once it seem'd at last
The living soul was flash'd on mine,

And mine in this was wound, and whirl'd
   About empyreal heights of thought,
   And came on that which is, and caught
The deep pulsations of the world,

Æonian music measuring out
   The steps of Time—the shocks of Chance—
   The blows of Death. At length my trance
Was cancell'd, stricken thro' with doubt.

Vague words! but ah, how hard to frame
   In matter-moulded forms of speech,
   Or ev'n for intellect to reach
Thro' memory that which I became:

Till now the doubtful dusk reveal'd
   The knolls once more where, couch'd at ease,
   The white kine glimmer'd, and the trees
Laid their dark arms about the field:

And suck'd from out the distant gloom
   A breeze began to tremble o'er
   The large leaves of the sycamore,
And fluctuate all the still perfume,

And gathering freshlier overhead,
   Rock'd the full-foliaged elms, and swung
   The heavy-folded rose, and flung
The lilies to and fro, and said,

"The dawn, the dawn," and died away;
   And East and West, without a breath,
   Mixt their dim lights, like life and death,
To broaden into boundless day.

  • Tennyson's hanging out with some people on a summer night. Maybe we're back in his old college days and he's once again with Arthur and their friends?
  • They're singing songs that echo out over the hills and they can see the cattle white against the darkness.
  • One by one, these other peeps leave Tennyson alone. Okay, so we're assuming this is after Arthur's death then, because we can't imagine Arthur would leave his side.
  • And bingo—it's after Arthur has passed, because once everyone's gone and Tennyson's dwelling quietly on the past, Arthur ("the dead man") touches him from the past.
  • We're not meant to read this literally. Instead, it's the type of spiritual communion he longed for in the previous canto.
  • Arthur's "living soul [...] flashed" on Tennyson's. Again we have that significant image of something happening all at once and reaching its highest state of being all at once (like the ear of corn previously).
  • This experience is way beyond what Tennyson is able to express, so he has difficulty finding the right words throughout the canto (check out "Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay" for the lowdown).
  • This is a significant moment where the speaker changes his outlook. The breezes whisper "The dawn, the dawn"—another symbol of renewal and rebirth. It's literally a new day for Tenny (yay!).