Randolph Henry Ash
Posted by Hil on November 09, 1997 at 19:35:46:
This feels a bit like the 'Is Paul McCartney dead' sleuthing, but I'll throw it in the melting pot!
Tennyson wrote a poem called 'In Memorium A.H.H.'. This was evidently for Arthur Henry Hallam (1811-1833), who 'had been Tennyson's close friend at Cambridge, they had travelled together in France and Germany, and Hallam had been engaged to the poet's sister. To his associates at Cambridge, Hallam had seemed to give the most brilliant promise of greatness. In the summer of 1833, when he had been travelling on the Continent with his father, Hallam died of a stroke at Vienna.'(Norton Anthology of Poetry)
I am wondering if Hallam was Byatt's possible starting point for Ash. He was Tennyson's peer and friend, so he fits in nicely. It doesn't say his greatness was poetry, but we could maybe guess that it was. The initials are close, and Byatt may have changed the 'h' to an 's' to make a surname, and one that suited her many purposes.
In the poem there are refernces to various trees, to various small creatures and insects, to water and drowning : in other words some of the same threads as in P. And then there is this:
A hunger seized my heart; I read
Of that glad year which once had been,
In those fallen leaves which kept their green,
The noble letters of the dead.
And strangely on the silence broke
The silent-speaking words, and strange
Was love's dumb cry defying change
To test his worth; and strangely spoke
The faith, the vigor, bold to dwell
On doubts that drive the coward back,
And keen through wordy snares to track
Suggestion to her inmost cell.
So word by word, and line by line,
The dead man touched me from the past,
And all at once it seemed at last
The living soul was flashed on mine,
And mine in this was wound, and whirled
About empyreal heights of thought
And came on that which is, and caught
The deep pulsations of the world,
Eonian music measuring out
The steps of Time - the shocks of Chance -
The blows of death. At length my trance
Was canceled, stricken through with doubt.
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