‘Dark house, by which once more I stand’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson is the seventh part of the long poem ‘In Memoriam A.H.H.’ It was finished by Tennyson in 1849 and details his reaction to the sudden death of a close friend. Today it is considered to be one of the greatest poems of the 19th century. Before it was published, the working title was ‘The Way of the Soul.’ Tennyson’s lengthy poem is divided into smaller sections. This particular section its the seventh canto of 131. The full poem also includes a prologue and epilogue
The text is structured in sets of four lines or quatrains. They follow a constant rhyme scheme of ABBA. Tennyson also chose to use iambic tetrameter to further craft these lines. This means that each line contains four sets of two beats. The first of these is unstressed and the second stressed. Due to the popularity of the entire piece, this type of stanza is now known as a Memoriam Stanza.
Summary of Dark house, by which once more I stand
The poem begins with the speaker describing standing in front of the house of Arthur Hallam, the deceased friend for whom ‘In Memoriam” was written. Tennyson, who is usually considered to be the speaker, is looking across the lawn at the house. It’s dark inside. The experiences he used to have there are long since gone. They passed on alongside his friend.
The speaker explains that he only ended up there because he couldn’t sleep. It’s very early morning and the sun is about to rise. Rather than adding a bit of light or hope to the scene, things only get worse. It begins to rain and the speaker has to resign himself to the fact that the house is not going to provide him with the solace it was previously imbued with.
Analysis of Dark house, by which once more I stand
Dark house, by which once more I stand
Here in the long unlovely street,
Doors, where my heart was used to beat
So quickly, waiting for a hand,
In the first stanza of ‘Dark house, by which once more I stand,’the speaker, who is commonly assumed to be Tennyson himself is alone outside a house. It is “Dark” there due to the fact that the sun is yet to rise and that there is no longer anyone living inside it. The house, as will be made clear later on, is meant to belong to Tennyson’s deceased friend, Arthur Hallam, about whom this entire poem was composed.
At this particular moment, Tennyson is outside the house, standing on the street looking across the yard. From where he is, there is not much to see aside from darkness. He has “once more” come to this house. It was a place he used to frequent, presumably before his friend’s death.
He refers to the street as “unlovely.” This raises a general question about what Tennyson is comparing the street to. Is there something about this scene that he thinks should be lovely? Or, by calling the street “unlovely” is he seeking to draw attention to the general dilapidation, in his mind, of what the place used to be? Either way, now that this person is dead, things have changed.
The third line begins with the word “Doors.” Tennyson is examining the doors of the house, as well as the doors within his own being. These were places he used to enter in order to find companionship and love. They’re now shut physically, and this poem as it works through his layers of grief, is seeking to close them emotionally.
When the speaker used to come to this house his heart would speed up with excitement. His hands would reach out, knowing that Hallam would be there to support him. Now though, the waiting goes on and on. This stanza ends with the phrase, “waiting for a hand.” The line break forces a blank space between line four and the first line of stanza two. This symbolizes the void that his opened up in the speaker’s mind. It is also like a question and a time to probe for a response.
A hand that can be clasp’d no more—
Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
And like a guilty thing I creep
At earliest morning to the door.
In the second stanza the speaker confirms that when he waits for his friend’s presence, he waits in vain. There is no longer a “hand” for him to clasp.” It, and the emotional stability it represented, has gone away.
The speaker reveals to the reader that he is in a very poor state emotionally and physically. He hasn’t been able to sleep and in his desperation went to his friend’s old home. The dark house loomed up in front of him and he crept up to the door. The use of the word “creep” in this stanza shows how Tennyson felt about himself. He saw himself as intruding on something that was no longer his. He was made to sneak, like a small, terrified animal, in an area that used to bring him great joy.
It is in the earliest morning that he makes it to the house and the door. This means that soon the darkness is going to lift and light will, at least to an extent, illuminate the “Dark house.”
He is not here; but far away
The noise of life begins again,
And ghastly thro’ the drizzling rain
On the bald street breaks the blank day.
In the final lines of ‘Dark house, by which once more I stand,’ the hope that might have arisen within a listener after the reference to dawn, is crushed. It seems that the speaker was experiencing something similar, and again the white space provides something of a cliffhanger. He sought out this house in order to experience the loves and joys of friendship again, but when he got there, the friend was not there. Nothing has changed. Hallam is still dead and Tennyson is still alone.
Still though, everything (for a moment) does not seem to be dead and gone. There is “far away” a bit of life. He hears a “noise.” It represents the beginning of day which dawns no matter how he spent the night, who died, or what state the house is in. Rather than warming the scene, the day brings with it “drizzling rain.” The day is “blank” with nothing hope-like to offer the speaker. It seems at this point that he has nowhere to turn.