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Break, break, break
At the foot of thy crags, O sea !
Will never come back to me."
If local association can thus quicken the pangs of sorrow, there is also a ministry of nature soothing them, a salutary influence working either in sympathy or in consolation, so that the heart takes strength from either the tumult or the tranquillity of earth and sky. These are processes of which it belongs especially to the poet, as moralist and philosopher, to give the exposition. This poem shows the mind in its various moods in unison with the various moods of nature, calm and stormy; but throughout all such changes, the deep, unalterable sorrow is asserted when it is asked
“What words are these have fallen from me?
Can calm despair and wild unrest
Be tenants of a single breast,
Or doth she only seem to take
The touch of change in calm or storm;
But knows no more of transient form
That holds the shadow of a lark
Hung in the shadow of a heaven?”
This action and reaction between nature and the heart, as influenced through the imagination, is shown (to take ad illustration from another poet) in those stanzas of Wordsworth, composed during an evening walk after a stormy day, when the public mind was agitated by the news of the approaching death of a favourite statesman :
“Loud is the vale! the voice is up
With which she speaks when storms are gone,
Loud is the vale; this inland depth
Sad was I, even to pain deprest,
Thus did the tranquillity of the star shining in the peaceful heavens sink down into the human heart.
To return to Mr. Tennyson's volume, let me advert to its truthfulness in another respect. There is a trial to which Christian sorrow is subjected from which, I believe, the heathen heart in ancient times must have been in some measure free. The pagan faith could at best teach only the immortality of the soul, but it made no attractions for the place of repose of the lifeless body; and all the skill and pains bestowed by Egyptian art, or in the Roman sarcophagus, seem be no more than a blind obedience to some natural instincts. But one great truth of the Christian creed, lifting the mind above mere instincts to an assured ground of belief, teaches that the body too shall have its portion in the hereafter. Pagan belief, simpler in its error, could follow, obscurely indeed, the disembodied spirit; while the Christian mind, happier in its truth, is often perplexed between thoughts that travel to the body's home, and thoughts that would fain soar to the spirit's home.
It would, I believe, be asserting not too much to say, that the mind of the author of "In Memoriam” must have passed through a perturbed spiritual condition, passed through it thoughtfully and triumphantly, to give to other minds guidance through the same perplexity. One of the most pitiable conditions to which that perplexity sometimes leads, is the morbid and materialized state of mind which clings in all its thoughts to the visible burial-place. You remember that deplorable example of the Spanish princess, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, the mother of Charles the Fifth, the half-crazed Joanna, and the frenzied infatuation with which she clung for years to the mouldering remains of her husband. It is as one of the morbid moods of a perturbed soul that Shakspeare represents Hamlet questioning the gravedigger's technical knowledge, and handling the skull of Yorick. On the other hand, it was a genuine and wise and dutiful feeling which was expressed by Lady Russel, the widow of him who had died cruelly on the scaffold. “When,” said she, “I have done (my) duty to my best friend, and (to my children,) how gladly would I lie down by that beloved dust I lately went to visit, (that is, the case that holds it.) It is a satisfaction to me you did not disapprove of what I did, as some do, that it seems have heard of it, though I never mentioned it to any beside yourself. I had considered I went not to seek the living among the dead; I knew I should not see him any more wherever I went, and had made a covenant with myself not to break out in unreasonable, fruitless passion, but quicken my contemplation whither the nobler part was filed, to a country afar off, where no earthly power bears
assumption very common in deciding that it is to "a country afar off” that the spirit has departed. As a mode of expressing the sense of separation it is natural, but in other respects it is without authority, and too often tends to a thought of utter annihilation in death. One of the great English divines says, “ Little know we, how little
away soul hath to go to heaven, when it departs from the body; whether it must pass locally through moon, sun, and firmament, (and, if all that must be done, it may be done in less time than I have proposed the doubt in,) or whether that soul find new light in the same room, and be not carried into any other, but that the glory of heaven be diffused over all, I know not, I dispute not, I inquire
It is a belief which imaginative wisdom asserts in poetry, that after the material presence has passed away from sight and hearing, there may be a spiritual presence nearer, closer, and more real. The popular and vulgar belief in the gross fictions of ghosts and phantoms is perhaps an attestation of truth distorted. Southey, in one of his prose works, said that the most entire constancy to the memory of the dead can be found only where there is the union of a strong imagination and a strong heart, and in his ode to the memory of Bishop Heber
“Heber, thou art not dead, thou canst not die !
Nor can I think of thee as lost.
* Donne's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 400.
† It is a pity, it seems to me, that the word “ghosť" has become so perverted and debased from its high and pure spiritual meaning, for in common speech it signifies the fantastic notion of an immaterialism something sensualized, for if impalpable yet visible, too refined for one sense, but gross enough for another, and therefore belonging to sense, and not to spirit. Thus it is that truth first is materialized and adused, and then wholly denied. H. R.
A little portion of this little isle
The same earth held us still; but when,
The breaking of a shell,
The rending of a veil !" And Wordsworth, in one of his elegies, boldly proclaims :
“ Thou takest not away, 0 Death!
Indifference is no more;
That tempts us to adore."
I have apparently stepped aside from my subject in citing these authorities, but the truth they sanction is set forth in this poem in the manifold forms into which the poet's genius has fashioned it, showing how that spiritual presence has been a reality to him, helping him onward in the destiny of life. The manly loyalty of his sorrow never fails him, but, conscious of the wisdom which sorrow brings, he clings to it with gratitude.
The deep mystery that wraps the whole subject of the relation between the living and the dead is in most minds barren of all belief; and, often worse than mere negative unbelief, it boldly denies that which lies much farther beyond the reach of denial than of assertion : that any influence of the spirits of the departed upon the spirits of the living is possible, and so covenant with the dead is boldly broken. One of the most learned and logical theologians among English laymen, in the present century, the late Alexander Knox, said that there was no opinion on which his mind rested with stronger assurance than