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JOHND. BOYD The Principle of Analogy and the Immortality Question in Tennyson's In Memoriam Since metaphor and simile are special kinds of analogies, there is a sense in which all poetry, at its very roots, exemplifies analogical thinking. Beyond this, however, some poets show a special predisposition toward the imaginative exploration of analogies. Tennyson is one of these. Speaking in the context of intellectual history, one might remark that Tennyson's mind, while thoroughly absorbing the dominant nineteenth -century paradigm of Reality-as-Process, also seems to have retained the analogical way of apprehending truth so characteristic of the Medieval, Renaissance, and Enlightenment outlooks. All of Tennyson's more philosophical poems reveal the importance which analogy had in his serious speCUlative efforts,1 and In Memoriam, his masterpieee in this class of poetry, is particularly saturated with the analogical mode of thinking and feeling. I should like to suggest some of the disparate levels of the poem at which the principle of analogy is vital. The clearest evidence, perhaps, is to be found in those relatively rare portions of the poem in which the speaker's musings may be called argument in the narrow sense; in which abstractions, logical inferences, and even approaches to formal syllogism appear. Such argument constitutes no more than about twenty of the 132 sections, less than a sixth of the whole. For that reason it is easy to isolate the passages in question from their lyrical or dramatic context, and to examine their methods of operation. A convenient example is sections XL to XLVII, where the speaker tries to discover what basis there might be for believing that his dead friend remembers him (a condition presumably necessary if present communication is to occur). These poems are built upon examination of a series of analogies: the speaker considers various familiar natural conditions which one might suppose analogous to the state of the soul after death, and various earthly relationships (family to new bride, low-born maiden to admired man of higher class, man to his horse, etc.) which might be analogous to the relationship between a living and a deceased friend. One feels tempted to say that Tennyson's formal arguments, of which these poems are typical, always involve a strenuous effort of the speaker UTQ, Volume XLV, Number 2, Winter 1976 124 JOHN D. BOYD to believe in certain constructive analogies, to take his own metaphors literally. The often quoted conclusion to section CXXIV (sometimes misleadingly regarded as the only real argument in the work)2 is another instructive example: And like a man in wrath the heart Stood up and answer'd, "I have felt." No, like a child in doubt and fear; But that blind clamour made me wise; Then was I as a child that cries, But, crying, knows his father near... 20 These lines are typically Tennysonian, in that what may at first appear to be mere illustrative analogy turns out to be the very crux of an important argument toward a desired conclusion. Line 17 suggests that the speaker is being admirably cautious, not wishing to claim too much for his heart's urgent promptings. But what looks at first like caution instantly becomes a quiet, more oblique boldness: as soon as the speaker can feel himself a clamouring child, further details of that convenient analogy compel the very assurance he needs. A crying child implies a comforting father, and so a modest (and on Tennyson's part, perhaps unconscious) sleight-of-hand with the use ofanalogy- in this case, in the form of simile - leads on to the most assured victory over the cosmic Angst with which the speaker had begun this line of thought. The victory is expressed thus: And what I am beheld again What is, and no man understands; And out of darkness came the hands That reach thro' nature, moulding men. The same process, through-obstacles-to-reassurance-by-casual-analogy , can be seen at many points where feelingful meditation (the predominant mode of In Memoriam) gives way to declamation or to argument in the strictest sense. A more muted instance occurs in section LIV: 0, yet we trust that somehow good Will be...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 123-138
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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