A PILGRIMAGE THROUGH ‘IN MEMORIAM’ 116

Now fades the last long streak of snow,
Now burgeons every maze of quick
About the flowering squares, and thick
By ashen roots the violets blow.


Now rings the woodland loud and long,
The distance takes a lovelier hue,
And drown’d in yonder living blue
The lark becomes a sightless song.


Now dance the lights on lawn and lea,
The flocks are whiter down the vale,
And milkier every milky sail
On winding stream or distant sea;


Where now the seamew pipes, or dives
In yonder greening gleam, and fly
The happy birds, that change their sky
To build and brood; that live their lives


From land to land; and in my breast
Spring wakens too; and my regret
Becomes an April violet,
And buds and blossoms like the rest.

This final indication of time in the poem signals the beginning of its final section. The advent of spring brings a renewal of life in nature and in Tennyson’s mourning for Hallam: but it is significant that it is the grief itself ( regret) that blossoms, that is, it undergoes a process of growth and becomes beautiful. It is not discarded or left behind.

The language of this canto is rich in Tennyson’s mode of heightened ordinariness: “now burgeons every maze of quick” – the old French loan word ‘burgeon’ matched with the Anglo Saxon ‘quick’ meaning alive, here used as a noun for growth in hedges. He knows that the seagull is just as likely to be in the countryside as by the sea. He notices the arrival locally of migrating birds that breed in England. He utilises the particulars of spring more fully than the particulars of Hallam’s life and character.

His ‘regret’ that is, his grieving, is symbolised by a common, modest flower.

I don’t know the relationship between the “I” of the poem and the real life of its author, but clearly Tennyson wanted its readers to believe that something positive had emerged from a painful loss. Nothing like this has happened to me, but I know of some who testify to the experience of grieving as ultimately fruitful.

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