Could I have said while he was here,
`My love shall now no further range;
There cannot come a mellower change,
For now is love mature in ear’?
Love, then, had hope of richer store:
What end is here to my complaint?
This haunting whisper makes me faint,
‘More years had made me love thee more.’
But Death returns an answer sweet:
`My sudden frost was sudden gain,
And gave all ripeness to the grain,
It might have drawn from after-heat.’
Tennyson argues that if he and Hallam had had more time together, his love for him would have grown. This thought torments him, but he gets an answer from Death, that its sudden frost matured the grain of love just as much as any longer time would have done. This is puzzling to me as I cannot find any confirmation that frost can mature grain in any farming literature. It seems to me that if the terms of the metaphor don’t work at the literal level, it fails in its purpose. Is it possible that Tennyson is contrasting the terms of his comparison: that in the case of love, death can bring a gain while in the case of grain it cannot? I think that is unlikely, and conclude that he was simply mistaken about the effects of frost.
As to the issue itself, I do not feel that her death matured the love I have for my daughter, but rather that it made its further growth impossible. This seems so obvious to me, that I do not understand what Tennyson was trying to achieve in this canto.