It is hard to imagine that readers will ever perceive much aesthetic value in some of In Memoriam; "readers," as Dorothy Mermin points out, "often find in Tennyson's poems a mannered formality and slick artfulness of surface that seem to close off access to any depths below."1 One need only think of the historical range of opinion from Christopher North and J. W. Croker through Edward Bulwer and Samuel Butler to W. H. Auden to see the truth of her remark.2 She concludes that "there is still no firm consensus about the aesthetic value of even those poems that are most often taught and written about"; she has in mind, among other poems, In Memoriam.
"There is much in In Memoriam," observes Ricks, "that does not carry conviction":
Its language falters or coarsens whenever Tennyson pretends that his life until the death of Hallam had been a happy one; whenever he swings into politics . . . ; whenever he refuses to admit that he cannot imagine heaven, let alone activity and energy in heaven; whenever he remembers his father; whenever he tries to feel that his love must daunt time, whereas it is time which does the daunting; whenever he makes any lordly claim about his attitude to death; whenever he has patent recourse to allegory . . . ; most of all, whenever he offers hopes which deep down he knows are hopeless.3
Section 40's gratuitous image of a maiden's departure from home at the