A Student Response to In Memoriam

The image of the Yew tree first appears in Section Two of Tennyson’s In Memoriam. The introduction of the yew tree is followed with a footnote, claiming that yew trees are “often found in British graveyards.” The footnote serves to reveal the purpose of Tennyson’s decision to specify the type of tree. Simply writing it as a normal tree would have no connection to the graveyard, and no connection to the grief that Tennyson is experiencing. In the final two lines of the stanza, Tennyson writes, “Thy fibres net the dreamless head, / Thy roots are wrapt about the bones.” This is fascinating to me because Tennyson is writing about the process of decay, and what his friend has been reduced to. In the early stages of the poem, Tennyson reveals the major theme of the strained relationship between knowledge and faith. In Section Two, Tennyson has anxieties regarding the Yew tree because he has knowledge of the Yew’s roots growing around the bones of his dead friend.

The remainder of the poem depicts Tennyson’s anxieties regarding the longevity of the tree in comparison to the lives of people. Tennyson struggles to cope with the fact that nature is everlasting while human life is so temporary. This becomes even more thought provoking when considering the new developments in scientific thought during the time period. In the final line, “And grow incorporate into thee,” Tennyson is claiming his desire to be one with the Yew tree (and one with nature as well). While there are many possible implications in this line, it is apparent that Tennyson seems reflects his own grief through the symbol of the Yew tree; however, the Yew tree could also represent Tennyson’s longing for longevity.

By the end of this early section in the poem, the Yew tree, as a symbol, becomes ambiguous because Tennyson forces the question: is the Yew tree a negative symbol for nature? The yew tree is a representation of Tennyson’s anxieties regarding the realities of existence and his lack of faith; however, through his thoughts on nature and faith, Tennyson comes to terms with the death of his friend and reaches consolation.

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