What Does this Word Mean Again: Dictionary to the Rescue

Getting past the language always seems to be my road block. I usually never know what to do about it. The confusing syntax as well as the uncommon words makes reading Milton’s poem much more difficult. Of course, knowing that the theme for this week is “Elegy and other Occassions” helped me understand the overall themes of the poems. I knew that at the heart of poem lied some form of commemoration, even if I did not see how exactly the author was going about this.

To get the ball rolling, the footnotes from Milton’s poem are both helpful and detrimental. They were helpful because I did not need to use the dictionary to look up unfamiliar words, however, I would get lost in trying to understand how the footnote or definition fitted with the rest of the line. For example, the line “Nor where Deva spreads her wizards stream” has a footnote describing in detail the different elements of the line. The footnote describes the geographical significance of the burial ground in northern Wales for the Druids. I feel that sometimes the information in the footnotes gives too much. It is not necessarily important to know it for the overall understanding of the poem/stanza. I took from the footnote that this was just another place where the nymphs usually stayed. Sometimes it is helpful to just ignore the footnote.

For poems where language was not that much of an issue such as “From In Memoriam A.H.H.” I just used the dictionary to look up unfamiliar words. I learned that the “yew” that Tennyson refers to is a tree. I learned that “hardihood” means boldness or daring. When in doubt look it up.

 

The Stages of Grief and Loving Again

This week I’d like to talk about Tennyson’s “In Memoriam A.H.H.” While all of the poems for this week dealt with death, I found Tennyson’s to be the most moving and thought-provoking. Reading “In Memoriam A.H.H.” I really felt that Tennyson was close to the deceased, which was a feeling I lacked with the other poems.

“In Memoriam A.H.H.” takes us on the journey of death with Tennyson. Rather than just telling us the story of how his almost-brother-in-law died and the immediate aftermath of his death, we’re with Tennyson through his entire period of grief. It’s interesting how each section of the poem conveys a different stage of said grief.

For example, in the first few sections of the poem, Tennyson uses very dark language and imagery, such as “to dance with death, to beat the ground” and “beats out the little lives of men.” The darkness in his tone expresses his anger at his loss. Then later, in section 11, Tennyson talks about how he feels calm, but “a calm despair,” which could be seen as a form of depression. However, slowly but surely, we follow Tennyson on his journey of acceptance. Instead of being angry that his friend is gone, he starts wishing for Hallam to be near him, like in section 50. He then goes on to realize that his friend will be with him forever in his words, in the “noble letters of the dead.” He realizes that he can still be touched by his friend from the past by reading his poetry, and he can find solace in that. And then finally, in the final section of the poem Tennyson realizes that Hallam is all around him in nature.

This last section is incredibly beautiful, as Tennyson describes how he’s found his friend back around him, and how his love for him continues to be as strong as it was when he was alive, and how he will never lose Hallam, even if Tennyson himself dies.

The other thing that caught my attention in “In Memoriam A.H.H.” was the repetition in certain sections. In section 11 and section 50, each stanza starts with the same word or phrase. I think this might represent the way Tennyson was feeling at the time — perhaps a feeling of being stuck in his grief and using the same words over and over were a way to express that in writing, although that is just speculation.

Another thing I wanted to note, is that because we only have a selection of this poem, it’s impossible to really grasp it as a whole. I’m sure the progression of his grief and coping are fleshed out more in its entirety when the whole poem is read as one.

As a God or as a Man: Tennyson’s In Memoriam A.H.H

There are several difficulties within In Memoriam A.H.H that make some parts difficult to understand.

While the language is not necessarily archaic, a close reading is needed to decipher exactly what he means. When doing such close reading, it is helpful to note that this entire series of poems is a elegy. Therefore, it would seem that the poetry would, to an extent, lionize the character of Arthur Henry Hallam. However, in certain cases, we see that Tennyson moves away from lauding A.H.H and turns to describing the personal experience of losing a close friend. The resulting poetry portrays less A.H.H as a promising genius and more as a personal friend. Is Tennyson, perhaps in a subtle way, bringing to light the fact that we should see A.H.H more as a person rather than a literary genius?

It is worthwhile to discuss Tennyson’s use of metaphors.

In the very first poem, Tennyson writes “sweeter to be drunk with loss…Than that the victor Hours should scorn The long result of love”. I interpreted “drunk with loss” as losing many associates and “The long result of love” as a single person. Tennyson may be saying that it is better to lose many than to lose one close friend.

There seems to be two effects of the rhyme scheme ‘abba’.

There is a certain disjointedness between the first line and the last line of each stanza. The reader may have forgotten the rhyming sound of the first line by the time he finishes the stanza. The effect of distance confuses me when I read the poems out loud. This rhyme scheme may be implemented to convey the lost train of thought that commonly occurs under the effects of grief.

Insincerity in Milton

The poems selected for this week were written to specifically commemorate the dead. Knowing this really helped me focus while reading, and give the poems the reverence that death commands.

I started with Auden, and was extremely moved by his terse writing style: each line is comprised of just a few words, a sentence fragment. This helps capture the reader’s attention, and lends a feeling of graveness and importance, as if is there were such an important occasion that not even a single extraneous, misplaced word could be afforded.

The purpose of rhyming was also immediately clear in Auden’s poetry. In “In Memory of WB Yeats,” as the poem progresses, the rhyme scheme gets more and more regular, finally ending in couplets. This tight structure brings closure and an air of finality to the tense subject matter of dealing with grief.

Like Auden, Tennyson also utilizes rhyming to make the subject matter seem more poignant. There is something very moving about senseless death being made to fit a structure — given sense. This is reflected by the use of only one rhyme scheme — the envelope rhyme — which neatly closes off each idea that is brought up.

There is also a clear purpose to the use of repetition: for instance, in section 11, the repeated opening of “Calm…,” and in 50, of “Be near me.” The way the rhyme scheme makes it seem like alternating between speaking and catching your breath — being stricken with grief, and then filled with peace, mimicking the way in which people deal with the loss of a loved one.

Milton was the most challenging, because his style ran so counter to the other two poets — it was verbose and epic, with many dense allusions to Greek mythology. Perhaps we have different standards now, but it seems like to him, death was merely a spectacle and an opportunity to demonstrate the powers of a poet; honoring the subject’s memory was only a second priority. I can understand how Milton might seek to elevate his friend into “legendary/mythological” status in order to honor him, but at the same time, this makes the poet seem insincere, as the poem’s central focus is no longer on the deceased, but on the poet himself.

Proper Nouns in Lycidus

Many of the proper nouns are in reference to mythology. Names such as Dametas, Mona, Deva, Orpheus and Hebrus add difficulty when attempting to interpret the poem. It’s challenging to grasp what the author is trying to convey to the audience, if a number of the lines are comparing objects to mythological characters. For example, I examined line 62: “His gory visage down the stream was sent, down the swift Hebrus to the Lesbian shore?” Literally, the line is translated to say “His gory face was sent down stream…to a Hebrus river?” Because I didn’t know what Hebrus is, I looked it up the word, and found that Hebrus is supposedly a river-god. But that still did not make any sense to me. Why would a person be sent down a river-god? I think the process of wrapping my head around the concept of certain mythological characters or spirits, such as nymphs, is already abstract that it complicates things when I have to figure out how it relates to the poem. Besides the proper nouns, there is still some unfamiliar language or words used in this piece as well. Words such as “fauns”, “weanlings” “th’oaten”, “inwrought”, and “selfsame” interrupts the flow of reading when I would have to pause and look up the words. And the lines per stanza are not consistent either. Some stanzas vary from 10-14 lines. The form of the poem is extremely long; judging that it goes on for 4 pages, it was easy to get lost in the words. The rhyme scheme is pretty irregular throughout this poem. In the first stanza, the end-rhymes are as follows: ABCCBBDEBDFBGB. The next stanza had a different pattern than the first with ABBCCDDEFF.

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