"Authority Forgets A Dying King"

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Context: In this narrative, based on the fifteenth century work of Sir Thomas Malory, Tennyson gives the "passing of Arthur." In the last battle, during which the Knights of the Round Table have fallen one by one, King Arthur receives a fatal wound. He is carried by Sir Bedivere, the last of his knights, to a ruined chapel between the ocean and a lake. There the dying king commands Sir Bedivere to descend to the shore of the lake and to throw the magic sword Excalibur into the water, thus to return it to the Lady of the Lake who had given it to him many years before. Twice Sir Bedivere tries to carry out the king's command, but each time he is so dazzled by Excalibur's beauty that he cannot bring himself to cast the sword into the lake. Each time the king asks him what he has seen and heard, and Bedivere replies that he has seen and heard only the water. Arthur knows that the knight is deceiving him and bitterly reproaches him for his disobedience. On the third command, Sir Bedivere obeys; whereupon, an arm "clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful," rises from the water, catches the sword, brandishes it three times, and draws it under. From this account the king knows that he has been obeyed, and that the sword has returned whence it came. In his bitter speech to Sir Bedivere, after the knight's second deception, the king says:

"Ah, miserable and unkind, untrue,
Unknightly, traitor-hearted! Woe is me!
Authority forgets a dying king,
Laid widowed of the power in his eye
That bowed the will. I see thee what thou art,
For thou, the latest-left of all my knights,
In whom should meet the offices of all,
Thou wouldst betray me for the precious hilt; . . .

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