Reading Aloud (#47): Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam [Sec. XV–XIX]

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam (secs. XV–XIX), read by Benjamin Hagen

Text of section XV here.
Text of section XVI here.
Text of section XVII here.
Text of section XVIII here.
Text of section XIX here.

In section XIX, we reach the end of the sections devoted to the “fair ship” returning Hallam’s “dust” (XVII, line 19) to England. Despite their thematic and sectional relation, these verses demonstrate the diary-like (day-to-day) variation of the poet’s grief. Section XV introduces harsh natural elements that contrast with “fancies” of a gentle return—fancies that keep a “wild unrest” at bay. In Section XVI, directly responding to (and internalizing?) this contrast, the poet reflects on the oscillations of grief between “calm despair and wild unrest,” offering questions that theorize the affective contours and textures of mourning.

Section XVII turns its attention back to the “sacred bark”—as if inspired by the image of a “bark” in the previous poem—and blesses it. The “calm despair” of the final stanza is particularly memorable, especially the image of “The dust of him I shall not see / Till all my widow’d race be run.”

Section XVIII describes or imagines life after the burial of Hallam, meditating on a “violet” that will grow “Where he in English earth is laid.” This section, too, ends in calm despair, self-soothing with the possibility that one may still treasure “the look [one] cannot find” or “The words that are not heard again.” Varying a repeated theme, Section XIX again features bodies of water—which Tennyson has associated with tears, the threat of Time, the danger of a double loss, physical but also vital distance from Hallam—referencing three long rivers. Two of these rivers (the Danube and Severn) figure the departure and arrival points of Hallam’s body while the third (the Wye) helps Tennyson connect the wave-like motion of “salt sea-water” with the amplification or reduction of anguish.

The tide flows down, the wave again
Is vocal in its wooded walls;
My deeper anguish also falls,
And I can speak a little then.

Tennyson, In Memoriam, section XIX, lines 13–16

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