Essay Assignments on In Memoriam

For their first papers, students were required to write about In Memoriam and to use the material in The In Memoriam Web in some way. Equal numbers chose options 1 and 2; only one student selected option 3 (and wrote a very fine paper). Students had more difficulty in constructing an overarching argument than in characterizing the individual appearance of an image or an individual section of the poem, but all showed considerable sensitivity to and appreciation of the details of the poem's language and structure. I teach In Memoriam regularly in several different classes, but this class was much more engaged with the poem--especially the emotional power with which it depicts grief and mourning--than any group I have ever worked with. Whether the use of hypertext played any role in that engagement is difficult to say, but the striking difference in the level of response suggests that it may.

Write on ONE of the following topics. If you would like to write on something else, please consult with me first.

1. Writing in The In Memoriam Web, George P. Landow notes that Tennyson's imagery in In Memoriam serves as one of the poem's organizing devices. "In isolation," Landow writes, "most images, like most of the sections in which they appear, seem fairly simple and straightfoward, but their participation in a network of repeated and often contrasted images makes almost every one of them resonate with additional meaning and complexity." The "Imagery" writing space in the Web contains many different images from the poem, with lists of all the places in the poem where each appears. Explore this material, choose one image, and write a paper on how that image functions in the poem, what purposes it serves, both in individual sections and in the poem as a whole. (Note: your finished paper should not simply move from section to section, "in section x this image does this, in section y it does that." You need to step back and look at the big picture, construct a thesis about your image's use, and structure your argument accordingly.)

2. Go to the "Literary Techniques" writing space in The In Memoriam Web and then open the text space "IM Structures." This text space explains some of the various ways in which the structure of the poem can be conceptualized. One of these structures is what ALT called the "nine natural groupings" of the poem's sections. Write an essay that explains what effects reading the poem in this way has: what is each grouping's main idea or theme? what do these groupings, taken as a whole, reveal about the poem's overall structure and meaning? what sections, themes, ideas, etc. does this structure emphasize? The same caution offered in the previous topic applies here as well.

3. We briefly discussed In Memoriam's place as a pastoral elegy. As Landow notes in the "Style and Genre in IM" text space (contained within the "Literary Techniques" writing space), ALT both follows and violates the elegaic tradition. Write a paper comparing ALT's use of that tradition here to Milton's use of it in "Lycidas," with specific attention to how ALT is using or departing from Milton. (You might want to check ALT biographies or letters to see what he thought of Milton during the period of IM's composition, whether he said anything specifically about "Lycidas," etc.)