Tennyson recorded quotations and memories associated with Hallam in long, thin blank books that butchers traditionally used to account for profits and losses; accordingly, these manuscripts became known as the Butcher’s Books. Their structure mirrored the form of the poem developing inside of them. By writing in short quatrains, Tennyson could linger on the empty spaces left between thoughts—the divisions that create a stanza. And while poetry performs its own acts of cutting—by dividing language into literary forms—Tennyson emphasized carving as a theme. The Butcher’s Books highlight how cutting (stanzas, for example), despite its violent connotations, proved to be generative: the butcher disassembles a carcass and transforms it into nourishment. Likewise, Tennyson arranged worn-out commonplaces to form a spiritually recuperative poem.
Monday, October 24, 2022
In case you wondered …
… The Butcher’s Books: how did Tennyson write In Memoriam. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)