“So careful of the type ~ So careless of the single life.”
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Door to Albers Hall
In Memoriam A. H. H.
Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
The poem is in memory of Tennyson’s friend Arthur Henry Hallam, son of the eminent historian. Hallam was engaged to marry Tennyson’s sister Emily, when he died suddenly of a stroke in Vienna on September 15, 1833, at the age of twenty-two.
n Memoriam A.H.H. is a poem by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, completed in 1849. It is a requiem for the poet’s Cambridge friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who died suddenly of a cerebral haemorrhage in Vienna in 1833. Because it was written over a period of 17 years, its meditation on the search for hope after great loss touches upon many of the most important and deeply-felt concerns of Victorian society. It contains some of Tennyson’s most accomplished lyrical work, and is an unusually sustained exercise in lyric verse. It is widely considered to be one of the great poems of the 19th century.
The poem was a great favourite of Queen Victoria, who found it a source of solace after the death of Prince Albert in 1861: "Next to the Bible, In Memoriam is my comfort." In 1862, Victoria requested a meeting with Tennyson because she was so impressed by the poem.
The original title of the poem was "The Way of the Soul", and this might give an idea of how the poem is an account of all Tennyson’s thoughts and feelings as he copes with his grief over such a long period – including wrestling with the big philosophico-scientific questions of his day. It is perhaps because of this that the poem is still popular with and of interest to modern readers.
The most frequently quoted lines in the poem are perhaps
I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
In writing the poem, Tennyson was influenced by the ideas of evolution presented in Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation which had been published in 1844, and had caused a storm of controversy about the theological implications of impersonal nature functioning without direct divine intervention. The fundamentalist idea of unquestioning belief in revealed truth taken from a literal interpretation of the Bible was already in conflict with the findings of science, and Tennyson expressed the difficulties evolution raised for faith in "the truths that never can be proved".
Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life;
That I, considering everywhere
Her secret meaning in her deeds,
And finding that of fifty seeds
She often brings but one to bear,
I falter where I firmly trod,
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world’s altar-stairs
That slope thro’ darkness up to God,
I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.
This poem was published before Charles Darwin made his theory public in 1859. However, the phrase "Nature, red in tooth and claw" in canto 56 quickly was adopted by others as a phrase that evokes the process of natural selection. It was and is used by both those opposed to and in favour of the theory of evolution.