What is a brief summary of the poem "Morte d' Arthur" by Alfred Lord Tennyson?

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The title of Tennyson's "Morte d'Arthur" quite effectively sums up the basic subject of the poem: it follows the end of the Arthurian legend (the title quite literally means "Death of Arthur" in English). It opens in the wake of Arthur's final battle, where Arthur lies mortally wounded, and is accompanied by Sir Bedivere. What follows is a poem very much concerned with the passing of one age into the next (and Bedivere's own difficulty accepting that coming transition).

As Arthur lies dying, he instructs Bedivere to take Excalibur and return it to the Lady of the Lake, but when Bedivere reaches the lake, he finds he cannot do as Arthur instructs. So he twice opposes Arthur's will, and on the third time, Arthur threatens him with violence should he disobey again (and on the third time, he at last throws the sword back to the lake, where a hand reaches up from beneath the water to catch it). Then he returns to Arthur's side and helps Arthur complete his final journey, by which he is carried away to Avalon (a note: this is spelled "Avilion" in Tennyson).

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Tennyson's "Idylls of the King" are written in stichic rather than  stanzaic form. The section on the death of Arthur describes a final battle and the promise that Arthur will return again.

If you are struggling to read and understand the poem, you might first consider reading Malory's account of the death of Arthur, which was the source for Tennyson's poems.

Next, as you read through the assigned lines, you should be able to summarize it yourself through two main reading strategies. The first is to mark out syntactic (grammatical) units and read one clause at a time, rather than letting yourself get carried away by the rhythm. Second, as you read every sentence, write down a paraphrase in your own words, looking up any words you do not understand. By doing this, you will not only understand the poem better, but you will have trained yourself to read Victorian poetry more easily.

 

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