‘Tis Better To Have Loved and Lost

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Alfred Lord Tennyson 1809-1892

From In Memoriam A.H.H. 1849

xxvii

I envy not in any moods
     The captive void of noble rage,
     The linnet born within the cage,
That never knew the summer woods.

I envy not the beast that takes
       His licence in the field of time,
       Unfettered by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes.

       Nor, what may count itself as blest,
       The heart that never plighted troth
       But stagnates in the weeds of sloth,
Nor any want-begotten rest.

 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.

 

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Arthur Henry Hallam

In Memoriam A.H.H. is considered one of the greatest poems to be written in the 19 th century. Tennyson completed the poem in 1849. It is a requiem for the poet’s beloved Cambridge friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who died suddenly in 1839 0f a cerebral haemorrhage when he was in Vienna. Deeply grieved, Tennyson spent ten years in his Lincolnshire home grieving and composing this requiem for his friend.

The poem is not arranged exactly in the order in which it was written. The prologue, for example, is thought to have been one of the last things written. The earliest material is that which begins Fair ship, that from the Italian shore | Saileth the placid ocean-plains and imagines the return of Hallam’s body from Italy. Critics believe, however, that the poem as a whole is meant to be chronological in terms of the progression of Tennyson’s grief. The passage of time is marked by the three descriptions of Christmas at different points in the poem, and the poem ends with a description of the marriage of Tennyson’s sister.

In Memoriam is written in four-line ABBA stanzas of iambic tetrameters. There are 133 cantos of varying length. containing four or more verses. Some readers find this format monotonous, however well each individual verse is written. After the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria was profoundly moved and comforted by In Memoriam; it was her favourite poem. In the course of the poem, Tennyson explores many themes including: spiritual experiences, nostalgic reminiscences, philosophical speculations and Romantic fantasizing all of which is tied together with Tennyson’s attempts to cope with his grief for the death of Hallam.

It is perhaps the best poem ever written on the subject of grief and mourning. Sharing grief with someone else who experienced it more than 150 years ago may well comfort some who are experiencing bereavement; others may find it tedious. When all is said and done, it is undoubtedly a great poem which is not of course everyone’s cup of tea. Let Tennyson have the last word.

I sometimes find it half a sin,
To put to words the grief i feel,
For words like nature ,half reveal,
and half conceal the soul within.

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