Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), is one of the most quoted poets of all time (“Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all,” for instance). He was poet laureate during the reign of Queen Victoria.
In his forties, he published In Memoriam, A.H.H., a tribute to his very dear college friend, Arthur Hallam, who died at 22 from a stroke. He had been working on it for twenty years. It is almost like a journal that expresses his grief, inner development, doubt and subsequent faith. With Arthur he had shared many loves, including his conviction that personal honesty combined with free and open inquiry could arrive at truth. The poem expresses that love.
Today’s poem is an extract near the end of In Memoriam. In it Tennyson exposes those who condemn doubters while suppressing or demonizing their own doubts. He shows, instead, that a mature and balanced faith is not one that has refused agony and wrestling but one that has been through them and grown from the experience. Many follow the easy path of attaching to some superficial, shiny golden calf. Alternatively, he has known the darkness and clouds of Sinai, as today’s Bible reading describes. (source)
You tell me, doubt is Devil-born.
I know not: one indeed I knew
In many a subtle question versed,
who touch’d a jarring lyre at first,
But ever strove to make it true:
Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds,
At last he beat his music out.
There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds.
He fought his doubts and gather’d strength,
He would not make his judgment blind,
He faced the spectres of the mind
And laid them: thus he came at length
To find a stronger faith his own;
And Power was with him in the night,
Which makes the darkness and the light,
And dwells not in the light alone,
But in the darkness and the cloud,
As over Siniai’s peaks of old,
While Israel made their gods of gold,
Altho’ the trumpet blew so loud.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) in Memoriam, A.H.H.