The popular British poet Alfred Lord Tennyson penned the poem "In the Valley of Cauteretz" in 1861 after revisiting the Cauteretz Valley in the Pyrenees that he had once visited with his beloved late friend, Arthur Hallam. Keeping this loss in mind as you read the poem can help you to understand its meaning.
Nature Represents Memory
In the poem "In the Valley of Cauteretz," nature serves primarily as a vehicle for Tennyson's memory of Hallam. Tennyson writes, "All along the valley, stream that flashest white,/ Deepening thy voice with the deepening of the night." These lines do not reference a stream so much as a "human presence, loved and remembered," states Angela Leighton in her book, "On Form: Poetry, Aestheticism and the Legacy of a Word." The reader can likely imagine Tennyson transporting himself back into time as he remembers the sound of his friend's voice.
Flashing Back to Happier Days
Tennyson, who struggled with depression, no doubt fondly remembered his time traversing the Valley of Cauteretz with his cherished friend. Tennyson writes, "All along the valley, where thy waters flow, I walk'd with one I loved two and thirty years ago." Tennyson knows exactly how many years it has been since he last enjoyed the company of his friend in this place, and the reader could easily get the impression that he knows exactly how many days it has been since his friend's death.
The Dead Come to Life
Tennyson's memory of his friend in this beautiful valley is so vivid that he begins to feel as though his friend were still with him -- that time and death had never separated them. "All along the valley, while I walk'd to-day, the two and thirty years were a mist that rolls away." To understand what this means, think about an experience you've had that triggered a happy memory. Perhaps if you closed your eyes, you could almost imagine that it was happening at the present time. This is certainly how Tennyson felt. The last line of the poem is, "The voice of the dead was a living voice to me."
10 years prior to penning "In the Valley of Cauteretz," Tennyson wrote "In Memoriam," a tribute to this same friend. Read it to gain an even better understanding of the feelings Tennyson is attempting to convey in "In the Valley of Cauteretz." An interesting fact is that the well-known line, "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all," is from Tennyson's heartfelt goodbye to the friend he cared so very deeply for.