Review of the Literature
In researching In Memoriam, I have not found any scholars who correlated the work of In Memoriam and the stages of loss. I have found the poem divided into stages before, even stages delineating a chronology that the poet himself goes through. A. C. Bradley’s work specifically relates how Tennyson’s grief works into triumph. However, no scholar has ever linked the text specifically to Kubler-Ross’ work. No scholar has ever compared the work to see if it fits the all too human stages listed by Kubler-Ross over one hundred years after In Memoriam’s publication.
I have actually found one recently published work that compares Kubler-Ross’ stages of loss to a fictional character. Olivia McNeely Pass only recently applied the stages of loss to Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved. In the essay, she convincingly argues how the experiences of the character Sethe comprise the acceptance of her daughter’s death (Pass 117). However, this is a completely fictional work and not the autobiographical piece that is In Memoriam.
Comparing In Memoriam to the classic elegy structure, Robert Bernard Hass notes that “it does share the elegy’s overall movement from lamentation to consolation” (Hass 669). Indeed, this points the way for further research to analyze the stages in In Memoriam to the stages of loss. Platizky comments that In Memoriam is “the most influential and consolatory British elegy of the nineteenth century,” (346) which respectfully allows it to write its own rules. Politely, Platizky remarks that the elegy “mutates over time” (353). This suggests that while In Memoriam is of the elegiac structure, the form is not perfectly prearranged.
The essay by Tennyson’s son opens many insights into the work. Quoting the author himself, “’It was meant to be a kind of Divina Comedia, ending with happiness’” (Tennyson, Hallam 105). This echoes one of the major literary works of all time that moves from hell, which many people can say would be depressing and angry, to a sort of heaven of acceptance. Tennyson did mean them to be one fluid work.
‘I did not write them with any view of weaving them into a whole, or for publication, until I found that I had written so many. The different moods of sorrow as in a drama are dramatically given, and my conviction that fear, doubts, and suffering will find answer and relief only through Faith in a God of Love. “I” is not always the author speaking of himself, but the voice of the human race speaking thro’ him. After the Death of A.H.H., the divisions of the poem are made by First Xmas Eve (Section XXVIII.), Second Xmas (LXXVIII.), Third Xmas Eve (CIV. and CV. etc.).’ (Tennyson, Hallam 106).
It is my conviction that had Tennyson known of these stages, or if the eras had coincided, or if Tennyson had come after Kubler-Ross, what have you, Tennyson would have definitely worked with these stages as he indeed have a plan to be “the voice of the human race” in divisions that he himself saw in the poem. He knew the “different moods” were present in the poem.
Fellow poet T.S. Eliot also wrote an essay about In Memoriam. In it, he saw that individual poems could not simply be picked out of the work and that it must remain as a whole. “And the poem has to be comprehended as a whole. We may not memorize a few passages, we cannot find a ‘fair sample’; we have to comprehend the whole of a poem which is essentially the length that it is” (Eliot 135).
Another scholar, Basil Willey, also expanded upon how Tennyson’s words are universal and thus should speak for all of Kubler-Ross’ work.
The problems confronted in In Memoriam, though forced upon Tennyson by personal experience and by the spirit of his age, are neither local nor ephemeral; they are universal, in that they are those which are apt to beset a sensitive and meditative mind in any age. Has man an immortal soul? Is there any meaning in life? any purpose or design in the world-process? any evidence in Nature, in philosophy or in the human heart, for a beneficent Providence? These issues are dealt with by Tennyson, not in the manner of a thinker—whether philosopher, theologian or scientist—but in the manner of a well-informed modern poet (Willey 146).
If Tennyson speaks for any age, he can also speak for future ages. This also lends itself to understanding that Tennyson was a “well-informed” individual. If other scholars write on Tennyson’s use of modern geological thinking, as well as other disciplines, it is not hard to think that Tennyson would use psychological principles to broaden his work for the whole human race. In this way, In Memoriam is the archetype for a universal grieving process not only in literature but in humanity. Because of the differences in era between Tennyson and Kubler-Ross, In Memoriam transcends the boundary of time, culture, and geography about humanity’s very real grieving process. The similarities between Tennyson’s work and the stages of grieving of Kubler-Ross are impossible to ignore.