brb, bawling

I first encountered Tennyson by way of Julia Margaret Cameron’s portraits of him, entranced by the aura she is able to capture of her subjects. In Tennyson’s case it is that of a man too much with the grief of the world, burdened by his uniquely deft handling of it so as to console and stir the masses with his poetry. I found his writing illustrative of an understanding portrait of death as an entity larger than the people it touches, bound to touch all. “Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drowned/Let darkness keep her raven gloss” struck me with the capitalization of Love and Grief and not darkness. The same goes for Hours, but not love or boast in lines 13 and 14 in his first Memoriam. I am curious as to why he chose to do this elsewhere as well, to render sentiments as forcible beings perhaps? Why these words and not others?

Tennyson mentions that in death there is a potential aspect of triumph, that with it may come a “gain” that may not be realized in the time given to the living. This is stark compared to the desolation Tennyson weaves into the pieces, the most painful of this being the momentary belief, the hope, that death was just a dream, but yet one still wakes to the greeting that “on the bald street breaks the blank day.” Death is a disruption to the routine of life, yet life is as much a routine that seems brutally more mundane in the shadow of death. In his poetry I felt a longing for presence, not that of death, but of the person lost because he feels his love for the deceased as “vaster passion now” that is all around him, in Nature, mixed with God. I found Tennyson to be immensely compelling and that for the first time I really enjoyed rereading poems and was not frustrated by the language and syntax because I was so taken by the emotion packed into his lines.

One comment

  • What a striking post, Anna—well done! I’m glad you like the poem (it’s so gorgeous, no?), and I think you’ve captured a number of its key aspects here. I’m particularly persuaded by your idea regarding death as both singular event and routine occurrence in the poem, which seems to me to be right on the mark.

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