Description

Alfred Lord Tennyson’s most famous poem, In Memoriam, came together over a period of years, growing almost organically from a patchwork of smaller poems. The catalyst behind the work was the death of Tennyson’s close friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, and his subsequent attempts to reconcile the tragedy with his religious faith and his profound sense of emptiness and loss. When finally published in 1850 the poem consisted of 133 cantos, including the prologue and epilogue, but in these manuscript pages we see the very first words Tennyson composed in what would become, 17 years later, the defining poem of the Victorian age.

Preparing for Hallam's funeral

The inscription at the top of the first page, ‘lines by A T’, together with the date ‘Dec 1833’, indicate that these are Tennyson’s own words, composed during the months immediately following Hallam’s death – although they are not in Tennyson’s own handwriting. The first verse (folio 57) begins the account of Arthur Hallam’s body being returned to England after his death in Vienna, and was to become Canto IX of the published elegy:

Fair ship, that from Italian shore
Sailest the placid ocean-plains
With my lost Arthur’s loved remains
Spread thy full wings, and waft him o’er.

Henry Hallam, Arthur’s father, had been in touch with Tennyson twice during December 1833 regarding the funeral arrangements for his son, and discussion of the preparations for the burial clearly shaped the poem Tennyson was writing. Hallam’s body finally arrived back in England on 31 December 1833.

Christmas in In Memoriam

The page headed ‘Lines written on the return of Christmas 1833’ (folio 58) relates the dismal first Christmas after Hallam’s death. In Memoriam contains three Christmas scenes, each acting as a pause for reflection as Tennyson struggles with grief, anger and doubt on the road to his ultimate reconciliation with his faith and acceptance of Hallam’s death. The lines that follow were to become Canto XXX of the published poem and reveal the desolation Tennyson felt as the year drew to a close. The scene is Tennyson’s home – the rectory in Somersby, Lincolnshire:

With trembling fingers did we weave
The holly round the Christmas hearth;
A rainy cloud possess’d the earth
And sadly fell our Christmas-eve.

The final line in the following stanza: ‘Of one mute Shadow watching all’ refers to Arthur Hallam himself, the absent friend now lost to Tennyson on the far side of the veil.

The stanza on the following page beginning ‘This truth came home with bier and pall’ (folio 60) contains one of the most famous couplets in all of poetry:

‘Tis better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all.

These lines appear in Canto LXXXV of the published poem, much further on than the lines concerning Hallam’s body being returned to England and the Christmas scenes of 1833. The manuscript pages that follow (folios 61 – 62v) contain lines which were to form further stanzas of Canto LXXXV and then stanzas which would become Cantos XVII and XVIII. This significant rearrangement of these initial manuscript verses for In Memoriam as finally published provides a telling insight into Tennyson’s intricate reworking of the poem over the space of some 17 years.

Transcript

R11 57

Lines by A T Decr 1833


Fair ship, that from Italian shore
Sailest the placid ocean plains
With my lost Arthur's loved remains,
Spread the full wings and waft him o'er.

2

So draw him home to those who mourn
In vain : A favourable speed
Ruffle thy mirror'd mast, and lead
Thro' prosperous floods his holy urn.

3

All night no ruder air perplex
Thy sliding keel, till Phosphor, bright
As our pure love, thro' early light
Shall glimmer on the dewy decks.

  1. Transcript

    R11 57

    Lines by A T Decr 1833


    Fair ship, that from Italian shore
    Sailest the placid ocean plains
    With my lost Arthur's loved remains,
    Spread the full wings and waft him o'er.

    2

    So draw him home to those who mourn
    In vain : A favourable speed
    Ruffle thy mirror'd mast, and lead
    Thro' prosperous floods his holy urn.

    3

    All night no ruder air perplex
    Thy sliding keel, till Phosphor, bright
    As our pure love, thro' early light
    Shall glimmer on the dewy decks.

  2. Transcript

    4

    Sphere all your light, around, above,
    Sleeps gentle Heaven, before the prow,
    Sleep gentle [waves,?] as he sleeps now,
    My friend, the brother of my love.

    5

    My Arthur ---- Whom I shall not see
    Till all my widowed race be run,
    Dear as the Mother to the son,
    More than my brothers are to me.

  3. Transcript

    R12 58


    Lines written on the [return?] of Christmas 1833
    A.T.

    I



    With trembling fingers did we weave
    The holly round our Christmas hearth,
    A rainy cloud pofsefsed the earth,
    And sadly fell our Christmas Eve.

    II

    At our old pastimes in the Hall
    We gambol'd, making vain pretence.
    Of gladnefs, with an awful sense
    Of one mute shadow watching all.

  4. Transcript

    III

    We ceased! The winds were in the beech,
    We heard them sweep the winter land,
    And in a circle hand-in-hand ---
    Sat silent, looking each at each.

    IV

    Then echo-like our voices rang;
    We sung, tho' every eye was dim.
    A merry song we sang with him
    Last year - Impetuously we sang.

    V

    We paused - a gentler feeling crept
    Upon us: surely rest is meet:
    They rest, we said, their sleep is sweet;
    We kifsed each other, and we wept.

  5. Transcript

    59

    Our voices took a higher range,
    Again we sang, : They do not die,
    Nor lose their mortal sympathy,
    Nor change to us, altho' they change.

    Rapt from the fickle and the frail, --
    With gathered power still the same;
    Pierces the keen seraphic flame.
    From orb to orb, from veil to veil.

    Rise happy morn, Rise Holy morn!
    Draw forth the cheerful day from night,
    Oh father! touch the East, and light.
    The light that shone when Hope was born.

  6. Transcript

    R9 60

    This truth came borne with bier and pall,
    I felt it when I sorrowed most,
    Tis better to have loved and lost
    Than never to have loved at all.

    ______

    And so my pafsion hath not swerved
    To works of weaknefs, but I find
    An image comforting my mind
    And in my grief a strength reserved.

    ______

    These mortal pulses beat again
    For other friends that once I met,
    Nor doth it suit me to forget
    The mighty hopes that make us men.


    ______

  7. Transcript

    I woo your love, I count it crime
    To mourn for any overmuch,
    I, the divided half of such
    A friendship as had mastered time.
    ______

    Which masters time indeed and is
    Eternal, separate from fears,
    The all-afsuming months and years
    Can take no part away from this.
    ______

    But summer on the steaming floods,
    And spring that swells the narrow brooks
    And autumn with a noise of rooks
    That gather in the waning woods.
    ______


  8. Transcript

    61

    And every pulse of wind and wave,
    Recalls in change of light and gloom,
    My old affection of the tomb,
    And my prime pafsion in the grave.
    ______

    Yet looking to a settled end,
    That these things pafs and I shall prove.
    A meeting somewhere, love with love,
    I crave your pardon o my friend.
    ______

    If not so fresh with love as true,
    I, clasping brother hands aver,
    I could not if I would transfer
    The all I felt for him to you.
    ______

  9. Transcript

    For who are those that hold apart
    The promise of the golden hours?
    First love, first friendship, equal powers
    That marry with the virgin heart.
    ______

    But yet I love you --- count it crime
    To mourn for any overmuch,
    I, the divided half of such
    A friendship as had mastered time.



    A.T. 1835

  10. Transcript

    R10 62
    II.

    Thou comest, much wept for, such a breeze
    Was on thee hallowing all the sail,
    My prayer was likewise as a gale
    To breathe thee over lonely seas.

    "

    For I in spirit saw thee move
    Through circles of the bounding sky,
    Week after week - the days go by
    Come quick - thou bringest all I love.

    "

    Henceforth wherever thou mayest roam
    My blefsing like a line of light
    Is on the waters day and night
    And like a beacon leads thee home.

    "

    So may whatever tempest mars
    Mid-ocean spare thee, sacred bark,
    And balmy drops in summer dark
    Slide from the bosom of the stars.

    "

    So kind an office hath been done
    Such precious relics brought by thee
    Dear as a brother is to me
    Dear as the mother to the son.

    ________________________
    ____________

  11. Transcript

    III

    'Tis well - 'tis something we may stand
    Where he in English earth is laid
    And from his ashes may be made
    The violet of his native land.

    "

    'Tis little but it looks in truth
    As if the quiet bones were blest
    Among familiar names to rest
    And in the places of his youth.

    "

    Come then pure hands & bear the head
    That sleeps, or wears the mask of sleep
    And come, whatever loves to weep,
    And hear the ritual of the dead.

    "

    And yet - ev'n yet if this may be
    I falling on his faithful heart
    Would, breathing through his lips, impart
    The life that almost dies in me.

    "

    That dies not, but endures with pain
    And slowly forms the firmer mind
    Treasuring the look it cannot find
    The words which are not heard again.

    ________________________
    ___________________
    Alfred Tennyson.