Tennyson, Grief, and Hope

I’ve been reading Alfred, Lord Tennyson for my British Literature class. He’s a marvelous poet–if you haven’t read any of his work, you should try it. His poetry is beautiful. He has a marvelous way with words. Anyways, as I was reading his In Memoriam for my class on Monday, I was struck by the prologue.

See, he wrote the poem In Memoriam as basically his way of wrestling with his grief after losing his dearest friend. He was tormented by doubts and anguish, struggled with his faith, and really for the most part had a rough time with his grief. But this prologue–it is beautiful. He wrote it after he wrote the rest of the poem. It contains some rather fascinating thoughts on God, faith, and such. Here is the first couple stanzas.

Strong Son of God, immortal Love,

Whom we, that have not seen thy face,

By faith, and faith alone embrace,

Believing where we cannot prove;

Thine are these orbs of light and shade;

Thou madest Life in man and brute;

Thou madest Death; and lo, thy foot

Is on the skull which thou hast made.

Thou wilt not leave us in the dust:

Thou madest man, he knows not why,

He thinks he was not made to die;

And thou hast made him: thou art just.

I could quote the entire prologue if I wanted to. It’s just so fascinating. I actually had to stop myself. The entire thing is worth sharing. I may have to talk about some other parts of this prologue later, or in another blog post, but for now, I shall attempt to limit myself to these first three stanzas.

So the first stanza–Oh, that lovely first stanza. He says some fascinating things in this first stanza. First of all, calling our Lord Jesus the “Strong Son of God, immortal Love”: this is rather fascinating, is it not? first of all, acknowledging the Deity of Jesus, and his power, while also declaring him to be infinitely full of love. He then says that, though we have not seen him, we believe by faith that he exists. We cannot prove the existence of God, but we believe that he is there.

The second stanza–God controls everything. He created life. He has conquered death. Now, the interesting part of this stanza is the line “Thou madest Death.” I had an interesting discussion with my friend about this the other day. Because, does God create death? Certainly not, unless perhaps as a punishment for sin, but that still doesn’t feel right. Death is our enemy, isn’t it? How could God create an evil like that? But then where did death come from? Is it merely a product of the fall? Anyways, that’s a question for another time. Or the comments section, if you feel like it. But anyways. It was the line right after that one that I had been trying to send to my friend before we started our discussion. the “thy foot is on the skull which thou hast made” line. So whether or not God made death, we can still say that he has most certainly conquered death. This is a statement full of hope.

And this third stanza. God will not abandon us. He did not make us to die. He created us and he is a good, just God. He cares for his people. Such wonderful encouragement in the midst of grief.

These three stanzas alone hold such wonderful truths, such beautiful ideas that i can’t help but feel a strange sense of hope, even though it’s been one of those weeks. I may have been on spring break, but that doesn’t mean that I have been in a good mood all week. Yet things like this bring immense comfort to me. God created me. He loves me. He has conquered death. And he takes care of me, every single day. If Tennyson, after grappling with his immense grief, was able to come to this conclusion and draw hope from it, perhaps I can too.

Thank you Tennyson. In Memoriam, though not intended, I think, for publication, is certainly one of your finest works. And I guess I have to thank my english professor for making me read it. I’m still not happy about the length, but it’s certainly a beautiful poem.


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