Famously, Tennyson wrote this poem to honor his friend from Cambridge, Arthur Henry Hallam, who died of a cerebral hemorrhage when they both were very young. The poem was published in 1850 and is nearly 100 pages long.
It was written over a period of 17 years, between 1833 and 1850, and published anonymously. It’s original, far longer, title was “IN MEMORIAM A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII.”
This poem form has since been used to express grief and sadness at the loss of a loved one. In Tennyson’s version, the poet speaks directly to his friend, reflecting on the pain of losing them and emphasizing how deeply he misses him. His use of iambic tetrameter gives his words a musicality that expresses this sorrow with poignancy and grace.
Explore In Memoriam Stanza
Memoriam Stanza Definition
In memoriam stanza is a specific poetic form of a quatrain in ABBA rhyme scheme in iambic tetrameter. It is most commonly associated with its namesake, the long poem ‘In Memorial A.H.H.’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
The form became so popular and so representative of Tennyson’s style that other poets, since its publication in 1850, have utilized the form and their own works. Today, any stanza written with a rhyme scheme of ABBA and a metrical pattern of iambic tetrameter is regarded as an “In Memoriam” stanza.
Elements of an In Memoriam Stanza
The “In Memoriam” stanza follows the few specific fundamental features that help it stand out among other stanza forms. A poem that uses “In Memoriam” stanzas should be divided into quatrains or sets of four lines.
Each of these four-line stanzas should use a rhyme scheme of ABBA and a metrical pattern of iambic tetrameter. This means that each line should contain four sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed.
Like most poetic forms, it is still possible to write a poem in “In Memoriam” stanzas and diverge from the pattern at times. Even in his original poem, Tennyson did not use iambic tetramer perfectly throughout every one of his 2,916 lines.
Depending on the reader and their specific preferences, some people find Tennyson’s use of iambic tetrameter for nearly 3,000 lines monotonous while others have described it as natural sounding and as evoking feelings of grief.
Some of the best-known lines of the poem read:
’Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
Examples of In Memoriam Stanzas
The best examples of In Memoriam stanzas come from the form’s namesake, ‘In Memoriam A.H.H.’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Here are stanzas one and two of ‘In Memoriam A.H.H.’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove;
Thine are these orbs of light and shade;
Thou madest Life in man and brute;
Thou madest Death; and lo, thy foot
Is on the skull which thou hast made.
The first stanza uses the rhyming end words “love” and “prove” and “face” and “embrace.” This first stanza is an ideal example of how within structured poetic forms, poets may diverge from perfect rhyme schemes and perfect end rhymes in order to use half or partial rhymes. The words “love” and “prove” are a perfect example of a half-rhyme.
The second stanza has another example of a half-rhyme with “brute” and “foot.” The two words are not perfect rhymes, as “shade” and “made” are.
Read more Alfred Lord Tennyson poems.
Why is the “In Memoriam” Stanza Important?
Other poets have adopted the “In Memoriam” stanza in their own works, often making use of the unique meter to evoke strong emotions. The powerful rhythm of the iambic tetrameter emphasizes the despair and longing that come with loss and thus makes it a popular choice for elegies.
By using this particular stanza, poets are able to create a sense of solemnity and respect that is befitting of honoring someone who has passed away.
The “In Memoriam” stanza is an important form of poetry because it provides an effective means for expressing grief. Through its (mostly) strict meter and four-line structure, poets are able to convey the depths of emotion that come with losing a loved one. Its popularity in elegiac poetry has made it an integral part of the literary tradition, allowing us to remember and mourn those that have been lost.
‘In Memoriam’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson is a very famous elegy. This means that it was written in honor of someone who has passed away, in this case, a close friend of Tennyson’s whom he met at university.
An ‘In Memoriam’ stanza is a four-line stanza, or quatrain, that uses a rhyme scheme of ABBA. This pattern repeats over and over again, with different end words, while the poet also uses iambic tetrameter to structure the lines.
‘In Memoriam’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson is a poem of grief. It is a lengthy poem that explores the cruelty of the natural world and how painful loss can be.
Related Literary Terms
- Elegy: a poem or song that is written in dedication to someone who has died.
- Dirge: a song or poem composed after someone’s death. These songs are usually shorter and more concise than elegies.
- Ballad: a kind of verse, sometimes narrative in nature, often set to music and developed from 14th and 15th-century minstrelsy.
- Canto: a subsection of a long narrative or epic poem. It is made up of at least five lines but it is normally much longer.
- Closed Form: refers to poems that use a closed, specific structure or pattern. This includes poems written in the form of a sonnet, villanelle, haiku, limerick, and more.