Guest poem submitted by Mark Penney :
(Poem #1809) In Memoriam A. H. H., Section 5
I sometimes hold it half a sin To put in words the grief I feel; For words, like Nature, half reveal And half conceal the Soul within. But, for the unquiet heart and brain, A use in measured language lies; The sad mechanic exercise, Like dull narcotics, numbing pain. In words, like weeds, I'll wrap me o'er, Like coarsest clothes against the cold; But that large grief which these enfold Is given outline and no more.
So _In Memoriam_ is vast, and kind of out of style. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't have some great stuff in it. A. H. H. stands for Arthur Henry Hallam. Hallam was a close friend of Tennyson's who was also engaged to Tennyson's sister. He died before the wedding; he was 22. Naturally enough, this caused Tennyson to be catatonic with grief. As a way of working through it, Tennyson wrote _In Memoriam,_ which consists of 133 sections; each section is in turn composed of quatrains of iambic tetrameter rhymed abba. Since Tennyson invented that stanza form for this poem, and since you've read several hundred of them by the time you're done reading the poem, that form is called the "In Memoriam stanza". The poem as a whole, as you might expect, is about coming to terms with grief. Tennyson assays his grief, expiates it, and finds a way to move on. That's the arc, anyway. In the midst of that, you get an idea of who Hallam was and what he meant to Tennyson. There are also digressions on a few other topics. The In Memoriam stanza is a perfect microcosm of the arc of the poem as a whole: abba: conflict, then resolution. Does that make any sense? I love this section in particular: it's about the inadequacy of words to express grief; and yet at the same time words are the only tool we have. So what can you do? Wrap yourself in words, like weeds. Weeds, as in mourning dress, but also weeds as in the plants that clog an untended garden. Words, too, like narcotics, numbing the pain. And what is this poem, but words? The grief is literally too large to be contained here, but somehow he has to find a way to cram it in, so he knows his project will never work: it's "given outline, and no more". In short, words must fail, yet _must_ succeed. There's a lot of punch packed into these twelve lines. Mark.