Sunday, 27 April 2014

Alfred Tennyson, 1809-92: Part IV: Conclusion

I've been trawling through the archives at the library again, and in particular for Sundays, "The Pilot" which was the monthly magazine for the Church of England in Jersey for many years. Every month, there would be pieces from the minister of each church, along with various other articles of interest.
In 1995, the Reverend Tony Keogh began a series of articles in "The Pilot" under the umbrella title "God and the Poets", beginning with a four part look at Tennyson. I thought it was a shame that it should be buried in the past, so I've transcribed it for my blog. Here is part 4.
Tennyson's In Memoriam can be read at    
And there is a discussion of Tennyson and the poem with Melvin Bragg on "In Our Time" at:   
which can be listen again, or download as Podcast.

God and the Poets:
Alfred Tennyson, 1809-92: Part IV: Conclusion
By Tony Keogh

Throughout his life, Tennyson was attracted by certain aspects of mediaeval Catholicism and its cult of chivalry, also by the monastic life that could lead to union with Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom, as in "St Agnes Eve." His great friend, particularly in his middle years, was Sir John Simeon, a Catholic convert from Tractarianism, like Newman, but, unlike him, fierce in his ultra-montanism, the name given to the tendency in the Roman Catholic church which favoured the centralisation of authority and influence in the papal Curia, as opposed to the national or diocesan independence.

The declaration in 1870 by the Vatican Council that the Pope was infallible marked a substantial triumph for Sir John Simeon and his fellow ultra-montanists. Tennyson deplored such movements. "The thunderstorm that rattled the Roman rooftops during the vote on infallibility continued to re-echo in his verse," stated Levi in his biography. Tennyson was fundamentally liberal, both in his politics and in his theology.

"In Memoriam" (1850) is his greatest religious poem. Composed over many years, as he told a friend, it "begins with a funeral and ends with a marriage - begins with death and ends with the promise of new life; a sort of divine comedy - cheerful at the end." The marriage was that of Edmund Lushington to Cecilia Tennyson, his youngest sister, in 1842.

The orthodoxy of the poem's beginning and end, intermittent in its one hundred and thirty-one sections, was due to his own bride's influence before publication. "Christianity is tugging at my heart," he said in Cheltenham, just when marriage seemed a genuine prospect. Emily Selwood, his intended bride, had hesitated because of religious differences.

"In Memoriam" deals with human grief at the death of a dear friend, Arthur Hallam, and what time does to that grief. It deals with the questions it raises and how, in the end, there is emergence from tragedy and devastation to hope that this death is not a sign of the futility of life and existence on earth, but the presage of immortality and what Teilhard de Chardin was to call the "Omega Point of Creation."

Tennyson, in the later part of his life, set to and arranged his poems written over many years in chronological order, so that his collected works become, in the words of T S Eliot, "the concentrated diary of a man confessing himself." It is a passionate and moving record of how Tennyson coped with grief through long years in which it was partly healed through other experiences of love and friendship.

In the works of Tennyson, there was always the Victorian danger of sentimentality, "The good tears start," as Browning put it; yet in his tragic sensibilities, he never lost the true sense of the joys of human love or a faith in the God who sees a sparrow fall.

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