"In Memoriam" and "Adonais": Two Imortal Elegy in English Literature

In Memoriam, Tennyson’s most acclaimed work, was begun in 1833 and completed in 1850. It was written in memory of A. H. Hallam, a young man of great promise and an intimate friend of Tennyson who died at a very early age.

In Memoriam is not so much a single elegy as a series of poems written at different times. These were inspired by the changing moods of the author’s regret for his friend. The series describe “the way of the soul,” as Tennyson Sometimes called it in the presence of great sorrow. It shows the gradual transformation of the regret fell by the living for the dead and of the longing for the bodily presence in to a sense of spiritual contact and possession. It widens out into a great love of God and humanity: “We have but faith, we can not know; for knowledge is of things we see; And yet we know it comes from thee: a beam in darkness; let it grow.”

The scattered laments ultimately end in a marriage song that celebrates the wedding of his sister. The hope is expressed that an off-spring of the union will be born to be a ‘closure link’ between men of the present and those of the future. Hallam has thus become a ‘noble type’ who came to the earth prematurely and providing a foretaste of the future humanity. The poem was written in four-foot iambic quatrains, rhyming abba. Tennyson deftly used its metrical resources to express both moods of grief and serenity. With the publication of In Memoriam Tennyson’s status as the poet of his age was assured and he was appointed the poet-laureate.  

Adonais, Shelley’s elegy on the death of Keats, has an emotional trust and firmness of expression that makes its images memorable. But it is often the sheer lyrical quality of a Shelley ‘singing hymns unbidden’ and ‘in profuse strains of ‘unpremeditated art’ that strikes the ordinary reader. ‘To the skylark’ has a rapturous melody, and the emotional intensity of Ode to the west wind is simply moving. On the other hand there is clarity and economy in the reflective verse of the Lines Written among the Euganean Hills.

Shelley’s lyrical powers and romantic biography often obscured Shelley’s virtuosity as a poet: his intellectual courage and originally as well as his hatred of oppression and injustice. But he has gradually recovered his position as a major figure among the English Romantics.


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