By: William Scott Harkey
The death of Lord Tennyson’s beloved friend Arthur Hallam yielded perhaps one of the most profound works of poetry and the most sorrowful elegies of commemoration in Western literature. Within a matter of weeks after receiving word of Hallam’s tragic death, Tennyson began sketching a poem that would go on to memorialize his friend, display his personal odyssey through mourning, and provide solace to its readers by offering passionate words to the once ineffable emotions of loss. This poem of the grief and suffering that loss produces, which would come to be entitled In Memoriam, chronicles Tennyson’s personal struggle with existential despair, despair not only in the loss a close friend but also in a loss of part of his identity—a poem that, as Henry Shepherd claims, portrays “the several phases of evolution or development through which a human soul, stricken with the burden of a great sorrow, may pass in the process of restoration” (44). In Memoriam chronicles this evolutionary struggle, as well as chronicles Tennyson’s attempt to fill the void in his identity, the empty space once maintained by Hallam.
It is with this idea of evolutionary struggling to regain one’s sense of a holistic identity through the process of mourning that we turn our attention. It will be the duty of this essay to explicate in detail how Tennyson’s In Memoriam functions within the Freudian economy as the “work” that the poet uses to complete his process of mourning. Within this process, we will see how In Memoriam discloses a movement beginning from negation to substitution, to consolation. As my argument will show, this movement or evolutionary process reveals how the act of writing the poem, the course of composition, becomes Tennyson’s Freudian trauerarbeit (work), as the text allows the subject to distance him or herself from the lost object through the written word, as well as allows for the end product of writing, in this case the poem/elegy itself, to become the object of substitution.
Tennyson, in looking back on his completed work, groups his poem of 131 disconnected lyrics into nine separate groups, with the prologue, written after the poem’s completion serving in the final group, placed at the beginning of the poem in order to frame its content. For the purpose of this research, the prologue will not be addressed first despite its placement at the beginning; we will begin with the oldest lyrics composed within the first collection. According to Tennyson, this first grouping represents the poet’s desolate state in the wake of losing Hallam. This first grouping is made up of poems I through VIII. Within this group, a reader finds the poet in a great state of existential despair, beginning the journey to seek out the lost aspect of his identity through philosophical musing and then turning to composing a written work as therapy within the first stages of his passage through mourning.
The poem begins with the poet meditating on the loss of his friend and the hope in the dead rising to a higher place. Though the soul of the lost may go on to a better place, away from time’s influence, the sufferings endured by those who the lost soul leaves behind are in need of some sort of psychical substitution, someone or something to fill the void of the object now lost in death:
I held it truth, with him who sings
To one clear harp in divers tones,
That men may rise on stepping-stones
Of their dead selves to higher things.
But who shall so forecast the years
And find in loss a gain to match?
Or reach a hand thro’ time to catch
The far-off interest of tears?
Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drown’d,
Let darkness keep her raven gloss:
Ah, sweeter to be drunk with loss,
To dance with death, to beat the ground,
Than that the victor Hours should scorn
The long result of love, and boast,
‘Behold the man that loved and lost,
But all he was is overworn.’ (Tennyson I 1-16)
The poet is grief-stricken by the loss of his friend and hopes that the soul of his dead friend has risen to a world beyond the living, but this form of consolation doesn’t fill the void left within the poet’s identity. Tennyson, as the poet in question, in his state of mourning, is well aware that the individual subject is a culmination or a product of external objects, both people and things. These external objects that comprise the individual’s identity, the deep builders of one’s personal psyche, are detrimental to an individual’s identity when threatened or taken away. Tennyson proclaims an unfortunate attribute of the human condition is that in loss, the individual’s very identity is damaged, and left with an empty space in need of filling. This assault on the poet’s very identity is the context of section IV of this first grouping:
O heart, how fares it with thee now,
That thou should’st fail from thy desire,
Who scarcely darest to inquire,
‘What is it makes me beat so low?’
Something it is which thou hast lost,
Some pleasure from thine early years.
Break, thou deep vase of chilling tears,
That grief hath shaken into frost!
Such clouds of nameless trouble cross
All night below the darken’d eyes;
With morning wakes the will, and cries,
‘Thou shalt not be the fool of loss.’ (IV 5-16)
In the passage above, the reader sees the clear conflict the poet is engaged in: the fragmentation of his self-identity. The poet’s sleep is disrupted by an unbearable sense of loss, so unbearable that the lost object becomes incomprehensible. The process of mourning begins with conflict between the remembrance of one’s former self as a whole identity and the new feeling of a divided self.
The poet falls asleep with the hope that the new coming day will bring some sense of solace. When no solace comes, the poet begins to search for some means of mental therapy from his philosophical thoughts on the arbitrariness of death as well as from the pneumonic objects that always call to mind the memory of his deceased friend. The poet begins to write as a means of committing to the page his personal journey through mourning. Though this form of therapy is only a minor material and artistic production, it becomes his greatest means of filling the void, of substitution, of his lost friend with the object of his compositions:
I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.
But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
A use in measured language lies;
The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.
In words, like weeds, I’ll wrap me o’er,
Like coarsest clothes against the cold:
But that large grief which these enfold
Is given in outline and no more. (V 1-12)
Tennyson, as the poet, finds reprieve in committing his sorrow into language, textualizing his grief into a material product. Though words cannot express the breadth of his grief, there is solace in it. Committing his despondency into a material form, we find Tennyson’s first attempt at “working” through his grief and substituting the lost object for another, traits clearly confirmed in Freud’s 1917 essay “Mourning and Melancholia.”
Drawing from the idea of loss as a disruption of one’s own self-love (narcissism), Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia” explicates the basic process of mourning and the dangers of lapsing into states of melancholia during that process. Mourning, as Freud concludes, is the inevitable outcome of loss, and melancholia is the possible perverse and unhealthy tangent that may come about in one’s process of mourning. This loss can either take the form of a lost person, like a loved one; something more objectified, like a deeply personal item; or even something abstract, like the deterioration of an ideal. Mourning is thus a response to loss, a call to fill the newly formed hole within one’s psyche (Freud 243-47). It is through the process of work (trauerarbeit) that the subject begins to loosen his or her attachments from the lost object and slowly move toward a successful substitution and consolation, an end in mourning. Through “working,” the subject progresses toward this ending, and if moments of melancholia arise during this progression, the subject must defeat its arresting influence and continue along with mourning if the process is to end successfully (248-55). It is with this form of material production, in verbalizing the feelings of loss and the endearment of a fragmented identity, that Tennyson begins working toward successfully substituting the lost aspect of himself with his trauerarbeit. In Freudian terms, Tennyson is working on negating the lost object of himself in order for a new substitute object to fill in the void, to negate with negation.
After this first grouping, functioning as a chaotic display of impulsive emotions and musings in the wake of hearing of his friend’s death, the poet begins to narratize the death of his friend, to construct order within his fragmented ego, to take control of the overflow of emotions. Tennyson, in the second grouping, which consists of poems IX through XX, begins this narratization with the return of Hallam’s body by boat. A reader finds in this section the poet’s split ego, as he struggles with denial and reality: the fantasy that Hallam is being brought back home alive, and the reality that Hallam is dead and will never return. Additionally here, the poet takes his first plunge into melancholia, where the hope in successfully completing the process of mourning seems lost, and the void of the absent object seems to retain its strongest hold on the subject:
What words are these have falle’n from me?
Can calm despair and wild unrest
Be tenants of a single breast,
Or sorrow such a changeling be?
Or cloth she only seem to take
The touch of change in calm or storm;
But knows no more of transient form
In her deep self, than some dead lake
That holds the shadow of a lark
Hung in the shadow of a heaven?
Or has the shock, so harshly given,
Confused me like the unhappy bark
That strikes by night a craggy shelf,
And staggers blindly ere she sink?
And stunn’d me from my power to think
And all my knowledge of myself. (XVI 1-16)
The questions Tennyson is asking are typical of a subject in mourning, questions arising in bouts of melancholia: does grief ever end, and will I ever be whole again?
While mourning is considered the natural response to losing the object of invested identity, according to Freud, melancholia is when the subject cannot successfully substitute the lost object for the living and present one. The subject has narcissistically devoured the lost object, and this lifeless object has now become a part of the subject’s ego. Or in another way, the subject preserves a half-dead element within his or her psyche. As the subject’s lost object remains in this half-dead state, it causes great mental harm to the psyche of the subject, in that the subject is not letting go—or is keeping alive—something that is already dead. Melancholia causes complete entropy in the subject’s psyche and leads the subject to identify with the dead and lost, as opposed to the living and present. It is not the object that is dead in melancholia, but the very subject him or herself (Carel 6-9). The melancholic is immobile in the process of mourning, as he or she is unable to create a new object to invest his or her identity in since he or she has narcissistically consumed the lost object and remains faithful to it, thus preserving the present by arresting time and refusing change. Just as the melancholic subject is psychologically dead, so too is the world dead for the melancholic (Freud 256). In the process of mourning, there are always moments when melancholia arises occasionally.
This kind of melancholic condition carries over into the third grouping, poems XXI through XXVII, where Tennyson begins to recollect on the times he spent with Hallam and the various discussions they had. The poet, in both the second and third groupings, is in a state of pure abeyance, remaining locked in a condition of existential despair, unable to progress further in his process of mourning. But the poet must undergo this particular process. The poet must negate the past and the void within his identity by working through it, narratizing it, and committing it to words, in order to construct the foundation in which to begin a successful completion of grief and a successful substitution of the lost object—where melancholia becomes namable, and the subject overcomes his or her loss by controlling symbols (Ruti 648). Narratizing, in committing the ego to language, thus distances the poet from the trauma of the lost object and aids in a successful substitution. It is through this melancholic stage that only those who can see their way out will be able to end their sorrow. Tennyson seems compelled to write, to rework the past along constructive lines:
Behold, ye speak an idle thing:
Ye never knew that sacred dust:
I do but sing because I must
And but as the linnets sing. (XXI 21-24)
Tennyson must compose his sadness if he ever wishes to find passage out of his melancholic impasse. He must narrate on the past, must dwell within the memories, in order to take control of it, to regain his sense of autonomy over what has occurred in order to force himself to fill the void left by Hallam with his own poetic work.
This form of therapy, Freud argues, is the negation of the lost object. The subject undergoing the process of mourning must negate the lost object, negate the negation or the void, and substitute its absence with a new object. This first negation must take place in order to begin a successful journey toward consolation and the ending of mourning. Tennyson begins this negation by taking control over his past memories. Havi Carel writes,
This process of negating a negation, deleting a lack, is one of overcoming death and loss and a process that eventually leads to a renewed investment in life and in love…. This is the normal process of mourning, where the ultimate loyalty is to life, to Eros and to the renewed investment in a new object. On this understanding of mourning, in the attenuation of the investment both the positive and the negative emotions attached to the lost object become muffled, weakened, and with time are transformed into memories (3).
The poet’s identity is fragmented, and there resides a Hallam-shaped hole in it. In order to pull together the pieces of his identity and negate the negated space, Tennyson must control his past (Clewell 44). The present and a substitute object is a negation of the void, just as the past is the negation of the present. By taking control over his memories, narratizing them, and substituting his void with the written word, Tennyson orders the fragments of his ego and creates a consolatory space for their reconstruction.
As Freud describes in “Mourning and Melancholia,” it is the melancholic who views reality in a purer, unadulterated, and material manner. Loss lies at the very heart of human subjectivity. It is loss that creates the subject. Just as the subject is an accumulation of externalities, the subject is also a product of the dialectical usurpation and negation of those very objects. Within the Freudian canon, this is most clearly seen in the Oedipus complex, where the subject becomes a subject through the primal loss of his or her mother and moves through life driven by the desire to find a substitute for the former infantile feeling of wholeness. The subject is driven by desire to fill in the lack.
It is the melancholic, according to Freud, who has a more keen awareness of this loss and the drive of his or her own compulsions. The melancholic sees life unhindered by socially constructed fantasies. Tennyson appears in this very state in discussing death, it’s arbitrariness but also its necessary and natural occurrence, as far back as in the first grouping:
One writes, that ‘Other friends remain,’
That ‘Loss is common to the race’—
And common is the commonplace,
And vacant chaff well meant for grain.
That loss is common would not make
My own less bitter, rather more:
Too common! Never morning wore
To evening, but some heart did break.
O father, wheresoe’er thou be,
Who pledgest now thy gallant son;
A shot, ere half thy draught be done,
Hath still’d the life that beat from thee.
O mother, praying God will save
Thy sailor,—while thy head is bow’d,
His heavy-shotted hammock-shroud
Drops in his vast and wandering grave. (VI 1-16)
Here, we see an instant in which melancholia allows the poet to assess, in a more pure form, the nature of death and dying, the reality of all life’s finitude. There is no rational understanding as to why some die at particular times and why others do not. The poet here does not delve into the idea of cosmological theodicy. Tennyson is simply addressing the absurdity and the mere randomness of death: an arbitrary occurrence free of any reasonableness or justification. This idea is common among melancholics, as they see life as absent of meaning and death as a random occurrence to which we are all susceptible.
Tennyson continues his melancholic musings further in the latter parts of the third group of lyrics, specifically in poems XXIV through XXVII. Tennyson, continuing with narratizing his recollections of the past, begins to project and fictionalize his own ideality onto his memories, rewriting them in order to hopefully conquer them. Tennyson begins by questioning the perfection of the past and the validity of his memory. Was the past perfect, or is the perfection of the past—the ideal nature of his friendship with Hallam, the fond times they had with one another, the complete omission of any turbulent times—just a mere projection of Tennyson’s mind? It seems that, according to the poet, it is a projection. Because of the distance between the present and past, the gap between the two adds to the fantastical nature of the memory.
But these memories, writing down the past in a material form, drive the poet into even greater despair. Time doesn’t move for the melancholic who continuously remains in the past. As Ruti discuses, “it is possible that melancholia facilitates a different type of rewriting—one that does not seek to surmount but merely to revisit and reassess the past” (644). Though, as stated above, narratizing memories is how the mourner takes control over the past and uses that narratization to pull him or herself out of a melancholic stage, memory is also a very dangerous aspect to dwell upon (Hsiao176). Remembering “might technically help us ‘come to terms’ with our painful memories as much as it can go awry—in the direction of compulsive repeating and/or melancholia” (Gana 61). We see this sort of “going awry” in Tennyson’s XXVI lyric, where the poet, remaining too long within a past memory, dives further into his melancholic state. For the melancholic, time cannot move forward the process of mourning. The melancholic wishes to preserve the present state of mourning, without progressing and without the possibility of a successful ending to the process of mourning. Maintaining the pain keeps the absent object alive.
But, again, recollecting these memories and narratizing them, gaining a sense of ownership over the past by even fictionalizing it, is a necessary plunge into melancholia that allows the subject a greater chance in moving forward. Tennyson has already began the preliminary stages of substitution by negating the void—that is, replacing Hallam with an elegy to Hallam—but he must go backward, regressing into melancholia, in order to move forward. As Bruce explains, Tennyson must venture through these “mournful memories and melancholy forebodings” in order to reach the other side of consolation (445). Through the pain of the past, through the negation of the past and the void it has created, the poet may have a chance at ending his existential despair and sorrow.
Poems XXVIII through XLIX contain recollections on the poet’s first Christmas without Hallam. It is with this first Christmas that Tennyson is thrown in to his deepest state of melancholia, even going so far as to wish for death to end his sadness and suffering: “This year I slept and woke with pain, / I almost wished no more to wake” (XXVIII 13-14). Again, with melancholia, Freud argues that individuals arrested in their process of mourning, those living-dead mourners still stuck in the past, have a keener and more accurate sense of the horrors of life (257). Their views are unclouded by the contentment created by society, and their sufferings brings about a greater sense of truth in the meaninglessness of existence. We see this existential clarity when Tennyson writes,
This round of green, this orb of flame,
Fantastic beauty such as lurks
In some wild Poet, when he works
Without a conscience or an aim. (XXXIV 5-8)
We also find here Tennyson continuously revisiting the notion of his own death. Since the object that the subject has once invested a part of its identity in is dead, the subject also wishes for his or her own death to narcissistically mirror the dead object—unable to endure the state of half living. Freud argues that in primary narcissism, the ego sees itself outside of itself, and so the external object of love and/or admiration is primarily one of a representation of the subject’s very ego. With that said, if the external ego that subject has identified with is dead, the subject wishes to be like his or her mirrored ego—namely, dead (Clewell 46). The subject is in a sense already dead, so it seems only fitting to physically end one’s life when stuck in the impasse of melancholia. We see Tennyson musing over this thought, both over his own death and consistently reassessing the death of Hallam. In Tennyson’s melancholic thoughts on death, we find him unable to take solace in thinking of the afterlife. The idea of heaven and the joyous notion of living after death in eternal bliss are of no comfort to him. We see this very melancholic approach to death, Tennyson’s more real sense of it, also in his views on love:
Yet if some voice that man could trust
Should murmur from the narrow house,
‘The cheeks drop in; the body bows;
Man dies: nor is there hope in dust:’
Might I not say? ‘Yet even here,
But for one hour, O Love, I strive
To keep so sweet a thing alive:’
But I should turn mine ears and hear
The moanings of the homeless sea,
The sound of streams that swift or slow
Draw down Æonian hills, and sow
The dust of continents to be;
And Love would answer with a sigh,
‘The sound of that forgetful shore
Will change my sweetness more and more,
Half-dead to know that I shall die.’
O me, what profits it to put
An idle case? If Death were seen
At first as Death, Love had not been,
Or been in narrowest working shut…. (XXXV 1-20)
Both death and love do not have a theological quality to them. Death is arbitrary, and all love will eventually die. Both the notions of an afterlife and love cannot console the melancholic suffer who is mourning for the loss of his own self.
For Tennyson, this first Christmas ushers in the greatest sensation of emptiness. His psychological state appears to be at its lowest while his melancholic bouts seem to be at their highest. Wishful thinking on the afterlife and love are unable to console his grieving, and towards the latter part of this lyrical group, it becomes apparent that the true enemy of mourning is consciousness. It is one’s awareness, one’s ability to remember and project the present into past memories and future projects, that becomes damaging to the mourner. Unable to forget, the melancholic remains stuck in the memory. The poet asks if death will be the end of consciousness as the individual soul merges with the universal soul, or will death be even more detrimental and consciousness is further heightened.
The poet seems unable to shake off these ideas as he battles with melancholia, even going so far as to doubt the very therapy of substituting Hallam with his material elegy:
Beneath all fancied hopes and fears
Ay me, the sorrow deepens down.
Whose muffled motions blindly drown
The bases of my life in tears. (XLIX 13-16)
Art, poetry, nature, philosophy: nothing is worthy to stand as a substitute for Hallam. This first Christmas, a time of gathering, propels Tennyson into his deepest despair, into his deepest bout with melancholia. We see here the poet latching onto the dead object, unable to, in Freudian terms, to respond to the call of reality. Ferber notes that it is the “melancholic who remains sunken in his loss, unable to acknowledge and accept the need to cleave and in a self-destructive loyalty to the lost object, internalizes it into his ego, thus furthermore circumscribing the conflict related to the loss. The lost object continues to exist…” (66). Coping with the lost object and resulting lack by resuscitating the lost object as an ever-present specter in the subject’s psyche, the melancholic refuses the external world for the world of the dead and the world of existential despair. Yet, again, this regression may become a valuable aid to the mourner in progressing forward. Past this first difficult time, Tennyson is able to withstand the entropy of melancholia and rise above it in order to once again move forward in the process of mourning.
In the fifth and sixth groups of poems, Tennyson describes his uncertainties on the existence of a higher being and on the phantom of Hallam. He does so in the same sort of melancholic tone as described above. However, unlike the lyrics before, among this sea of melancholy, the poet shows instances of sporadic hope in moving past this state and continuing on with the process of mourning through substitution. In the first lyrical group, the poet is conflicted with the hope in an afterlife. Though during this point in the nineteenth century, there arose many advances in science and technology that would challenge the belief in God, heaven, and the spiritual realm and suggest them to be fiction and fantastical wishful thinking, the poet begins to find solace in thinking, whether fact or fiction, that the spiritual world does exist:
Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last—far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.
So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry. (LIV 13-20)
The concluding lyrics of this group also speak in a similar manner, hoping for the continuation of life after death despite the evidence that concludes otherwise. Throughout Tennyson’s passage through mourning, we have thus seen him go through the preliminary stages of mourning, and, while attempting to substitute Hallam for his own written composition, we find him sink into bouts of melancholia, where even the living poet seems just as dead as his lost object. Here, in the passage above, with hope in the afterlife, the poet now seems to be emerging out of the depths of his melancholy in order to continue in successfully substituting Hallam with a new and living object of identity investment.
Again, this substitution, exchanging the lost object with the written composition, is the Freudian work:
The long and arduous process of the work of mourning maintains the lost object within the psyche, gradually accepting the fact that it is indeed lost and working a way out of the attachment to it. The work is composed of a slow and painful working through of each of the memories and strands attaching the dejected subject to the object, which Freud defines as a thousand links. The detachment from the loss is done thereupon, through an extremely meticulous work of untangling the attachment, which is largely composed of memories. However difficult and even unbearable this work may be, it nevertheless ends with a complete loosening of all points of attachment…. In other words, the cutting of the strands of attachment is dictated by the voice of reality, so that the work of mourning is directed towards life and lifeenergy. This is the point in which the principle of life takes over and directs the mourner to focus himself on the important work of detachment and uninhibited life. The aim of the process of detachment has thus, nothing to do with the object itself, but with the subject which has to be freed from it. (Ferber 71)
Through work, composing Hallam’s elegy that will fill the void within Tennyson’s psyche, the poet is able to loosen his attachments with the dead object. He is able to redirect his energies toward a living investment, where life is once again valued, the ego is provided new meaning, and the dead are laid to rest.
It is in the seventh lyrical group, those dealing with the first anniversary of Hallam’s death as well as the second Christmas without him, that Tennyson negates his former melancholic self along with his lost object in order to fully substitute Hallam with his poem. In lyric LXXVII, the reader finds this negation, and the beginnings of a successful substitution come about, as the poet muses over fame and the art of the poetry. The poet acknowledges that death comes to everyone, and with death also goes the death of the poet’s fame. But the poet is no longer writing for fame:
What hope is here for modern rhyme
To him, who turns a musing eye
On songs, and deeds, and lives, that lie
Foreshorten’d in the tract of time?
These mortal lullabies of pain
May bind a book, may line a box,
May serve to curl a maiden’s locks;
Or when a thousand moons shall wane
A man upon a stall may find,
And, passing, turn the page that tells
A grief, then changed to something else,
Sung by a long-forgotten mind.
But what of that? My darken’d ways
Shall ring with music all the same;
To breathe my loss is more than fame,
To utter love more sweet than praise. (LXXVII 1-16)
The poem will be forgotten, but the poet will continue to write despite the transitory nature of the poem and despite the transitory nature of fame a poem may bring. The poet will continue to write as a form of therapy, mastering his memories, taking control over an event that seemed arbitrary and uncontrollable, mastering his emotions, and moving toward replacing his lost friend with his material work. Though the work may never be an acclaimed success, it is truly a work only for the poet himself, a private meditation and constant dialectical procedure moving him toward filling the void within his identity. For Tennyson, Hallam was “rich where [he] was poor / And he supplied [his] want the more / As his unlikeness fitted [his]” (LXXIX 17-20). But with the aid of his elegy, Tennyson’s fragmented identity—these areas now plagued by a lack where Hallam was once present—will be filled.
In poem LXXXV, a reader begins to see the success the written poem as the substitute for Hallam is having on Tennyson’s passage through mourning. Though Tennyson is still conflicted with sorrow, working through his memories and narrating them, shifting his effects from contemplating on Hallam as a lost object and the dead aspect of his identity to his material composition as the Freudian trauerarbeit, the substitution begins to loosen the attachment Tennyson has maintained with the lost object:
My pulses therefore beat again
For other friends that once I met;
Nor can it suit me to forget
The mighty hopes that make us men. (LXXXV 57-60)
My old affection of the tomb,
A part of stillness, yearns to speak:
‘Arise, and get thee forth and seek
A friendship for the years to come.
‘I watch thee from the quiet shore;
Thy spirit up to mine can reach;
But in dear words of human speech
We two communicate no more.’ (LXXXV 77-84)
My heart, tho’ widow’d, may not rest
Quite in the love of what is gone,
But seeks to beat in time with one
That warms another living breast.
Ah, take the imperfect gift I bring,
Knowing the primrose yet is dear,
The primrose of the later year,
As not unlike to that of Spring. (LXXXV 113-120)
Though the origin of pain is always present, the poet begins to recover through substituting his work for the lost object. Tennyson finds his therapy in substituting the poet’s speech for the dead and begins to take control over the void within his identity, even going so far as to convince himself, like convincing himself of the bless felt in the afterlife discussed earlier, that Hallam wishes him to take on another, living, friend—a human substitute.
Here, a reader finds Tennyson’s substitution through the aid of Freudian work coming to its conclusion. The process of mourning comes to a close as the poet transitions his emphasis from the lost and dead object to the living elegy, thus filling the once hollow space in his identity left from Hallam’s death with a psychical object that both represents Tennyson’s mastery over the past and his holistic identity reflected back to him through the completed composition.
We have now reached the conclusion of Tennyson’s poem, lyrics CIV through both the epilogue and prologue. In these passages, Tennyson’s journey through mourning draws to a close. Commencing with Hallam’s death, arrested at times with bouts of melancholia, Tennyson has successfully substituted his dead object and filled the void within his identity with his poetic work. As the poem functioned as a dialectical conversation within himself, Tennyson rises to a new and higher level of understanding, where he is sure in the existence of a divine and omnipotent God and an afterlife:
Whereof the man, that with me trod
This planet, was a noble type
Appearing ere the times were ripe,
That friend of mine who lives in God,
That God, which ever lives and loves,
One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event,
To which the whole creation moves. (Epilogue 137-144)
This similar success in the process of mourning is accepted further in the prologue, written seven years after the poem had been completed. Through work, the Freudian trauerarbeit, Tennyson was able to attain a higher state of being and regain his sense of holism that was fragmented by Hallam’s passing. He was able to take control over his mourning and conquer melancholia by loosening his attachment to the void within himself and his deceased friend by focusing his energies and constructing a new identity by his own hand, a composition worthy to be invested into his psychological self and worthy to fill the hole left by such a beloved friend.
Upon reaching the conclusion of mourning, Tennyson comes to his final evolutionary phases, that of consolation. Consolation occurs, in the case of Tennyson’s In Memoriam, when the poet has successfully substituted his lost object with an other. This other comes in the form of his completed work. The work functions, in the words of Hsiao, as a stand in, for the lost aspect of himself (187). No longer is the poet a fragmented ego, gaining his sense of self from a lost and deceased object. He is now a holistic subject, as the void within his identity has been successfully negated, and replaced with the material product of his therapeutic work.
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Categories: Literary criticism