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In "The Passing of Arthur" from Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson, which...

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mshurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 31, 2009 at 2:11 PM via web

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In "The Passing of Arthur" from Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson, which images are the most striking?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 21, 2013 at 10:24 PM (Answer #1)

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The Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson was a series of poems written between 1856 and 1885.  Written in blank verse, the Idylls are defined as narrative poem which depict pastoral scenes or conflicts structured as a romantic legend. 

These twelve poems concern the legend of King Arthur and the rise and fall of his kingdom.  The Arthurian legend created a heroic man who tried to build the perfect realm which ended at  his death at the hands of his son Mordred. 

The last of the poems is “The Passing of Arthur.” The poem is told by Sir Bedivere, who was the only surviving knight of Arthur’s legendary Round Table.  It describes the last battle which killed many of the great knights. In addition, it tells of Excalibur and Arthur’s being taken by the ladies of the lake who sail away to Avalon.  

There are many beautiful and descriptive scenes in the poem. 

1st Image-- The Mist and the Final Battle

Shocks, and the splintering spear, the hard mail hewn,

Shield-breakings, and the clash of brands, the crash

Of battleaxes on shatter'd helms, and shrieks

After the Christ, of those who falling down

Look'd up for heaven, and only saw the mist; 

Before the final battle, a strange fog covered the final battle field.  The misty fog was so dense that a soldier could not see beyond his own hand.  The fighting starts with the sounds of the battle with the shields clanking, the swords crashing against each other, battleaxes striking, and the shattering of helmets as the soldiers fought and died—nothing could be seen in this most terrible of battles.  In the end, the shrieks of the dead were horrific.  When a soldier fell, he looked to heaven and Christ; but nothing could be seen but the mist. 

Consequently, friend killed friend; foe killed foe; and they killed each other.  At the end of the battle when the mist rose from the ground, only three were left.  Modred and Arthur impale each other. Arthur briefly survives helped by the last of his knights Sir Bedivere.

2nd Image- Excalibur and the Lady of the Lake

But when I look'd again, behold an arm,

Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,

That caught him by the hilt, and brandish'd him

Three times, and drew him under in the mere.

When Arthur is dying, he asks his trusted knight Sir Bedivere to take Excalibur and throw it into the nearby lake.  Bedivere did not throw the sword in the lake because he thought it was too valuable.  Each time he hid it and lied to Arthur.  When he did not give the correct description of what he should have seen, Arthur knew he was lying.  Arthur threatens him with death if he does not obey him.

When he threw Excalibur in the water, the Lady of the Lake thrust her arm out of the water. Her arm looked beautiful as she caught the hilt of the sword, twirled it three times and took it under the water. 

3rd Image-- The Three Queens and the Barge

That all the decks were dense with stately forms,

Black-stoled, black-hooded, like a dream—by these

Three Queens with crowns of gold: 

When Bedivere returns, he finds that Arthur has been taken onto a barge that sets sail for Avalon.  The ladies who surround him are dressed in black with golden crowns.  The appearance of the scene makes Bedivere feel as though he is in the midst of a dream.

Some legends say that the queens were the Ladies of the Lake who were taking Arthur away to heal his wounds. He waits there until he is needed to come again and rule the isle of Great Britain. 

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