I woke, and found him settled down Upon the general decay of faith Right thro’ the world: “at home was little left, And none abroad; there was no anchor, none, To hold by.”
The narrator in “The Epic,” an attendee of a fictional dinner party, describes the words of a parson. The parson appears to be mourning the loss of faith in the modern world. Tennyson himself often addressed poetically the scientific advances made in his day that called into question biblical truth, such as the age of the earth and whether science rendered God’s existence questionable. Within this poem, the parson’s friends quickly change the subject as religious faith as a topic of conversation does not particularly interest them. The poet’s intent here seems to be to accurately depict a conversation among four old friends.
Thou wilt not leave us in the dust: Thou madest man, he knows not why, He thinks he was not made to die; And thou hast made him: thou art just.
These lines in the prologue of “In Memoriam A. H. H.” address Christ and repeatedly assert “our” faith in the life after death that comes from believing in him. The poet points out that humans appear foolish and sometimes fearful, since “we have but faith.” Then he comes to the point of the section: He apologizes for the grief expressed in the poem to come. He knows he should not grieve, being sure of Hallam’s immortality, but he misses his friend greatly. Readers should note that the prologue was written many years after some other sections of the poem, after the poet’s faith, and time, calmed his grief.
O, yet we trust that somehow good Will be the final goal of ill . . . That nothing walks with aimless feet; That not one life shall be destroy’d, Or cast as rubbish to the void, When God hath made the pile complete[.]
In section 54 of “In Memoriam A. H. H.,” the poet asserts not exactly his faith but the need for faith. He claims that readers “trust” that a greater plan exists and that eventually all will come out right in the end. Later in the same section, he points out that as humans, we know nothing, and that his faith exists as “a dream” rather than true knowledge. Perhaps naturally, the hesitant, questioning faith expressed here tips the poet into actual doubt in sections 55 and 56, the low point within the elegy for the poet’s hope that he will see Hallam again.
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place The flood may bear me far, I hope to see my Pilot face to face When I have crost the bar.
Tennyson wrote “Crossing the Bar” after surviving a serious illness, which caused him to think about death. He uses the metaphor of being in a boat going from a river into the sea to represent dying. The final stanza, seen here, explains why “there should be no sadness of farewell.” He hopes to see god, his “Pilot,” once he crosses into eternity. He believes the Pilot has always been with him but invisible throughout his life. The poet’s hope of meeting god shows that he does not necessarily assume he will do so but considers even the possibility a privilege.