Tennyson and Hallam


There's an interesting exchange in yesterday's post on In Memoriam between me and l roberts on how we view In Memoriam. The conversation initiated from this claim:

I think of it as more of a romantic line than a sexual line . . . I'm not saying that his relationship with this guy was sexual, or that we can ever know if it was or not. But the fact that so many people have applied the line to their own relationships, whether they're romantic, sexual, or "just" friends, is significant to me. It kind of suggests that love is all the same, no matter how it's expressed. 

Also, not all same-gender love is sexual, but in my opinion it still counts as "gay." For example, I think most people would agree that a marriage has to be based on more than just sex. And LGBT people don't want to get married just so they can keep having teh sex. They want to get married for love.

I disputed the claim that same-gender love neccessarily qualifies as gay love, eventually eliciting the following response:

I have to say that in this particular case though, the individual's viewpoint really does matter. When a queer person says, "Tennyson wrote In Memoriam based on his affection for another man," it has a significantly different meaning from when a straight person says it. We each have a natural instinct to claim that love as "our own" in some way, even though Tennyson can't be both gay and not gay.

I find this particularly interesting. I don't know that I agree. But it doesn't much matter. In this instance, my own consent is neither requested nor required. Moreover, it's kind of boring. More captivating is how identity changes what we see. In that vein, I'd like to ask some of our gay commenters to weigh in here. On Tennyson particularly, and more broadly on the realm of artists beautifully expressing affection for humans of the same gender.

I hear Tennyson and, for me, there is that long tradition of young black males mourning the death of fallen soldiers, through hip-hop. Mobb Deep made a career out of mugging for the camera, and yet in "Cradle To The Grave," Havoc could confess that at the sight of his dying friend "he felt like crying." And he does this in sub genre which holds strong prohibitions against saying such things about women.

But that's my lens. What's yours? What is that "significantly different meaning?" This is an inquiry, not an inquisition. I'm not interested in the debate. I'm not interested in proving or disproving Tennyson's sexuality. I'm not interested in an objective "right." I'm interested in In Memoriam through your eyes.

As an aside, I'd ask the less experienced among us to sit back and listen for a bit. Please don't speak for the sake of speaking. In seeking to be first, you render yourself last.
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin


Why Is Google Making Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.


How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.


A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple


What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

More in Entertainment

From This Author

Just In