How pure at heart and sound in head,
With what divine affections bold
Should be the man whose thought would hold
An hour’s communion with the dead.

In vain shalt thou, or any, call
The spirits from their golden day,
Except, like them, thou too canst say,
My spirit is at peace with all.

They haunt the silence of the breast,
Imaginations calm and fair,
The memory like a cloudless air,
The conscience as a sea at rest:

But when the heart is full of din,
And doubt beside the portal waits,
They can but listen at the gates
And hear the household jar within.


I understand the spiritual imperative taught here by Tennyson, but, if it is meant as a statement of what happens, it seems to me simply not true. People do hold converse with their ancestors to confirm the need for revenge or to plan crimes. Tennyson might riposte by saying that they are communing with their worst selves, not with a true spirit.

The development of Artificial Intelligence now means that before death a person can create an avatar of themselves to guide their descendants. I think that may be dangerous. Indeed, along with the author of the book of Samuel, I think that all seeking for contact with the dead is wrong. Tennyson however may be indicating what classic Christian theology has called the Communion of the Saints, which is not a seeking but a recognition of the unity in God of all the holy living and all the holy dead. His prescriptions for contact imply a holiness.

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