Idylls of the King "Unfaith In Aught Is Want Of Faith In All"

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

"Unfaith In Aught Is Want Of Faith In All"

Context: King Mark of Cornwall, who greatly dislikes Arthur and his court for their supposed slights upon him, hears a visitor at his table say that Lancelot and Queen Guinevere have a pure and perfect friendship and that some of the young knights of the court imitate him in living lives of virginity. Mark, in envy, enlists the aid of the wily Vivien, whose father had been killed fighting against Arthur's forces, to corrupt the court. Vivien goes to Camelot and, saying that she is being persecuted by King Mark, requests Guinevere's protection, which the queen promises her. Guinevere and Lancelot ride into the field to try out a falcon that Lancelot had trained for the queen. Vivien watches them depart, but Lancelot and Guinevere, once in the field, talk only of falconry. Vivien becomes established at court; she bears herself humbly, but gives out whispers and hints that all is not morally right among the highly placed ones. She even tries to tempt Merlin, who thinks longingly of her; he departs from the court in a boat, accompanied by Vivien, and in the wilderness to which they go she tries to seduce him into teaching her a magic spell that will give her power in the court. When Merlin refuses her request, she says that he is ignorant of the verses that indicate there must be equal faith in love.

I think ye hardly know the tender rhyme
Of "trust me not at all or all in all."
I heard the great Sir Lancelot sing it once,
And it shall answer for me. Listen to it.
"In Love, if Love be Love, if Love be ours,
Faith and unfaith can ne'er be equal powers:
Unfaith in aught is want of faith in all.
It is the little rift within the lute,
That by and by will make the music mute,
And ever widening slowly silence all.
The little rift within the lover's lute
Or little pitted speck in garnered fruit,
That rotting inward slowly moulders all.
It is not worth the keeping: let it go:
But shall it? answer, darling, answer, no.
And trust me not at all or all in all."