In Memoriam A.H.H. is a famous poem by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, completed in 1849. It is a requiem for the poet's Cambridge friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who died suddenly of a cerebral haemorrage in Vienna in 1833. Because it was written over a period of 17 years, its meditation on the search for hope after great loss touches upon many of the most important and deeply felt concerns of Victorian society. It contains some of Tennyson's most accomplished lyrical work, and is an unusually sustained exercise in lyric verse. It is widely considered to be one of the great poems of the 19th century.
I am not in Tennyson's poetic league, but I will post the following on the subject of the death of a friend. I did not know A.H.H. who died in 1833, nor did I know Norman Mallory, one of this internet site's long-standing members, who died nearly two months ago on 16 March 2013. Many have died by many forms of trauma and disease since my parents were born in that fin de siecle of the 19th century. By some accounts a total of 1000 million since 1890!!! This prose-poem draws on at least two decades of writing pieces of poetic in memoriams.-Ron Price, Australia
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the poet laureate of England, published his famous poem In Memoriam, in June 1850. Tennyson had been working on the poem for 17 years. It is ostensibly a requiem for his friend Arthur Hallam who died suddenly at the age of 22 in 1833. But the poem is much more as poems so often are.
For me, the poem serves as an epic model of the evolution of a poet’s feelings and attitudes over chronological time which flows in tandem with the unfolding of the verse. The feelings and attitudes in the poem In Memoriam are those of Tennyson’s. They shift and develop in relation to human nature, faith, science and eternal life. I have taken this poem of Tennyson’s and given it a personal twist in the direction of my own beliefs and experience. I only draw on Tennyson's epic work specifically on very few occasions. It is on Tennyson's developmental poetic process that I model this prose-poem of mine–Ron Price with thanks to several internet sites on Tennyson and his poetry, 24/12/'07 to 16/5/'13.
Tennyson had a passion for the past, a longing for the days that had gone either the great ages of earlier history or the immediate past of his own life. This poetic nostalgia was at the heart of his poetry, especially his elegies, in his middle age and as he grew into late adulthood and old age. At the heart of his poetry was what Edmund Gosse said of Tennyson on his 80th birthday in 1889: a constancy, an unwearied and unwearying excellence and a greater variety of melodious language than any other man of his time.
When Tennyson died in 1892 an era of poetry also died. I would like to be able to say this about my work but, alas and alack, I can only circle around the great in the hope that something will rub off. For the most part, the process of rubbing off is mysterious and unquantifiable. If Harold Bloom is right in his view that poets are hindered in their creative process by the ambiguous relationship they necessarily maintain with precursor poets, then there is the influence of extra-literary experience on every poet.
Bloom argues that "the poet in a poet" is inspired to write by reading another poet's poetry and will tend to produce work that is derivative of existing poetry, and, therefore, weak. Because poets must forge an original poetic vision in order to guarantee their survival into posterity, that is, to guarantee that future readers will not allow them to be forgotten, the influence of precursor poets inspires a sense of anxiety in living poets. -Ron Price with thanks to The Poetry Foundation Online, 23 December 2007 and "Harold Bloom" at Wikipedia.
So long ago and when so young
there began a sojourn not conceived
by my youthful brain that played
with sport and childhood gain.
It knocked at door with hot soup
and rose-hip tea and took me to
lounge rooms across the town where
life had found all there was back then.
My life first heard of birds that flew
and died in Akka long ago and men
as well who died for youthful cause,
a Cause I scarce had dreamed of then.
I knew not what the tragic meant as
post-war years tried to forget what
could not be forgot and underwent
a change much more profound in so
short a time, shorter I mused than
any in history’s long expanse of time.
They and I little understood how frail
was whatever confidence we had, then.
Serious thinking had so many forms and
analysis its degrees of force with some
convulsive craving to be busy, distracted,
then & now, with the triumph of sensation
and the inability to sit quietly in one’s room.
My life was just beginning its battle of ideas
in a personal and public sphere where it was
individuals made history modestly: parts in one
great play with limits set for all aspirations in a
frame; and that plea for moderation in all our
efforts for change was finally being learned in
one long elaborate pageant with rank on rank,
generation on generation, succeeding each
other in this contingent and complex world.
They knew that they would and could move
the world with that instrument, lever, device
they had inherited from those two-God-men
of recent times and I knew, too, and so filled
the great vessel of this story with everything
that memory and style could save from wrecks
of my age, the destruction and recreation of its
hopes for change and its desperation to believe
that some fortuitous conjunction of events and
plans could and would prevail in our time.
I felt my book to be a long symphonic exercise
in recollection in a chair placed to the side,
but not raised high above the rushing waters
in which I tried to knit my world’s multiple
threads and history’s plot into a single pattern
with its central images of departure and voyage,
crisis and shipwreck, grace and unfoldment. Yes,
history was being made as decisions piled high
with contingencies and vortices of relative truths
where dissent was a moral and intellectual
contradiction to those who would be unifiers of
humankind, all of humankind on this earthly plane.
There was a new vitality and originality emerging
slowly, providing context for the discussion of
fundamental questions, solid thinking, helpful
perspectives, a new kind of social criticism based
on a refined standard of public discussion,
an etiquette of expression and that moderation.
No single formula could accurately describe
the multiple changes and colours of my thought
as it evolved in those towns in southern Ontario,
on Baffin Island’s Arctic-white, in Australia’s scrub
and semi-desert, vast savanna, mallee and down
to old Van Diemen’s Land where it would end, or so
it seemed, as I gazed out from my 69 year-old eyes.
I did indeed hold the truth of Him Who sings
with one clear harp in diverse tones that men
might rise on stepping stones of their dead selves
to higher things. I had come to forecast these years
and find in loss a gain to match and reach my hand
thro’ time to catch the far-off interest of many tears.
Love and grief renewed themselves under these
cool metallic stars, sprang up intractably like
some pesky weeds which, trampled on,
yielded their heads but not their roots
which fed insatiably in my heart’s thin soil
and made their season in my fevered dreams
from which I awoke so often with astute
voracious tendrils at my throat and trembling
palms gummy with mould and so many bits of
knowledge, experience, traces of a traceless past.
Love did not die, nor was hope blighted.
The frail harvest of my desire did not fail
before my mind’s accusing noon-bright stare,
nor wither under reason’s chastening ice.
Neglect it seemed, surprisingly fostered
and dismayed, fertilized its thrusting growth.
Yes, it thrived in the desert of my life even
where that resolute verbena unarrestably
insinuated itself through the socket of
despair’s bleached skull and its fierce
festoons, with their green and wiley,
their richly coloured, succulence--astonished
me with its ravishing vines that climbed all
over the walls of my mystic Ivy League Life.
And new dreams emerged with that symbol
quintessential of my Western civilization
restored in Greece, but rebuilt with new
unprecedented zeal to capture timeless
grandeur, meticulous analysis and theory,
with vigorous efforts to combine rational
clarity, elegance and homage to the divine
in a mythic order in marbled-form, a serenity,
calm, a magnificent faith, but this time utterly
explainable within and without the traditions
of academic discourse and a new centre of a
perceptual universe, a single symbol of a world
culture that has been emerging, some would argue,
since homo sapiens sapiens walked around the earth.
Yes, the dominant principle of this cycle: the political
and religious unification of the planet for the welfare
of its billions of citizenry—the world is but one country
and humankind its citizens, so goes the litany without
which the earth will not survive. For without symbolic
norms and without many of the innate mechanisms of
inhibitory instinct we would devour and kill each other
with greater efficiency than other mammalians----but
biology is not our destiny and training and education can
transform us into something a little lower than the angels.
This idea sensibly and insensibly came to occupy the centre
of my ethos in the decades during which I grew from child
to manhood, young to middle to late adulthood, decade
after decade, epoch after epoch as billions died as millions
had done before in wars to end all wars, or so the story went.
And still the everyday, quotidian, went on,
old orthodoxies played the game as if shibboleths
could suffice in this new world for which new
vocabularies had found their place—the essential
revolution advanced quietly, hurriedly and unhurriedly,
noticed by a few but hidden along the edges
of society like that great force of Christ had
grown two millennia ago in a world, like ours,
where millions had dropped out spiritually from
a public sphere they found meaningless.
The roots of faith, without which no society
can long endure, had been severed-with them
a deafening withdrawal, a continuing process
of social breakdown, the discordant elements
repelling each other into noisy decomposition.
I watched all this from my place in classrooms
across two continents, in lounge rooms and
kitchens where I talked more talk and walked
more walk to realize some nucleus, some new
pattern, that had been slowly building for a
century or more to build a society fit for people
to live in—for I knew, as millions were coming
to know, that something called humanity was
being born and that it was no longer a private
preserve for a few, a leisured class. To work,
to produce, a world civilization that would in
turn react on the character of the individual;
to produce a just society whose purpose is unity,
a dream we’ve had as far back as Plato’s Republic.
Little did I know, then, in those earliest years, that
mine was a quest for community and authority--with
enough of Aristotle to protect us from Plato's terror.
You might even call my search for a peculiar, gentler
form of political mysticism or messianism. During all
these decades of work, of jobs, marriages, relationships--
it is hard to overlook the fact that State-politics have
become suffused by qualities formerly inherent only
in the family or the church. Where there is widespread
conviction that community has been lost, there will be
a conscious quest for community and association that
seems to promise the greatest moral refuge, security—
and a withdrawal into privacies new community concept.
They came to America long ago and regarded their
New World as the “City Upon the Hill” –one of the
most important themes in American discourse.
Centuries later ideologies which gained entry into
the academy in my embryonic sixties claimed that
the fundamental intellectual principles of Western
culture were illegitimate and must be overthrown.
Terms like truth, good, evil, and soul could be
discarded—so it was said--so it seemed back then.
We cannot know where we are, much less
where we are going, until we know where
we have been. This seemed so very difficult
to find out. The inherent and absolute incompatibility
between liberty and equality—for equality is a chimera—
was also difficult to understand. If all human beings
in a population either are declared equal in their native
strengths and rights, or else are persuaded to believe
this, then the eventual realization of the hard truth of
the matter that no amount of redistribution of wealth
and status can ever obliterate inequality in one form
or another must often take the form of covetousness
mixed with resentment: that is envy.
The only remedy for the poisons created by
egalitarianism in a society is emphatically not
ever-greater dosages of political redistribution
of wealth and status, for such dosages worsen
the disease, producing fevers of avarice and envy.
No, the sole remedy for this pathology is the
introduction and diffusion of individual liberty
as a sovereign value—but with certain limits.
The principle beneficiary of the universal, global,
state, coming insensibly into existence, was the
new universal church—which I, without the least
effort had come to believe in as far back as my
teens in those halcyon 1950s. This new Cause
was prospering, right and left, unobtrusively,
obscurely, not as much as its votaries liked
during all these years of my life, these epochs:
combining the virtues of classical civilization
and those of a truly spiritual sensibility. But,
let me say no more for this poem’s first phase.
I will return to this chronological development
as more die in my family, the vast human family.
28/12/'07 to 16/5/'13
Updated for Studio8
Honoring Norman Mallory (Zlatko Waterman) RIP 3/26/13
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