Tennyson’s Prayer -- By: L. S. Potwin

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 059:236 (Oct 1902)
Article: Tennyson’s Prayer
Author: L. S. Potwin

Tennyson’s Prayer

L. S. Potwin

Adelbert College

The first stanza of Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”—and with it the whole prologue—has suffered from commentators. What can be clearer, if let alone, than these lines: —

“Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove.”

If it were possible to make it plainer that they are addressed primarily and directly to Christ, that would be done by quoting the words of 1 Peter 1:8, words certainly familiar to the poet, “Jesus Christ, whom having not seen ye love; in whom though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.”

Now what say certain commentaries? I take up the latest, and on the whole the best,—that by Prof. A. C. Bradley of Oxford,5 —and read, “In stanza 1. immortal Love is addressed as the Son or revelation of God; invisible, unprovable, embraced by faith alone” (p. 80). According to this, Jesus Christ is not addressed and adored as immortal Love, but love, the affection, is personified, and deified, and invoked. The aim of the note is to cut off the reference to the personal Christ. Again, “In the first shock of grief the poet felt that the love within him was his truest self, and that it must not die … and, like undying love, he ‘embraced’ even in his darkest hours as ‘God indeed’ “(p. 79). To find a parallel to this inversion, and therefore perversion, of the poet’s thought, we may take the Bible statement “God is love,” and change it to “Love is God.” Do we need to summon the powers of logic and rhetoric to show the important difference between those two statements? Common sense is enough.

Now what reason is there why any commentator should intervene where all is clear to make all dim? Professor Bradley is not the only one who does this. Genung and Davidson do the same. The former says, “Immortal Love is addressed as Son of God”; also that the address is “to the Christ-nature rather than to the Christ-name.” Why this strain imposed upon a meaning so obvious? Why turn a prayer to Christ into a prayer to an affection even so royal as love? The cause may be found partly in the attempt to find something deeper and more worthy of a great poet than a simple prayer to Jesus Christ; and yet there

is nothing deeper than God, and devotion to him; and there are intellectual depths enough in the prayer itsel...

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