More Tennyson this week; a wonderful, wonderful poem, a small piece of which I had to learn by heart at school. Morte d'Arthur is huge in every way - treating of one of the great English myths, dealing of loyalty and leadership and betrayal, and of tomorrow's redemption and glory. The phrase "authority forgets a dying king" is surely vaut le voyage by itself, and there is masses of superb poetry here. But it's massive in another way - it's far too long to set out here, but you can read the complete text here. But, to tempt you, here are three extracts from Alfred Lord Tennyson's Morte d'Arthur (and a near contemporary illustration by Beardsley).
At the very start of the poem - the end of the great, final battle, and Arthur leaving the field:
So all day long the noise of battle roll’d
Among the mountains by the winter sea;
Until King Arthur’s table, man by man,
Had fallen in Lyonnesse about their Lord,
King Arthur: then, because his wound was deep,
The bold Sir Bedivere uplifted him,
Sir Bedivere, the last of all his knights,
And bore him to a chapel nigh the field,
A broken chancel with a broken cross,
That stood on a dark strait of barren land.
On one side lay the Ocean, and on one
Lay a great water, and the moon was full.
Arthur sends Bedivere to throw his sword Excalibur into the lake, and twice he fails, annoying Arthur. When he comes back a second time, saying that he had seen nothing, and so alerting Arthur to his betrayal, the king's anger is very fierce:
To whom replied King Arthur, much in wrath:
‘Ah, miserable and unkind, untrue,
Unknightly, traitor-hearted! Woe is me!
Authority forgets a dying king,
Laid widow’d of the power in his eye
That bow’d the will. I see thee what thou art,
For thou, the latest-left of all my knights,
In whom should meet the offices of all,
Thou wouldst betray me for the precious hilt;
Either from lust of gold, or like a girl
Valuing the giddy pleasure of the eyes.
Yet, for a man may fail in duty twice,
And the third time may prosper, get thee hence:
But, if thou spare to fling Excalibur,
I will arise and slay thee with my hands.’
And then Bedivere does throw the sword in, and sees a hand rise from the lake, "clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful" and catch the sword. A barge comes to collect the dying king, and he says his good-byes (though we all know he will come again in time of England's need):
But now farewell. I am going a long way
With these thou seëst - if indeed I go –
(For all my mind is clouded with a doubt)
To the island-valley of Avilion;
Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadow’d, happy, fair with orchard-lawns
And bowery hollows crown’d with summer sea,
Where I will heal me of my grievous wound.’
So said he, and the barge with oar and sail
Moved from the brink, like some full-breasted swan
That, fluting a wild carol ere her death,
Ruffles her pure cold plume, and takes the flood
With swarthy webs. Long stood Sir Bedivere
Revolving many memories, till the hull
Look’d one black dot against the verge of dawn,
And on the mere the wailing died away.