A Critical Analysis of Tension\'s In Memorial A. H. H.


During the Victorian Period, long held and comfortable religious beliefs
fell under great scrutiny. An early blow to these beliefs came from the
Utilitarian, followers of Jeremy Bantam, in the form of a test by reason of many
of the long-standing institutions of England, including the church. When seen
through the eyes of reason, religion became “merely an outmoded superstition”
(Ford & Christ 896). If this were not enough for the faithful to contend with,
the torch of doubt was soon passed to the scientists. Geologists were
publishing the results of their studies which concluded that the Earth was far
older than the biblical accounts would have it (Ford & Christ 897). Astronomers
were extending humanity\'s knowledge of stellar distances, and Natural Historians
such as Charles Darwin were swiftly building theories of evolution that defied
the Old Testament version of creation (Ford & Christ 897). God seemed to be
dissolving before a panicked England\'s very eyes, replaced by the vision of a
cold, mechanistic universe that cared little for our existence.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson was painfully aware of the implications of such a
universe, and he struggled with his own doubts about the existence of God. We
glimpse much of his struggles in the poem In Memorial A. H. H., written in
memory of his deceased friend, Arthur Hallam. The poem seemed to be cathartic
for Tennyson, for through its writing he not only found an outlet for his grief
over Hallam\'s death, but also managed to regain the faith which seemed at times
to have abandoned him. Tennyson regained and firmly reestablished his faith
through the formation of the idea that God is reconciled with the mechanistic
universe through a divine plan of evolution, with Hallam as the potential link
to a greater race of humans yet to come.
In the first of many lyric units, Tennyson\'s faith in God and Jesus
seems strong. He speaks of “Believing where we cannot prove” (l. 4), and is
sure that God “wilt not leave us in the dust” (l. 9). The increasing threat
posed to religion by science does not worry Tension here, as he believes that
our increasing knowledge of the universe can be reconciled with faith, saying:

“Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell;
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before” (1. 25-28).

He does anticipate doubt, though, as he asks in advance for God\'s forgiveness
for the “Confusions of a wasted youth” (l. 42). Tennyson here foresees the
difficulties inherent in reconciling God with the cold universe slowly emerging
for the notes of scientists.
In order to deal with the tasks set before him, Tennyson must first
boldly face the possibility of a world without God. In stanza number three,
Sorrow, personified as a woman, whispers these disconcerting possibilities to a
grief-ridden Tennyson, saying, “And all the phantom, Nature, stands-... / A
hollow form with empty hands” (3.9, 12). He questions whether he should “
embrace” or “crush” Sorrow with all her uncomfortable suggestions.
Tennyson goes on to face an even worse possibility than a lonely
universe, that being the possibility of an existence without meaning. In this
view, human life is not eternal, and everything returns to dust forever. God is
like “some wild poet, when he works / Without a conscience or an aim” (34.7-8).
Why even consider such a God, Tennyson asks, and why not end life all the sooner
if this vision of God is true (34.9-12)? He answers himself in the next poem,
however, as he banishes such a possibility on the evidence that love could never
exist in such a reality. What we consider to be love would actually be only be
a two-dimensional sense of “fellowship,” such as animals must feel, out of
boredom or crude sensuality (35.21-24)
The many poems which follow fluctuate between faith and doubt. In

poem fifty-four Tennyson consoles himself with the thought:

“That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroyed,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hat made the pile complete” (54.5-9).

Line nine of poem fifty-four definitely assumes a plan for God\'s creation,
humanity, and an end goal. In the next two poems, however, he returns to the
doubts which a scientific reading of nature inspires, and reminds himself that
though nature is “So careful of the type” (55.7), she is yet “careless of the
single life” (55.8). This notion of survival of the fittest is extremely
disconcerting to Tennyson. He notices