The title is a direct quotation from a song of Edgar in William Shakespeare’s King Lear (c. 1605-1606). It has traditionally been assumed that the persona is Roland, although such an assumption is unwarranted. This poem is an interior monologue, a hybrid of the soliloquy and the dramatic monologue, and the “narrator” is simply thinking aloud. The thinker-narrator is a quester of many years, something that the mythical Roland was not. Moreover, the persona does not appear to be a very young man preparing for knighthood, as the word “childe” would suggest.
“Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” begins in medias res. Since no background or explanation is given for what is happening, the reader is initially confounded. Gradually, it becomes clear that the persona is searching for the “Dark Tower” and has just asked an aged cripple for directions. Suspicious that the cripple has maliciously misdirected him even to his death, he nevertheless proceeds on the appointed path. He is exhausted by his search, “drawn out through years,” and would be glad to reach an end of any kind, even if the end should mean failure or death.
At line 43, the persona turns away from the ominous cripple-guide to continue his search. Immediately on entering the gray plain, the safe road vanishes. The protagonist finds himself amid gathering darkness, entrapped in a grotesque, alien environment. Much of the remainder of the...
(The entire section is 465 words.)