In Memoriam Stanza CI
Unwatch'd, the garden bough shall sway, The tender blossom flutter down, Unloved, that beech will gather brown, This maple burn itself away; Unloved, the sun-flower, shining fair, Ray round with flames her disk of seed, And many a rose-carnation feed With summer spice the humming air; Unloved, by many a sandy bar, The brook shall babble down the plain, At noon or when the lesser wain Is twisting round the polar star; Uncared for, gird the windy grove, And flood the haunts of hern and crake; Or into silver arrows break The sailing moon in creek and cove; Till from the garden and the wild A fresh association blow, And year by year the landscape grow Familiar to the stranger's child; As year by year the labourer tills His wonted glebe, or lops the glades; And year by year our memory fades From all the circle of the hills."
(from In Memoriam by Alfred Lord Tennyson.)
After Tennyson lost a dear friend of his youth, Arthur Henry Hallam, he worked through his grief in his epic poem, ‘In Memoriam, AHH, which took some 17 years to complete. Here he reflects upon mortality, and how the time will come when no-one remembers us, and others will be at home in what was once home to us. Does this melancholy stanza express despair or acceptance of mortality? To have been composing this epic for 17 years suggests that Tennyson’s love for his friend did not fade away, though it will have changed.
The loss of a friend’s love affects how the poet sees the landscape as unloved, uncared for: but others can love it into freshness. Perhaps there are neglected plots near you, in town or country, that would benefit from a little love, a few poppies or sunflowers.
During the Great War, British POWs grew sunflowers for decoration, passing the seeds to their Russian counterparts who regarded them as a delicacy. *
- The beech trees’ leaves turn brown in Autumn, the maples’ become red and yellow
- Lesser wain, or lesser bear, Ursa Minor, the constellation that includes Polaris, the Pole Star, which appears constant in the Northern sky.
- Hern is the heron, crake is the corncrake, a bird that nests in cornfields.
- A glebe is a parcel of land, usually allotted to the village priest.
- * Where Poppies Blow, John Lewis-Stempel, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016, p225.