"Among New Men, Strange Faces, Other Minds"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Sir Bedivere, the last surviving knight of the Round Table, relates the final scenes of the life of King Arthur. First comes the ghost of Gawain, warning of the hollowness of delight and of Arthur's impending death. Second, Modred's forces are pressed back to the western boundary of Lyonesse. Third, is the great battle, fought on winter solstice in a chill white mist in which friend and foe seem like shadows. Only Arthur, Bedivere, and Modred survive the battle. In the last act of his kingship, Arthur slays Modred and receives, himself, a mortal wound. Bedivere bears Arthur to a nearby chapel which has, symbolically, a broken chancel and a broken cross. Arthur, realizing that death is near, asks Bedivere to return his sword, Excalibur, to the water from whence it came. Bedivere, his sense of right and wrong clouded, twice lies to Arthur. The third time, however, he throws the sword into the water and sees it caught by a white hand, which brandishes it three times before taking it down into the mere. Arthur asks to be taken to the edge of the lake. Standing under the winter moon, amid the icy caves, frosty chasms, and bare, black cliffs, they see a dusky barge bearing three black-hooded queens. Arthur is taken aboard. As the barge prepares to cast off, Bedivere asks:

"Ah! My Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?
Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?
For now I see the true old times are dead,
When every morning brought a noble chance,
And every chance brought out a noble knight.
. . .
But now the whole Round Table is dissolved
Which was an image of the mighty world;
And I, the last, go forth companionless,
And the days darken round me, and the years
Among new men, strange faces, other minds."
And slowly answered Arthur from the barge:
"The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfills himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world."
. . .