A PILGRIMAGE THROUGH ‘IN MEMORIAM’ 108

It is the day when he was born,
A bitter day that early sank
Behind a purple-frosty bank
Of vapour, leaving night forlorn.


The time admits not flowers or leaves
To deck the banquet. Fiercely flies
The blast of North and East, and ice
Makes daggers at the sharpen’d eaves,


And bristles all the brakes and thorns
To yon hard crescent, as she hangs
Above the wood which grides and clangs
Its leafless ribs and iron horns


Together, in the drifts that pass
To darken on the rolling brine
That breaks the coast. But fetch the wine,
Arrange the board and brim the glass;


Bring in great logs and let them lie,
To make a solid core of heat;
Be cheerful-minded, talk and treat
Of all things ev’n as he were by;


We keep the day. With festal cheer,
With books and music, surely we
Will drink to him, whate’er he be,
And sing the songs he loved to hear.

From the vagueness of his golden age vision, Tennyson returns to the particularities of nature, playing again with the pathetic fallacy, that Hallam’s birthday should be a dark cold day, but insisting that the house should be warm, food and drink provided to remember his friend. A new determination refuses the invitation of grief.

As always, Tennyson’s details of the natural world are precise, but I have to confess that while the “griding” of branches arouses my own experience of winter woods, the “clanging of iron horns” leaves me puzzled. Is it a special effect of ice-covered tree-tops? The heart of the puzzle is how wood can give out a metallic sound. I’m sure Tennyson is right and creative in this detail, and that I am failing to comprehend.

The day I took some of our daughter’s ashes to the Cairngorm mountains, was a brisk, cold day, with a few flakes of snow in the air. Accompanied by my youngest brother and his wife I went to the Coire an Lochan of Cairn Lochan, where beside the Lochan, below the Great Slab, we scattered her, knowing that she would have wanted this gesture. My mood was of a clear dutifulness, combined with the habitual climbers’ knowledge that the hills are larger and more enduring than we are.

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