Co-Existent Opposites

I really enjoyed reading the excerpts from Tennyson’s In Memoriam A. H. H. I especially liked how Tennyson played with opposites, especially Love and Grief, and sometimes even described them as co-existent. One example of this being his first poem in this sequence, in which Tennyson writes, “Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drown’d,” (l. 9). While mourning the loss of Arthur, Tennyson couples these two concepts together, stating they need each other to stay afloat in this case. Overall this explains that Love cannot exist without Grief and vice versa. Although Tennyson doesn’t mention this relationship between love and grief as explicitly in the remainder of his poems, he continues to hint at the connections between opposing emotions. In the twenty-seventh poem Tennyson writes, “’Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all” (l. 15-16). This time Tennyson pairs love, a wonderful feeling, with loss, a not so wonderful feeling. While these concepts may seem like total opposites, Tennyson writes as if you can’t have one without the other. Furthermore, Tennyson states that it’s better to experience these emotions together than never experience either, further closing the gap between the two.

Tennyson continues to examine “opposites” in his twenty-fourth poem. In this case Tennyson pairs grief with gladness and low with relief: “And is it that the haze of grief / Makes former gladness loom so great? / The lowness of the present state, / That sets the past in this relief?” (l. 9-12). Starting with grief and gladness, Tennyson establishes this idea that grief illuminates memories of former happiness in trying times. Likewise, feeling “low” makes the speaker realize the relief he felt in the past. Here Tennyson is relying on the stark differences between these emotions to show how much he longs for the past when Arthur was still with him. Tennyson returns to the opposing but co-existent concepts of love and grief in the thirteenth poem. Here Tennyson writes, “Which weep a loss for ever new / A void where heart on heart reposed,” (l. 5-6) and “Which weep the comrade of my choice, / An awful thought, a life removed, / The human-hearted man I loved,” (l. 9-11). In both of these parts Tennyson discusses the grief that follows loss. In doing so he emphasizes that grief in a way stems from love because it is the loss of a loved one that causes this pain.

3 thoughts on “Co-Existent Opposites”

  1. You have made some great observations about Tennyson’s understanding of love and grief. It reminds me of Christina Rossetti juxtaposing remembering and forgetting alongside sadness and happiness in her poem “Remember.” The final couplet reads “Better by far you should forget and smile / Than that you should remember and be sad.” Like Tennyson, in reference to losing a loved one, Rossetti acknowledges that with love, grief is inevitable. However, where Tennyson asserts that the love is worth the grief, Rossetti seems to believe that ignorance is bliss, and becoming happy is worth forgetting someone you loved.

  2. One thing that seems like it could really add to this reading is the lens of the double poem. The connection you draw between grief and love in this sequence is very convincing, and I wonder if you could find more examples of it by looking for moments where love or grief are alone, but take on a double meaning by their subtextual connection. Are there moments where Tennyson is talking about grief that can be given double meaning when love is substituted and vice versa?

    1. also, check out curbs post “Rewriting a Narrative: Christina Rossetti and the Female Poetic Voice” that starts off talking about how male sonnet’s contrast two different feelings. Might be an interesting connection to your arguments here.

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