Morte d'Arthur: by Alfred Tennyson - Summary & Analysis

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INTRODUCTION

      Morte d'Arthur was written in 1835 and published in 1842. It was from this poem that Tennyson afterwards developed the Idylls of the King, but it can be read apart from them, and gains by the isolation.

      Tennyson had been, from his boyhood, attracted by the legend of Arthur. Milton's intention to write an epic on the subject probably influenced him. About 1833, he wrote a sketch in prose, and a scheme for treating the legend allegorically, but seems to have been undetermined whether to write an epic or a play. In 1855 the form was decided upon, and the first four idylls, Enid, Vivien, Elaine, and Guinevere, appeared in 1859, but the cycle was not completed till 1872. With the Idylls as a whole we are not here concerned. Morte d'Arthur is a noble epical fragment, an adaptation of Homer such as Matthew Arnold attempted later, on a more ambitious scale in Sohrab and Rustum.

Morte d'Arthur was written in 1835 and published in 1842. It was from this poem that Tennyson afterwards developed the Idylls of the King, but it can be read apart from them, and gains by the isolation.
Morte d'Arthur

      English literature is full of the Arthurian legend. Of the historical Arthur much is affirmed, little agreed upon. Tennyson believed that he lived about 500 A.D. and defeated his enemies in a pitched battle in the Welsh kingdom of Strathclyde: The Morte d'Arthur tells of what happened after the last fight of all against the traitor Modred, who, according to some legends, was Arthur's son. These legends of Arthur are found in the early Welsh, French and German tales and romances and in some, later chronicles, such as Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Britons in the first half of the twelfth century. In the fifteenth century, Sir Thomas Malory collected these legends from various sources—he specified the Wrelsh, French, and English in his 'noble and joyous book', the Morte D'Authur, which was printed by Caxton in 1485. Malory's book has proved a mine of poetical material for the English poets, and it was his book that Tennyson used more than any other for his Idylls. Practically his only other source was the Mabinogion — the collection of the 'Welsh,' i.e. Crymric and Brythonic legends which he read in the translation. Taking the language of Malory as his model and transforming the story by his own imagination, he has produced a poem which is essentially romantic, but which is certainly not Celtic in spirit nor Homeric in form.

CRITICAL SUMMARY

      The first version of the poem entitled Morte d'Arthur begins with the lines "So all day long the noise roll'd". Sir Modred had revolted against Arthur and there were pitched battles between the two sides. The final battle was a terrific one fought in the city of Lyonnesse for a whole day. There were heavy casualties on either side. At last, Arthur was able to meet the traitor Modred face to face, and lay him low with Excalibur. But he was himself mortally wounded. The poem starts from this point.

      Arthur had fallen wounded and was carried by Sir Bedivere to a chapel nearby. It had a broken chancel and a broken cross indicating the conditions of Arthur himself. The King spoke to Sir Bedivere and said that all the glories of his reign and the Round Table were coming to an end on that day. He was sorry that his own people should have turned traitors on him. Though Merlin had said that he would not die but merely pass away to come back again, he thought that he would surely die on that day. Hence, he asked Sir Bedivere to take the magic sword, Excalibur and throw it in the centre of lake. For, with him, he felt that the mission of the sword was also over.

      Sir Bedivere was not willing to leave the king alone in that condition. But he could not disobey his lord and went with the sword, promising to tell the latter what happened when the sword was thrown into the water. He came to the lake after passing through the graves of ancient warriors, and the rocks. He took out the dazzling sword, ornamented
with many jewels and was about to throw it into the water, but he was hesitant to do so at the last moment. He returned to the king and told him that he had done the act. When Arthur asked him what he saw, he replied that he saw and heard nothing but the sound of the water. Arthur understood that his Knight was telling him a lie and took him to task for it. He commanded Sir Bedivere to go again and carry out his order. The latter, went to the lake again and walked on its shores. But when he looked at the brilliant hilt, he did not have the heart to throw it in the water. He was not sure that the King knew what he was talking about. Further, if the sword was preserved, later generations would have evidence of the greatness of Arthur and the Round Table. But everything would be forgotten if the sword was lost in the waters of the lake. Hence, thinking that he was acting in the best interest of the King himself, he went back to the chapel and told a lie for a second time. But the King again understood that he was telling a lie and threatened to kill Sir Bedivere. He charged the latter on his oath, to throw the sword into the water at least on the third occasion. Sir Bedivere had no other choice but to go and do as he was bidden. He shut his eyes and opened them only after he had thrown the sword far away. When he opened his eyes, he beheld a miracle. A mysterious arm came out of the water and caught hold of Excalibur. It brandished the weapon thrice and then withdrew it into the water. Sir Bedivere ran back to his master and told him what had happened.

      Arthur was satisfied and asked his Knight to take him to the edge of the lake, since his end was drawing near. He rose up a little, leaning on the arms of Sir Bedivere; the Knight bore him on his shoulders with tears in his eyes and came to the margin of the lake through the winter mist and ice.

      There came at that time towards them a dark barge with grand figures on the deck. There were three Queens also. All were weeping aloud. When the barge was near the shore, Arthur was placed in it and the tallest of the Queens placed his head on her lap with tears and lamentation. She nursed him while the King lay on her lap with his blood-stained wounds. It was pitiable to see him in that condition, for Sir Bedivere remembered his glory when he was young and strong and supported by his loyal Knights.

      He could not control his tears and asked his master how he could bear to be deprived of his company. He remembered the old glory of the Round Table and felt that he could never be happy again. He would be completely alone and the joy of life was departing for ever from him. Arthur turned to him from the barge and gave his loyal Knight his last advice. He said that the old order must always give place to the new and that men should adjust themselves to such changes. Even a good thing might turn out to be harmful if it remained too long. Hence he asked Sir Bedivere to console himself and pray for his own soul. Further, he believed that he was not dying but going to the happy island of Avilion where his wounds would be healed. He comforted Sir Bedivere as best as he could. Then the barge moved away from the sight of the Knight, slowly like a swan before its death. Sir Bedivere was standing for a long time remembering the past, till the barge looked like a black dot in the distance. Morning and the new year arose and the wailing of the women on the barge died away.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS AND APPRECIATION

Tennyson's Fresh Approach to the Arthurian Legend

      In the Volumes in 1842, one remarkable feature of the new poems is the diversity of subjects and motifs. The second volume opens with the Morte d'Arthur, in which Tennyson first tried his art upon the legends that are to be gathered upon the shores of old romance, enlarging the picture, and filling up his canvas with a profusion of exquisite detail, the sights and the sounds, the figures of the King and his knights. The earliest romances had none of this ornament, they relied on the energetic simplicity with which a bard might relate what was said and done in some tragic emergency: their interest centred on the acts and incidents: they had little care for the descriptive setting of their narratives in landscape or supplementary decoration. Their religion was miraculous and almost wholly external. Tennyson retains the dramatic situation, and treats it in a manner that satisfied the modern sensibility to deeper thoughts and suggestions, to the magic of scenery, to that delight in bygone things which is the true romantic feeling in an age when enchanted swords and fairy queens are no longer marvellous realities, and can only be preserved for poetic use as mystic visions. Arthur and his knights have fallen in their last battle but the Round Table was "an image of the mighty world" in which the old order changes, giving place to the new: they have lived their time and done their work and so the legendary king vanishes, uncertain whether he may be going into some restful Elysium.

Who was Arthur?

      In Great Britain there is a large body of legends with a certain King Arthur as the central hero. Whether there ever was a historical Arthur has been much doubted, for in authentic history very little is heard of him. Moreover, beautiful as the stories of his exploits certainly are, the supernatural and the marvellous play such a large part in them, and so much do they lack in human verisimilitude, that one cannot help thinking of their hero as purely mythical.

      Modern research however, has proved that there was a noted chieftain and general of the name of Artus or Arthur in the 6th century, who, after the departure of the Romans from Britain, led the tribes of Western Britain against the encroaching Saxons from the east and the Picts and Scots from the north. It is now held that this valiant Artus was, by a slow process of idealisation and glorification, made into the Arthur of the legends for, as Mr. Lyall puts it, "in a primitive age it is the real hero, famous when he lived, who becomes fabulous after his death".

      The process of idealisation went on till the name of Arthur came to stand "for an ideal of royal wisdom, chivalric virtue and knightly prowess". In the hands of the romancers of the Middle Ages, he became the ideal hero of English chivalry, while the addition of the mystic Grail legend to the Arthurian cycle gradually made him into the ideal Christian king striving to found the kingdom of God on earth.

Tennyson's Treatment of the Arthurian Legend

      Tennyson treats Arthur as "the ideal and illustration of unstained virtue and manliness" — he is the image of lofty morality and his life is attuned to the loftiest standards of our conception of a modern gentleman. In Malory and the earlier romances also Arthur is held up as the embodiment of ideal perfection, but there are stories of sin and shame which are inconsistent with the ideal perfection ascribed to him. Tennyson has carefully sifted these inconsistencies, and "adapted the mythical tales of the Round Table to the very highest standard of aesthetic taste, intellectual refinement and moral delicacy prevailing in cultivated English society" in his own time. "He has", as has been rightly observed in the Memoirs written by his son, "made these old legends his own, restored the idealism, infused into them a spirit of modern thought and of ethical significance: setting the characters in a rich and varied landscape". In addition, though he is not the first poet to have done this, Tennyson has introduced in them an allegoric element, representing the whole story as an allegory of the eternal war between the spiritual and the sensual elements in human nature.

Allegorical Elements

      King Arthur represents "the soul at war with the senses". He stands for the God-like man, as a kind of dream or hope of what manhood might attain, to reach its ideal. He expresses the aspiration of the spirit towards perfection in our modern life. He symbolises the attempt of man to reach a higher life. The mystic Lady of the Lake could represent the Church or religion while Excalibur stands for the spiritual strength with which Arthur fights against evil.

Element of Supernaturalism

      There is a strong element of supernaturalism in Morte d'Arthur. We are told of the magic sword which King Arthur received from a mysterious hand that arose from the depths of the lake, clothed in white silk and looking mystic and wonderful. Knowing that his end is near, King Arthur wishes to restore the magic sword to that mysterious hand. When the sword is flung into the lake by Sir Bedivere at the order of King Arthur, the mysterious hand appears to receive it. We, with our scientific outlook on life, may find it difficult to believe in such miracles; but we should not forget that this is a story of the Middle Ages when beliefs in magic and miracles were widespread.

Pathos

      The prevailing atmosphere of the poem is one of pathos. Our hearts are touched with sympathy when we read the account of King Arthur having been wounded and his death being imminent. Sir Bedivere's feeling of desolation at having been left the sole survivor of the Round Table adds to the pathos. The grief of the three queens on seeing the wounded King is also very moving. We are reminded of all the past heroic deeds of King Arthur and his Knights, and we think of their exploits in a mood of wistfulness, for the institution of the Round Table is to be dissolved.

Psychological Value: Modern Element

      The poem is a remarkable revelation of human nature. Sir Bedivere was a loyal and honourable Knight. And yet even he felt tempted by the splendour and magnificence of the precious stones with which the hilt of the magic sword was studded. Twice he failed to throw the sword and told a lie to King Arthur that he had thrown the sword into the lake.

Inspiring Effect of Medieval Chivalry

      The poem is a source of inspiration for the reader. We get a fair idea what chivalry meant in the Middle Ages. We are transported to a period of history when heroic and noble deeds were daily performed. Going through the poem, we breathe the air of medieval chivalry. We are filled with great admiration for King Arthur and his heroic Knights.

Artistic Excellences

      (a) Sound Echoing Sense. The poem reveals the poet's gift of making the sound of his verse echo the sense.

The bare black cliff clang'd round him as he based
His feet on juts of slippery rock that rang
Sharp-smitten with the dint of armed heels.

      We are here made to see the black rock, and to hear the harsh clang simultaneously, and this is a really noble use of this gift, which may easily be misused so as to degenerate into mere tricky onomatopoeia. There is nothing here that can be called a device, no conscious effort: it seems but to say the simplest thing in the simplest words. These lines from Morte D' Arthur are so famous that comment may be unnecessary. But one can hardly read them without recognising them afresh as sort of classic and marvellously effective. Hard consonants are seconded by the persuasive force of monosyllables and the forward drive of run-on lines, to make real the harsh, jagged landscape and the effort of body and spirit. As the view changes to kindly horizontals of sky and lake, so the consonants become gentle, the vowel sounds lengthen, and the movement ceases to press. It is not just technical and external virtuoso display, for the lake brings home and rest, and Tennyson has finely orchestrated his verse to make, like his own lotos-eaters,

Music that kindlier on the spirit lies,
Than tired eyelids upon tired eyes.

      (b) Charm of Classical Reminiscence. There is in some of the lines the charm of classical reminiscence, due to his imitating Greek or Latin forms of expression or modes of construction as in:

(i) And fling him far into the middle mere.
(ii) This way and that dividing the swift wing,
In act to throw.

      (c) Expressive Words and Phrases Revealing the Idea in a Flash. We find in the poem, Tennyson's unequalled power of finding expressive words and phrases revealing the idea in a flash viz.,

I heard the ripple washing in the reeds
And the wild water lapping on the crag.

      (d) Beauty of Similes. Tennyson is unequalled in the beauty, appropriateness and grandeur of his similes. The beauty consists in their wonderful picturesqueness, the appropriateness in the elaborate aptness of details, and in the grandeur of the source from which the comparison is taken. Of their picturesque aptness we may quote the following as an example

The great brand
Made lightnings in the splendour of the moon,
And flashing round and round, and whirl'd in an arch,
Shot like a streamer of the northern morn,
Seen when the moving isles of winter shock
By night, with noises of the northern sea.

      (e) Avoidance of Commonplace Words. Avoidance of commonplace words and phrases is another prominent feature of Tennyson's style. Notice how he uses —

'Moving isles of winter' for 'floating icebergs'
'The knightly growth that fringed his lips' for 'his beard'
'The great light of heaven for 'the sun'.
'The place of tombs' for 'churchyard.'

      (f) Repetition. One of the leading characteristics of Tennyson's style is the repetition of a word or sometimes a whole line in the same or in a slightly different sense. This is done sometimes for reminding us of the similarity between the events happening e.g.,

The old order changeth yielding place to new.

      Sometimes to denote the fulfilment of a prophecy —

From the great deep to the great deep he goes.

      Sometimes to describe similarity of results, as —

I heard the ripple washing in the reeds
And the wild water lapping on the crag.

      The repetition of single words in the same line is quite as frequent—

On the waste sand by the waste sea they closed.
A broken chancel with a broken cross.

      (g) Use of Archaic Words. Tennyson often uses archaic words or words in their archaic meaning, or the archaic form of spelling, e.g.,
'spoke', 'chased' meaning 'engraved', 'curiously' meaning 'delicately', 'quick' meaning 'living'.

      (h) Alliteration. In the poem, we find frequent use of alliteration, as in

Save for some whisper of the seedling seas.

      We also find 'wan wave' 'hollow helmets', 'helpless hands' 'formless fear'. The use of alliterative compounds is peculiarly Tennysonian, e.g. 'sharp-smitten'. These alliterations actually help to convey the sense of the words and the very feeling of the poem.

      (i) Picturesque Descriptions. The poem does not lack in picturesque
descriptions, e.g.!

Then quickly rose Sir Bedivere, and ran,
And leaping down the ridges lightly, plunged
Among the bulrush beds.

      (j) Scientific Observation of Nature. Tennyson's observation of Nature is scientific:

Clothed with his breath, and looking as he walked,
Larger than human on the frozen hill.

      This is an optical experience true to life.

      Conclusion. Morte D' Arthur illustrates a moral, religious and even political truth:

The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.

      Progress is not only necessary; it is God-ordained. There are doubts dramatised within the poem itself, mainly through the bewildered, conscience stricken Bedivere and also in Arthur's doubt about what will happen to him after his death. These doubts are the same as those expressed in Two Voices, Locksley Hall, and The Vision of Sin. But on the whole, the appeal of the poem lies in its narrative as well as in its descriptive skill. Written in the blank verse over which Tennyson had great mastery, Morte d'Arthur has no digressive episode or waste of words to detract from its artistic merit.

LINE BY LINE PARAPHRASE

      L. 8-10 And bore him to a chapel.....barren land. Tennyson creates an atmosphere of melancholy in Morte d'Arthur. This is in keeping with the theme of the poem, which is the passing away of a great man. The battle of Lyonnesse in which Arthur was wounded mortally drew to an end towards the close of the day. All the Knights of Arthur had fallen, except Sir Bedivere. Arthur himself lay helpless. The Knight carried him to a ruined chapel that was near. It was surrounded by dark and barren land. Both the chancel and the cross in the chapel were broken. The description of the ruined chapel in barren land, with broken chancel and broken cross is in keeping with the broken condition of Arthur himself.

      L. 22-24. I perish by this people.....once more. All the speeches of Arthur in Morte d'Arthur make tragic reading, in keeping with his last moments. It is natural for him to think, at that time, of all the hopes which he had cherished and which had been shattered by his defeat; He thinks with agony that all the glories associated with the Order of the Round Table would be no more. The most pitiable fact was that he had perished by the very people whom he had brought together under his influence. He had brought unity in the country by founding the Order and defeating the enemies. The Knights themselves had sworn loyalty to him. But they had betrayed him. His nephew Modred had committed an equally great crime by usurping the throne. Arthur is pained most by such treachery. At the same time, he remembers the prophecy of Merlin, the magician who had said that Arthur would never die. The reference to the prophecy of Merlin is allegorical: King Arthur stands for the pure Christian soul. It was believed that though defeated for the time being, it would not die. Hence it was believed that Arthur would come back after his wounds were healed at Avilion. Arthur refers to the same belief towards the end of the poem.

      L. 70-71. 'I heard the ripple.....crag'. Tennyson gives a clear picture not only of King Arthur but also of his last surviving Knight, Sir Bedivere, in Morte d'Arthur. The King commands the Knight to take Excalibur to the lake and throw it into the water. For, according to him, its work is done when he must die. He attaches a mysterious significance to it, for, it came to him in a strange manner, borne by a hand that rose out of the bosom of the lake. But the Knight is one that does not attach too much significance to such supernatural things. He is painted as a man of practical sense. He thinks only that a beautiful thing would be lost and along with it the memory of Arthur also. So, he does not throw the sword into the water, though he goes near the edge of the lake. He goes to the length of telling a lie to his king. When asked by the latter what he saw or heard when he threw the sword into the water, he says that he heard nothing more than the ripple of the water and the noise made by it on the rocks. Arthur understands that he is telling a lie and takes him to task. The conflict in Bedivere's mind is a modern element in the poem. It shows psychological realism.

      L. 74-75. Thou has betray'd.....noble knight. Tennyson brings out the atmosphere of the Middle Ages clearly in Morte d'Arthur. This is shown in the relationship between Arthur and Sir Bedivere. The former asks his Knight to throw his sword into the lake. But the practical-minded Knight does not have the heart to do so. He tells Arthur a lie. But the King is able to detect the lie and blames Sir Bedivere for his want of loyalty. He reminds the knight of the oath taken by him when he was made knight of the Round Table by Arthur. He had sworn to carry out all the orders of the latter. This was considered to be binding till death. But Sir Bedivere had gone against the oath of a noble Knight. Arthur orders him, on his oath, to do the task. The words of Arthur show the sanctity attached to the oath, of fealty or loyalty, taken by the Knight to the kings. They bound themselves to serve the latter till death. At the same time, the fact that the Knight does not attach importance to the oath until the very end, shows that the old order was gradually giving place to a new one.

      L. 95-106. Were it well to obey him.....of the hills. When Sir Bedivere tells Arthur a lie that he has thrown the sword into the lake on the first occasion, the King orders him to go again. The Knight goes to the edge of the lake to do it. But doubts occur to him again. He is unwilling to obey his master and gives reasons for not throwing the sword into the water. His first reason is that the King was dying at that time and so, might not know what he was talking about. There was no good that could be got by losing the sword. In fact, he feels that there would be much good in keeping it. For long after Arthur was dead, the magic sword, if preserved, would be a concrete evidence of his greatness and the glory of the Round Table. People would talk of the manner in which it was got. The ornamentation of jewellery on the hilt of the sword had been made by the Lady of the Lake for nine years and people would talk of the mystic origin with wonder, if it were preserved. On the other hand, if there was no such evidence the story of Arthur would be a mere rumour in which people would not believe. It is interesting to note that the story concerning Arthur is nothing more than a legend at the present time. There is nothing authentic about him, at the present day. The practical nature of Sir Bedivere is brought out in his thoughts. It is not out of love of the jewelled hilt that he desires to preserve the sword, but for the sake of Arthur himself, and the Round Table.

      L. 121-123. Authority forgets.....that bow'd the will. Tennyson makes many general statements in Morte d'Arthur that are quoted to this day. One of them occurs when King Arthur bids Sir Bedivere to go to the lake and throw Excalibur into it for the third time. The Knight tells a lie to the King, thinking that it is in the latter's own interests. But Arthur is able to discover the truth and takes his Knight to task. His words are pathetic. He says that Sir Bedivere does not obey him because he is dying. Dying kings cannot punish disobedient subjects and hence the latter might disobey them without fear of punishment. While he is in power, the very look of the king would inspire fear in others. But, laid widowed of the power of his eye or deprived of the power of his look, he is helpless. This is true not only of Arthur but of all persons in authority. A critic has pointed out that the lines are almost Shakespearean.

      L. 136-141. The great brand.....with the noises of the northern sea. Tennyson is noted for his descriptive skill. We find an example of this in the description of the throwing of the sword Excalibur into the lake, by Sir Bedivere. He wheeled it over his head and threw it with great strength. It was a moonlit night and the sword with its bejewelled hilt flew in the air as though it were lightning. It flashed round and round and circled in the air in an arch. It appeared to shoot in the air like a beam of light from the Aurora Borealis in the Arctic regions. Aurora Borealis is a shining appearance sometimes visible in the Arctic regions. In this connection, Tennyson gives us a vivid picture of the northern regions. The moving masses of icebergs, as big as islands, crash against one another and the noises are heard even in the Northern Sea. The description is striking and true to nature.

      L. 143-145. But ere he dipt the surface.....in the mere. Tennyson preserves in his poem the atmosphere of mystery that is associated with the Arthurian legends. This is found in the description of the supernatural disappearance of the sword Excalibur. Sir Bedivere threw it and the sword shot in the air like lightning. While it was about to vanish in water, Sir Bedivere saw a strange hand come out of the water and hold the sword. It was clothed in a rich silk fabric interwoven with gold and silver threads. There was something mystic about it and it caught hold of the sword. Then it brandished the sword thrice and disappeared afterwards. This description is repeated by the Knight soon after. It contains an allegory. The Lady of the Lake stands for Religion, while Arthur is the pure Christian soul. Excalibur stands for the weapon of the Spirit with which the soul might fight with its enemies. The sword has no purpose to serve when Arthur dies. Hence, it is returned to the lake.

      L. 195-199. and descending.....tingling stars. Tennyson invests beautiful descriptions with deep allegorical significance in Morte D'Arthur. This is particularly seen in the description of the final stages of Arthur's life. Sir Bedivere carries his lord quickly to the edge of the lake. They see there a barge coming towards them. There are many majestic figures in it all clothed in black and in mourning for the dying king. The most notable figures are three Queens with crowns of gold. They lament loudly and Tennyson forcefully brings out the depth of their sorrow.

      Their cries appeared to reach the heavens themselves land make the stars vibrate, or shiver and tingle. Though this is an exaggeration, it brings out the depth of the sorrow of the three Queens. The three Queens have an allegorical significance. They stand for the highest virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity which every Christian must possess. Arthur, the type of Christian has them by his side, quite naturally. They are described to be present at the coronation also. Their presence towards the end indicates that Faith, Hope and Charity are the last refuge of a truly religious man and he would not be deserted by them.

      L. 229-233. For now-see.....the gift of myrrh. Tennyson describes the disappearance of Arthur with the three Queens in a moving manner. The sorrow of Sir Bedivere, the last surviving Knight of the Round Table is great. He is not able to bear the sight of his master being carried away in the strange barge, never to return. He weeps aloud and remarks that he had nowhere to go after the departure of his master. For, after the dissolution of the Round Table, the old atmosphere would have gone and Sir Bedivere would find himself in a new set of circumstances. There was nobility in the world during the time of Arthur. The Knights used to fight out tournaments in a noble manner, and a new Knight was discovered every day. When Christ was born, a star led the Wise Elders to Bethlehem. The Elders worshipped the divine child with offerings of gold and myrrh, a fragrant gum obtained from an Arabian shrub. Arthur's time was like those times. The allegorical significance of the poem is made evident here. Arthur tried to discharge the mission of Jesus Christ on earth.

      L. 241-243. 'The old order.....corrupt the world'. The concluding speech of King Arthur to Sir Bedivere before his final departure is highly significant. The poet teaches a lesson through the lips of his hero to all people of all times. The sorrow of Sir Bedivere was that the Round Table and all that it stood for would disappear after the passing of Arthur. He had been brought up in that atmosphere and he would be a misfit in the new set of circumstances that would follow. Hence, he is afraid that there would be none to understand him in the new world. But Arthur, the Wise King, teaches him a good lesson. He remarks that change is the order of the world and everything must give place to another in course of time. This is the Law of Nature. Further, this need not be regretted in the view of Arthur. Even a good thing might do more harm than good to the people after a time, if it tends to become permanent. The spirit of a custom would be lost and people would observe it merely in a formal way. Hence, it might corrupt the people. He, therefore, asks his Knight to adjust himself to the new order. The words of Arthur might be applied to the conservatives of Tennyson's own time who clung to the past in a blind manner. Tennyson appears to be advising them to adapt themselves to the changing circumstances.

      L. 247-255. More things are wrought by prayer.....of God. Tennyson teaches many an important lesson to the world through the words of Arthur at the time he departs with the three Queens. Sir Bedivere is broken-hearted at the sight and wonders what he could do afterwards. Arthur tries to comfort him. He advises his Knight to adjust himself to the new order since change is inevitable. He remarks also that Sir Bedivere can serve his master further by praying for his soul. Arthur talks, in this context, in high praise of the value of prayer. Though some may not believe in it, he is sure that many things can be achieved by it of which human beings may not even dream. Human beings would be no better than animals that have no thinking power, if they know that there is a god and still do not pray. It is prayer that holds the earth in position and makes life possible. Tennyson alludes, in this context, to the golden chains that are supposed to be keeping the earth suspended in position, in space. Homer, the Greek poet probably gave rise to this idea. Tennyson makes use of it and says that it is prayer that is the golden chain linking the earth to god. In other words, without: prayer, society could not exist.

      L. 260-264. Where falls not hail.....my grievous wound. Tennyson ends Morte d'Arthur on a note of subdued hopefulness. After comforting Sir Bedivere, Arthur remarks that the time for his departure has come. But he hopes to come back, though he is not sure about it. For, Merlin had told him that he would come back to reign once more. He believed that he would be taken to the island of Avilion only to have his 'wounds cured', Avilion might refer to a valley near Glastonbury, or it might be an island on this side of the terrestrial Paradise. Whatever it might be, the allegorical significance is that the true soul does not ever die.

      L. 265-269. So said he, swarthy webs. Tennyson ends Morte d'Arthur in a majestic manner. After Arthur had given his last advice to his Knight, the barge sailed away with him and the Queens. The motion of the barge is compared to that of a dying swan. The beauty of the comparison lies in the fact that the dying swan is supposed to sing its sweetest song before its death. The sailing of the swan as well as the barge is described beautifully bringing out the majesty and charm of the motion. This is characteristic of Tennyson as a descriptive poet.

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