Context: Tennyson takes the story of King Arthur's death from Malory's Le Mortre d'Arthur. King Arthur is mortally wounded at Lyonness. Sir Bedivere, the only surviving knight of the Round Table, carries him to a chapel. Arthur gives Bedivere his sword Excalibur and orders him to cast it into the lake. But Bedievere hides the sword, planning to preserve the marvelous weapon as a memento of Arthur. The king is furious at Bedivere's disobedience, but the knight hides the sword again. When Arthur threatens to kill him, Bedivere throws the sword into the mere: "But ere he [the sword] dipt the surface, rose an arm/ Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,/ And caught him by the hilt, and brandished him/ Three times, and drew him under in the mere." It is the same arm that had presented the sword to Arthur many years before. Bedivere carries the dying Arthur to the lake, where three queens in "a dusky barge" receive the king. Bedivere laments that he is now without his companions and his king: "For now I see the true old times are dead. . . ." But Arthur comforts him:
And slowly answered Arthur from the barge:
"The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?
I have lived my life, and that which I have done
May He within himself make pure! . . ."