In Memoriam XXVIII Tennyson

In Memoriam image by Linda Richardson In Memoriam image by Linda Richardson

The poem I have chosen for December the 12th in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is the first of two extracts from Tennyson’s great poem In Memoriam. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. Once more the image above is a page from the Art journal which Linda Richardson kept in response to the poems in Waiting on the Word. she writes:

This is a very strange artwork, so if you are looking at it wondering, ‘What is this?’, you would be forgiven for thinking it strange too. However we sometimes miss the meaning in the things that happen to us because they don’t appear in the way we expect. I would, as much as possible, like to keep to the spirit of the art journal I made and include even this strange one. If you are responding to the poems by making or doing something, perhaps you too are dissatisfied by the outcome. It is a challenge sometimes to let it be what it is, so perhaps returning to it later you might be surprised to see a depth you didn’t notice at first.

The round forms dominate the image, floating, it seems in a blue haze. The forms are in two halves, ‘answering each other in the mist’. Some of the forms, ‘swell out and fail as if a door were shut between me and the sound’. The blue haze at the bottom of the image might be our unconsciousness where much is darkness and confusion. We barely understand why we behave in the way we do and why we react emotionally to seemingly small events. We wake from dreams, sometimes afraid or grieving for something we feel we have lost or missed. This is an image of contrasts speaking to each other, of sorrow and joy, sleeping and waking, peace and pain. Are the strange round forms waiting to rise out of the blue of unconsciousness? What will lift them up to the light?   ‘The moon is hid: the night is still’. Do you sense the stillness of the round forms that are perhaps brooding egg shapes, waiting for new birth? ‘Be still and know….’

You can find a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

In Memoriam XXVIII

The time draws near the birth of Christ:

The moon is hid; the night is still;

The Christmas bells from hill to hill

Answer each other in the mist.

Four voices of four hamlets round,

From far and near, on mead and moor,

Swell out and fail, as if a door

Were shut between me and the sound:

Each voice four changes on the wind,

That now dilate, and now decrease,

Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace,

Peace and goodwill, to all mankind.

This year I slept and woke with pain,

I almost wish’d no more to wake,

And that my hold on life would break

Before I heard those bells again:

But they my troubled spirit rule,

For they controll’d me when a boy;

They bring me sorrow touch’d with joy,

The merry merry bells of Yule.


Filed under imagination

6 responses to “In Memoriam XXVIII Tennyson

  1. Margaret Love

    In the end I had to buy the book! So appreciating being able to follow everything. Thankyou to you and Linda for sharing. Margaret.

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Bethan scotford

    Memories that are evoked by scent or, as here, by sound, are layered,multi- textured and have a dynamic of their own. They range in tone through comfort, nostalgia, poignancy, sadness and searing angst to joy,sweetness,and even redemption. The still, misty, moonless night carries the clarion sounds of the four villages’ church bells; The rounds they play swing and rebound in the air above the four communities. The pulse of their melodies is felt in the repetitive antiphony
    of the poem: ;Each voice four changes on the wind, That now dilate and now decrease, Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace..’ But even the recollection of times past, Christmases of his childhood,and possibly also of the harrowing year that the poet has lived through has brought with it its gifts of blessings; he knows that a change has happened to him, his soul, because now the bells’ song ‘bring solace and joy’ – an awareness that he, the poet , has ‘moved on’ from the darkness of:
    ‘This year I woke and slept with pain, I almost wished no more to wake, and that my hold on life would break.’

    There is a deliciously light play on the ’round’ – being both the campanologist’s’ term for the tunes that the bells play, and the moving on within the circle of the year, that at this moment reveals to him; he learns how his heart /soul has received a healing – a quiet, small change that took place gently throughout the year, leaving his heart/soul stronger, and more hopeful.
    Moments of unremarkable note can reveal great truths to us about ourselves, when reflection and a prayerful inwardness of heart combine.
    I love the objectivity of the bells’ sound; carrying out their customary ‘service’ of calling the faithful to church, that is sharply contrasted to the hugely subjective response of the poet to the sound of the bells.

  3. Katharine Venour

    Your beautiful post today reminds me of that time when I studied “In Memoriam” during my undergraduate degree. I remember being moved to tears when the prof read a passage aloud in class. I can see the moment even now. The poem, like grief, takes us to that place of “sorrow touch’d by joy”. Hope and beauty shimmer through the veil too.

  4. David C Brown

    Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
    “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
    With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
    I thought this from Longfellow an apt response.

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