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Tennyson, Alfred Lord (1809-1892)  
 
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Such physicality gives the poem a consistently romantic, if not always sexual, texture, as Tennyson imagines "falling on [Hallam's] faithful heart" and "breathing thro' his lips" to revive the dying man (XVIII 14-15). But ending this first section is a note of hope, for Tennyson makes the now famous claim that "'Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all" (XXVII 15-16).

Moving slowly through despair and doubt, Tennyson states mournfully that "I shall be thy mate no more" (XLI 20), as he constantly battles depression and feelings of hopelessness. But Tennyson repeatedly proclaims that his love will endure, and making reference to Shakespeare's homoerotic sonnets, implies that his poem will itself immortalize his friend (LXI 9-12).

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Throughout, Tennyson indicates that he and Hallam are linked forever, as he refers to the two as "a single soul" (LXXXIV 44). But the sense of physical loss takes years to diminish, as Tennyson cries long after Hallam's death "Descend, and touch, and enter; here / The wish too strong for words to name, / That in this blindness of the frame / My Ghost may feel that thine is near" (XCIII 13-16).

Something of a supernatural reunion does take place as Tennyson finds some comfort in two of Hallam's remaining letters, "So word by word, and line by line, / The dead man touch'd me from the past, / And all at once it seem'd at last / His living soul was flash'd on mine, / And mine in his was wound" (XCV 33-37).

This section comes closest to an expression of something approaching sexual contact, and Tennyson revised it in 1878 to read "The living soul . . ." and "mine in this . . ." reacting perhaps to a new consciousness near the end of the century concerning the implications of physical contact between men and the seemingly erotic content of the original description.

In any case, the poem thereafter moves toward its close, as if the quasi-physical reunion was enough to assure Tennyson that he and his friend would reunite after death: "Dear friend, far off, my lost desire, / So far, so near in woe and weal, / O loved the most, when most I feel / There is a lower and a higher; / Known and unknown, human, divine; / Sweet human hand and lips and eye; / Dear heavenly friend that canst not die, / Mine, mine for ever, ever mine" (CXXIX 1-8).

As Tennyson watches the marriage of his sister at the end of the poem, he imagines "A stiller guest, / Perchance, perchance, among the rest, / And, tho' in silence, wishing joy" (Epilogue 86-88).

In the course of the elegy, Tennyson has moved through stages of denial, anger, and acceptance, as he comes to view the world again with hope, infused with the memories of his beloved comrade and full of expectation of a tender reunion.

That he and Hallam probably never had sexual contact is practically irrelevant given the profound beauty of the emotions expressed in the poem and the enduring power of Tennyson's recovery of joy after long despair.

Tennyson's Self-Consciousness Late in Life

The changes that Tennyson made in the preceding lines, ones that work to erase some of the most obvious sexual energy in the poem, augered yet another indication that late in his life and late in the century, Tennyson felt a degree of self-consciousness about his early effusions over androgyny and male-male emotional attachment.

In 1889, just three years before his death, Tennyson wrote the short poem "On One Who Affected an Effeminate Manner": "While man and woman still are incomplete, / I prize that soul where man and woman meet, / Which types all Nature's male and female plan / But, friend, man-woman is not woman-man." This epigram condemns "effeminate" men for inverting the "natural" gender order and placing "feminine" or "womanly" characteristics above "masculine," "manly" ones.

Such condemnation of inversion no doubt relates to the late nineteenth-century medical denunciation of sexual and gender nonconformity as unnatural and indicative of a stunted or warped "identity." Tennyson's own son Hallam (named after Tennyson's beloved, of course) seemed particularly uncomfortable with the homoeroticism of some of his father's poetry and as an adult expended considerable anxious energy on refuting any "perverse" readings of In Memoriam and earlier works.

The Absence of Lesbianism in Tennyson's Poetry

Given Tennyson's own clear interest in specifically male experience and emotional attachment (though he did write many poems about beautiful, ethereal women), it is not surprising that there is little to be found in his poetry that relates to lesbian desire or romantic attachments between women.

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