The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Tennyson's "In Memoriam."
by the Rev. Canon C. V. Gorton.
It has been said that men oftenest fail to see the trees for the wood, and women the wood for the trees. Whether this statement is correct or not does not concern us now. but certainly if we would approach Tennyson's In Memoriam rightly, we must first walk through and round the wood, then more fair will seem to us the growth of each tree.
It is my purpose to lead readers to follow the general scheme of the poem—this gained, each section will reveal fresh beauties, new meanings.
The poem, as a whole, seeks to answer those questions which the heart moved by bitter loss asks—Is there a future life? If there is, is it a conscious life? Is there personal identity? Will there be mutual recognition, continuance of attachment? If there is no marrying or giving in marriage, will the marriage bond, and all that it means, stand the stress of death? Shall friend meet friend? What is the state of the departed, do we pass from them as they pass from us, are we too hidden? Is death for them an arresting of growth? Can love conquer death? The poet is conscious of the solution of Easter, but he relies not on the written revelation. The shekinah of God is the spirit of man. What light does this shekinah give? How far does the intuitive perception of man corroborate the answer given by the dogma of Scripture?
Let me quote from F. W. Robertson:—
"By slow degrees all doubts, and worse, are answered, not as a philosopher would answer them, nor as a theologian or a metaphysician, but it is the duty of a poet by intuitive faculty, in strains in which imagination predominates over thought and memory. And one of the manifold beauties of this exquisite poem, and which is another characteristic of true poetry, is that piercing through all sophistries, its falling back upon the grand primary, simple truths of our humanity. These first principles which underlie all needs, which belong to our earliest, and in which the wisest and best have rested through all ages; that all is right, that darkness shall be clear, that love is king, that the immortal is in us, that
"All's well, though faith and form
The poet does not assume Easter. All that Easter means consequently comes not to aid him in his need. Therefore if we seek an analogy in the Gospel it must not be in those scenes which depict the triumph of Christ over death; nor to the holy sepulchre must we go, but to such a scene as that of the home of Bethany. Recall for a moment the scene in St. John. It is a scene of family life, without, the beauty of nature, and within, the beauty of family affection. Jesus oft-times resorted thither, he found there a home of seclusion and rest. Each character has a marked individuality. Martha, busy, capable, talkative. Mary, meditative, spirituelle, feeling more than she utters, her acts sacramental; and Lazarus? well, it is he "whom Jesus loved." On this scene of peace and of hope bears in sickness, sorrow, and unexpected death.
Death is followed by burial. "He whom Thou lovest is dead." Then follows the havoc of death, the humiliation and shame, "Behold he stinketh." Then the question of wounded hearts, the bitter "Why?" "Lord, if thou hadst been here he had not died." Could not this man who opened the eyes of the blind have caused that he whom he loved had not died? "Your brother shall rise again!" But in the meantime, "Where art thou, brother?" In the meantime, the tears of Martha and Mary, yes! and the tears of Jesus Himself. Does not the analogy strike us? Well, it struck Tennyson. Who was the Lazarus of the poem? "Arthur H. Hallam was snatched away by sudden death at Vienna, in the twenty-third year of his age. And now in this obscure and solitary church repose the mortal remains of one too early lost for public fame, but already conspicuous among his contemporaries for the brightness of his genius, the depth of his understanding, the nobleness of his disposition, the fervour of his piety, and the purity of his life." Such is the inscription in Clevedon Church.
This is no effusive estimate of family admiration; all evidence of the great men among whom he moved unite in one high admiration of this remarkable man.
And not the least feature of the poem is the portrait, the character of one who represents all that a man should be.
"A life that all the Muses deck'd
"Seraphic intellect and force
"High nature amorous of the good,
Bishop Thirwall, a master mind, wrote of Hallam, "that he was actually captivated by him." This hard and self-contained man wrote of him, "He is the only man of my standing before whom I bow in conscious inferiority in everything." Alford wrote, "Hallam was a man of wonderful mind and knowledge on all subjects, hardly credible at his age. I long ago set him down for the most wonderful person I ever knew. He was of the most tender and affectionate disposition."
Mr. Gladstone recognised in Hallam a kindred spirit of genius, pure as it was lofty.
"I marked him
and adds, "it would be easy to show what in the varied forms of human excellence he might, had life been granted to him, have accomplished; much more difficult to point the finger and say, 'This he could never have done.'" I need add nothing further to accentuate the remarkable testimony to a promise the most complete of any man of the century; but the more complete it is, the more mysterious becomes the disaster of his death, the more natural that his loss to his dearest friend should force forward the questionings—the great Why, which we find written in what Mr. Gladstone termed "the richest oblation ever offered of the affection of friendship at the tomb of the departed."
Let us now turn to In Memoriam itself, and I would invite readers to follow this analysis with their copy of the poem.
As Milton opens his Paradise Lost with an invocation to the Holy Spirit, so this poem opens with a dedication to Incarnate Love.
"Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
"Thou seemest human and divine,
"We have but faith: we cannot know:
This prelude foretells the end from the beginning, like the prelude of Genesis, where God blessed the world and saw that it was very good, and this on the edge of the tragedy of human history.
We pass from light into darkness, from faith in the unseen but ruling love, into fellowship with sorrow.
"O Sorrow, cruel fellowship,
"'The stars,' she whispers, "blindly run;
Sorrow clothes all nature in her own mourning garb, and blurs all truth.
"And shall I take a thing so blind,
He rejects the commonplace which is offered to Hamlet by his uncle—the thing is common.
"That loss is common would not make
His sorrow brings him to fellowship with fathers who weep for gallant sons, with the mother who thinks of her sailor lad sunk with a ship at sea, with the girl who waits in vain for her lover's tread.
And thus his heart goes forth to the ship carrying the sad burthen—
"I hear the noise about they keel;
"Thou bring'st the sailor to his wife,
Nature and man are in contrast. There is the calm of morn without a sound, the calm and deep peace of the high wold, calm and deep peace of autumn, of leaves which redden as they fall, calm of the seas, and the calm of him who sleeps on the deep, but within the heart the restlessness of doubt.
"Lo, as a dove when up she springs
So his spirit goes forth to meet the ship, and circles
. . . "Moaning in the air:
The vessel draws near, he blesses her for her office, she touches the shore, and Arthur comes to his native land; at Clevedon he is buried, on the banks of the Severn, and he is laid to rest.
"They laid him by the pleasant shore
The poet enters the churchyard.
"I sing to him that rests below."
Men rebuke him for his musing of sorrow—how full of the pathos of simplicity.
"I do but sing because I must,
"And one is glad; her note is gay,
He recalls his five years of fair friendship, and longs to follow his friend. He longs to prove love is eternal.
"Still onward winds the dreary way;
He will not part with his love for all the burden it brings.
"I hold it true, whate'er befall;
We come to the conclusion of the first section of the poem with the first Christmas, and Christmas brings its message to the saddened home, where all renews at first the memories of the past.
The poet hears the bells of the four village churches near, now sounding long, now dying into silence; they meet his sorrow with a challenge—
"Rise, happy morn, rise, holy morn,
But what of him who had been the centre of joy? Does he know and yet love? So he leads us to Bethany.
"When Lazarus left his charnel-cave,
Was this question asked, "Where wert thou, brother, those four days?" Why was not this asked and answered? The record made, what comfort had it left for sorrow!
But Mary asks not; sufficient for her, Lazarus is there, and the Saviour is there; she questions not, she loves, believes, adores.
"Her eyes are homes of silent prayer,
"All subtle thought, all curious fears,
Such faith is not his. Is such simple faith of true hearts to be disturbed? It may be the faith won through mental anguish has reached a higher standpoint, but is it a fruitful of good works?
In his own sad questionings, questionings such as Mary may know not, he feels the awful doubt, if indeed there be any future life? But if not, all is mockery—better die with the bare bodkin. [bodkin = arrowhead]
"'Twere best at once to sink to peace,
But even supposing no future state, does not love justify life? He casts aside this in anger; what can love be which has no background of eternity?
. . . . "If Death were seen
So grasping this truth by intuition, his heart goes forth to the Christ, who gives the living lesson, to be read by all.
"And so the Word had breath, and wrought
"Which he may read that binds the sheaf,
But the unknown state of the departed is fresh cause for sorrow; are they removed to a higher sphere, and other duties? There is the great gulf fixed, mutual interests, mutual progress ceases. Is death merely a sleep, or if the dead sleep not, can any flash of earth surprise his friend?
One clear purpose at least of this earth is the growing assertion of personal identity; whereas—
"The baby new to earth and sky,
Therefore he rejects those theories of a future state which deny the continuance of individual being—the merging of the soul in the general soul cannot satisy love which is personal.
"I shall know him when we meet."
But these hopes are not proofs; they are intuitions of a poet. The poet does not dare to
. . . "trust a larger lay,
He longs for the presence of his friend in lines instinct with pathos. "Be near me when my light is low." Be near me in pain, in my faithfulness.
"Be near me when I fade away,
But then there is somewhat majestical about the dead. Can they know us and yet love us? Yes; because they know us they will love us. To doubt them is to wrong them. Our very weaknesses may be the cause of experience, never an excuse for sin, and yet a power which may convince us the more of the beauty of holiness. So light begins to dawn.
"Oh yet we trust that somehow good
"That nothing walks with aimless feet;
"Behold, we know not anything;
But is not this very crying of the child in the night, the crying for the light, an intimation of the Divine in us?
"The wish, that of the living whole
But alas, when I test this with reason, how Nature is seen full of waste, Nature seems callous, so he cries—
"I falter where I firmly trod,
"I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
But the trust is but faint; what reason to think that Nature red in tooth and claw, that man "with splendid purpose in his eyes," who rolls the psalm to wintry skies, and builds splendid fames, should be an exception? He too will be blown about the desert dust.
"O life as futile, then, as frail!
He returns again to consider the possible condition of the departed, he cannot think of his friend as no more, they must meet, will there be a great separation between them? No! "What was, again shall be." So he gains happiness in recalling the face of his friend, the happy days of the past. Fame had been his, but work need not cease with life below. Is fame an immortality? No! it is an earnest of future work.
"So here shall silence guard thy fame;
In seeking to guard his fame on earth, some solace comes in sorrow, and again are heard the Christmas bells, and we pass to the third section of the poem. The question now is asked—Did his friend lose by death, lose in noble purposes, did death arrest his growth? There can be no arrest; death may in an instant accomplish the work of years, ripening at a touch. Fresh meanings come to life.
"Eternal process moving on,
Human worth transported will bloom otherwhere.
Again the poet dwells on the past; he revisits in mind Cambridge and his home at Sowerby—scenes of fellowship in Nature, where Arthur H. tasted the romance of love.
"And brushing ankle-deep in flowers,
If the past can be recalled, cannot communion be held with the spirit of the beloved?
. . . "Dare I say
But to hold such communion, the heart must be pure, the head sound, the affections must be divine, the heavenly spirits, themselves at peace, cannot make themselves heard in a tumultuous heart.
Nature calms the sorrow, recalls so vividly the form and feature, that the dead man seems to touch him from the past. He seems to share his courage in grappling problems of life, his faith gains through pain, for he was one who,
"Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds,
"He fought his doubts and gather'd strength,
"To find a stronger faith his own." (96)
So dawns the third Christmas eve and the fourth section of the poem.
It is no longer the old bells, the former chimes, but the bells of a new home which sound—sounding like strangers' voices. But on New Year's eve the bells have for him a new song—
"Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Sorrow which enervates, which hinders the task of life, must be set aside.
"Ring in the valiant man and free,
Though fresh beauties of character appear as he mediates on his friend, spring comes, life quickens, and duty calls. What a spring he reveals to us.
"Now fades the last long streak of snow,
"Now rings the woodland loud and long,
"Now dance the lights on lawn and lea,
"Where now the seamew pipes, or dives
"From land to land; and in my breast
The joyous resurrection of life around reawakens hope and trust. It is for a future tie of lasting blessedness with Arthur rather than for the severed tie of bygone days that his quickened yearning desires. Restored to greater vigour of life, he asks who can think upon the gradual forming of this wondrous earth and of the sea of fire, until at last, man, the crowning work of Time, arose, and believe in man's annihilation?
"We trust that those we call the dead
Materialism defeats its own ends. Why like St. Paul fight with beasts at Ephesus? Why strive to know? What matters science unto men, if to-morrow we die?
"Let him, the wiser man who springs
When we fix our mind on material changes we lose our hold. There where the deep rolls, were forests, there where the town roars, was once the stillness of the deep; the hills have been moulded, valleys carved.
"The hills are shadows, and they flow
"But in my spirit will I dwell,
One thing is fixed and abiding, that which we call spirit; and amid all uncertainties one truth is certain, that to a loving human soul parting which shall be eternal is unthinkable.
And now we reach the climax.
It is not by any effort of the understanding that we can apprehend God. Not the grandest, not the most cunningly devised thing in all Nature can prove Him.
"I found Him not in world or sun,
"If e'er when faith had fall'n asleep,
"A warmth within the breast would melt
And he who cries to Him as a child to a father out of the depths of this unalterable, ineradicable need of Him, shall feel, although he may not see His hand stretched out to him.
We who read these lines now can little realise what they meant to the age in which they were written. Old traditions were cast off, old faiths and limitations of thought were yielding; freedom was won, but what did it bring men to?
"It brought men," wrote Seeley, "face to face with atheistic science; the faith in God and immortality which we have been struggling to clear from superstition suddenly seems in the air, and in seeking for a firm basis for this faith we find ourselves in the midst of a fight with death. What In Memoriam did for us was to impress on us the ineffaceable and ineradicable conviction that humanity will not and cannot acquiesce in a Godless world. he did not meet the atheistic tendencies of modern science with more confident defiance, overriding results laboriously reached.
"I always feel this strongly if reading the lines just quoted. At this point, if the stanzas had stopped there, we should have shaken our heads and said 'Feeling must not usurp the function of reason; feeling is not knowing. It is the duty of the rational being to follow wherever it leads.' But the poet knows this, accordingly in the next stanza he gives the turn to humility in the protest of feeling which is required to win the assent of man in men.
"No, like a child in doubt and fear;
"These lines," he adds, "I can never read without tears. I feel in them the indestructible and inalienable minimum of faith which humanity cannot give up because it is necessary for life."
So the poem moves on in growing faith and peace. Hope had never lost its youth for him, he claims. She did not look through dimmer eyes. Love had ever breathed the spirit of his song.
"Love is and was my Lord and King.
"Love is and was my King and Lord,
"And hear at times a sentinel
Yes, all is well—not for his friend alone, but for all mankind. The tide may set at times among nations to evil, but it turns with the stronger flow for righteousness.
. . . . "I see in part
"The more I hope and labour, the nearer, the closer the communion with the blessed, the more assured I am of its consummation."
The poem concludes as it opened, with prayer for a purified will. The will to live thus stands for what is highest and most enduring in us. It flows through our deeds and makes them pure.
"That we may lift from out of dust
"With faith that comes of self-control,
Thus love has not only conquered doubt, and fear, and death, but inspires life.
Love leads to the eternal truth—"beloved now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be."
"Thus the soul, after grappling with anguish, darkness, emerges with the inspiration of a strong and steadfast faith in the love of God for man, and in the oneness of man with God, and of man with man in Him."
"That God, which ever lives and loves,
Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, September 2008
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