In Memoriam was written as an elegy by Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1850 on the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam. It was composed over a seventeen years period from 1833. Tennyson recorded his grief in a series of one hundred and thirty one short poems (“Swallow-flights of song” he called them) in iambic tetrameter quatrains riming abba.
Tennyson described In Memoriam as “the way of the soul”. It is the progress from bitter grief and doubt to a sense of certainty and hopefulness that the universe is dominated by love. Stages in the gradual rise of spirit are marked by Christmas seasons, but the rise is interrupted even in the middle sections by torments of heart. Chiefly responsible for the gloom is the scientific depiction of man as a misbegotten animal in an indifferent universe. Tennyson accepts evolution as divinely ordained and believes that universe is moving to a divine purpose. Mankind will evolve on earth towards the higher man. In Memoriam is thus more than a pastoral elegy like Milton’s Lycidas or Shelley’s Adonais. It gained the ears of the Victorian public for its philosophical preachment. Tennyson was known as the Victorian oracle and he secured the Poet-laureateship. Queen Victoria told Tennyson, “Next to the Bible In Memoriam is my comfort.” Many humanists of the age saw in it the definitive answer to the quarrel of science versus faith.
The modern age, however, ignores its philosophical preachings, but praises certain sections of In Memoriam for their eloquent lyricism and the poignant evocation of moods, especially in a tortured soul.