Alfred Lord Tennyson

Here you will find the Long Poem Idylls of the King: The Passing of Arthur (excerpt) of poet Alfred Lord Tennyson

Idylls of the King: The Passing of Arthur (excerpt)

That story which the bold Sir Bedivere,
 First made and latest left of all the knights,
 Told, when the man was no more than a voice
 In the white winter of his age, to those
 With whom he dwelt, new faces, other minds.
 For on their march to westward, Bedivere,
 Who slowly paced among the slumbering host,
 Heard in his tent the moanings of the King:
 "I found Him in the shining of the stars,
 I mark'd Him in the flowering of His fields,
 But in His ways with men I find Him not.
 I waged His wars, and now I pass and die.
 O me! for why is all around us here
 As if some lesser god had made the world,
 But had not force to shape it as he would,
 Till the High God behold it from beyond,
 And enter it, and make it beautiful?
 Or else as if the world were wholly fair,
 But that these eyes of men are dense and dim,
 And have not power to see it as it is:
 Perchance, because we see not to the close;--
 For I, being simple, thought to work His will,
 And have but stricken with the sword in vain;
 And all whereon I lean'd in wife and friend
 Is traitor to my peace, and all my realm
 Reels back into the beast, and is no more.
 My God, thou hast forgotten me in my death:
 Nay--God my Christ--I pass but shall not die."

 Then, ere that last weird battle in the west,
 There came on Arthur sleeping, Gawain kill'd
 In Lancelot's war, the ghost of Gawain blown
 Along a wandering wind, and past his ear
 Went shrilling, "Hollow, hollow all delight!
 Hail, King! to-morrow thou shalt pass away.
 Farewell! there is an isle of rest for thee.
 And I am blown along a wandering wind,
 And hollow, hollow, hollow all delight."
 And fainter onward, like wild birds that change
 Their season in the night and wail their way
 From cloud to cloud, down the long wind the dream
 Shrill'd; but in going mingled with dim cries
 Far in the moonlit haze among the hills,
 As of some lonely city sack'd by night,
 When all is lost, and wife and child with wail
 Pass to new lords; and Arthur woke and call'd,
 "Who spake? A dream. O light upon the wind,
 Thine, Gawain, was the voice--are these dim cries
 Thine? or doth all that haunts the waste and wild
 Mourn, knowing it will go along with me?"

 This heard the bold Sir Bedivere and spake:
 "O me, my King, let pass whatever will,
 Elves, and the harmless glamour of the field;
 But in their stead thy name and glory cling
 To all high places like a golden cloud
 For ever: but as yet thou shalt not pass.
 Light was Gawain in life, and light in death
 Is Gawain, for the ghost is as the man;
 And care not thou for dreams from him, but rise--
 I hear the steps of Modred in the west,
 And with him many of thy people, and knights
 Once thine, whom thou hast loved, but grosser grown
 Than heathen, spitting at their vows and thee.
 Right well in heart they know thee for the King.
 Arise, go forth and conquer as of old."

 Then spake King Arthur to Sir Bedivere:
 "Far other is this battle in the west
 Whereto we move, than when we strove in youth,
 And brake the petty kings, and fought with Rome,
 Or thrust the heathen from the Roman wall,
 And shook him thro' the north. Ill doom is mine
 To war against my people and my knights.
 The king who fights his people fights himself.
 And they my knights, who loved me once, the stroke
 That strikes them dead is as my death to me.
 Yet let us hence, and find or feel a way
 Thro' this blind haze, which ever since I saw
 One lying in the dust at Almesbury,
 Hath folded in the passes of the world."

 Then rose the King and moved his host by night,
 And ever push'd Sir Modred, league by league,
 Back to the sunset bound of Lyonnesse--
 A land of old upheaven from the abyss
 By fire, to sink into the abyss again;
 Where fragments of forgotten peoples dwelt,
 And the long mountains ended in a coast
 Of ever-shifting sand, and far away
 The phantom circle of a moaning sea.
 There the pursuer could pursue no more,
 And he that fled no further fly the King;
 And there, that day when the great light of heaven
 Burn'd at his lowest in the rolling year,
 On the waste sand by the waste sea they closed.
 Nor ever yet had Arthur fought a fight
 Like this last, dim, weird battle of the west.
 A deathwhite mist slept over sand and sea:
 Whereof the chill, to him who breathed it, drew
 Down with his blood, till all his heart was cold
 With formless fear; and ev'n on Arthur fell
 Confusion, since he saw not whom he fought.

 For friend and foe were shadows in the mist,
 And friend slew friend not knowing whom he slew;
 And some had visions out of golden youth,
 And some beheld the faces of old ghosts
 Look in upon the battle; and in the mist
 Was many a noble dee