ALFRED LORD TENNYSON (1809-1892)
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Original Text: Alfred lord Tennyson, Poems, 2 vols. (Boston: W. D. Ticknor, 1842). PR 5550 E42a Victoria College Library (Toronto).
Alfred lord Tennyson, Works (London: Macmillan, 1891). tenn T366 A1 1891a Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
First Publication Date: 1842.
Representative Poetry On-line: Editor, I. Lancashire; Publisher, Web Development Group, Inf. Tech. Services, Univ. of Toronto Lib.
Edition: 2RP 2.379. © J. D. Robins and I. Lancashire, Dept. of English (Univ. of Toronto), and Univ. of Toronto Press 1997.
In-text Notes (by J. D. Robins) are keyed to line numbers.
1 So all day long the noise of battle roll'd
2 Among the mountains by the winter sea;
3 Until King Arthur's table, man by man,
4 Had fallen in Lyonnesse about their Lord,
5 King Arthur: then, because his wound was deep,
6 The bold Sir Bedivere uplifted him,
7 Sir Bedivere, the last of all his knights,
8 And bore him to a chapel nigh the field,
9 A broken chancel with a broken cross,
10 That stood on a dark strait of barren land.
11 On one side lay the ocean, and on one
12 Lay a great water, and the moon was full.
13 Then spake King Arthur to Sir Bedivere:
14 "The sequel of to-day unsolders all
15 The goodliest fellowship of famous knights
16 Whereof this world holds record. Such a sleep
17 They sleep--the men I loved. I think that we
18 Shall never more, at any future time,
19 Delight our souls with talk of knightly deeds,
20 Walking about the gardens and the halls
21 Of Camelot, as in the days that were.
22 I perish by this people which I made,--
23 Tho' Merlin sware that I should come again
24 To rule once more--but let what will be, be,
25 I am so deeply smitten thro' the helm
26 That without help I cannot last till morn.
27 Thou therefore take my brand Excalibur,
28 Which was my pride: for thou rememberest how
29 In those old days, one summer noon, an arm
30 Rose up from out the bosom of the lake,
31 Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
32 Holding the sword--and how I row'd across
33 And took it, and have worn it, like a king:
34 And, wheresoever I am sung or told
35 In aftertime, this also shall be known:
36 But now delay not: take Excalibur,
37 And fling him far into the middle mere:
38 Watch what thou seëst, and lightly bring me word."
39 To him replied the bold Sir Bedivere:
40 "It is not meet, Sir King, to leave thee thus,
41 Aidless, alone, and smitten thro' the helm.
42 A little thing may harm a wounded man.
43 Yet I thy hest will all perform at full,
44 Watch what I see, and lightly bring thee word."
45 So saying, from the ruin'd shrine he stept
46 And in the moon athwart the place of tombs,
47 Where lay the mighty bones of ancient men,
48 Old knights, and over them the sea-wind sang
49 Shrill, chill, with flakes of foam. He, stepping down
50 By zigzag paths, and juts of pointed rock,
51 Came on the shining levels of the lake.
52 There drew he forth the brand Excalibur,
53 And o'er him, drawing it, the winter moon,
54 Brightening the skirts of a long cloud, ran forth
55 And sparkled keen with frost against the hilt:
56 For all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks,
57 Myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth work
58 Of subtlest jewellery. He gazed so long
59 That both his eyes were dazzled, as he stood,
60 This way and that dividing the swift mind,
61 In act to throw: but at the last it seem'd
62 Better to leave Excalibur conceal'd
63 There in the many-knotted water-flags,
64 That whistled stiff and dry about the marge.
65 So strode he back slow to the wounded King.
66 Then spake King Arthur to Sir Bedivere:
67 "Hast thou perform'd my mission which I gave?
68 What is it thou hast seen, or what hast heard?"
69 And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere:
70 "I heard the ripple washing in the reeds,
71 And the wild water lapping on the crag."
72 To whom replied King Arthur, faint and pale:
73 "Thou hast betray'd thy nature and thy name,
74 Not rendering true answer, as beseem'd
75 Thy fealty, nor like a noble knight:
76 For surer sign had follow'd, either hand,
77 Or voice, or else a motion of the mere.
78 This is a shameful thing for men to lie.
79 Yet now, I charge thee, quickly go again
80 As thou art lief and dear, and do the thing
81 I bade thee, watch, and lightly bring me word."
82 Then went Sir Bedivere the second time
83 Across the ridge, and paced beside the mere,
84 Counting the dewy pebbles, fixed in thought;
85 But when he saw the wonder of the hilt,
86 How curiously and strangely chased, he smote
87 His palms together, and he cried aloud,
88 "And if indeed I cast the brand away,
89 Surely a precious thing, one worthy note,
90 Should thus be lost forever from the earth,
91 Which might have pleased the eyes of many men.
92 What good should follow this, if this were done?
93 What harm, undone? deep harm to disobey,
94 Seeing obedience is the bond of rule.
95 Were it well to obey then, if a king demand
96 An act unprofitable, against himself?
97 The King is sick, and knows not what he does.
98 What record, or what relic of my lord
99 Should be to aftertime, but empty breath
100 And rumours of a doubt? but were this kept,
101 Stored in some treasure-house of mighty kings,
102 Some one might show it at a joust of arms,
103 Saying, 'King Arthur's sword, Excalibur,
104 Wrought by the lonely maiden of the Lake;
105 Nine years she wrought it, sitting in the deeps
106 Upon the hidden bases of the hills.'
107 So might some old man speak in the aftertime
108 To all the people, winning reverence.
109 But now much honour and much fame were lost."
110 So spake he, clouded with his own conceit,
111 And hid Excalibur the second time,
112 And so strode back slow to the wounded King.
113 Then spoke King Arthur, breathing heavily:
114 "What is it thou hast seen, or what hast heard?"
115 And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere:
116 "I heard the water lapping on the crag,
117 And the long ripple washing in the reeds."
118 To whom replied King Arthur, much in wrath:
119 "Ah, miserable and unkind, untrue,
120 Unknightly, traitor-hearted! Woe is me!
121 Authority forgets a dying king,
122 Laid widow'd of the power in his eye
123 That bow'd the will. I see thee what thou art,
124 For thou, the latest-left of all my knights,
125 In whom should meet the offices of all,
126 Thou wouldst betray me for the precious hilt;
127 Either from lust of gold, or like a girl
128 Valuing the giddy pleasure of the eyes.
129 Yet, for a man may fail in duty twice,
130 And the third time may prosper, get thee hence:
131 But, if thou spare to fling Excalibur,
132 I will arise and slay thee with my hands."
133 Then quickly rose Sir Bedivere, and ran,
134 And, leaping down the ridges lightly, plunged
135 Among the bulrush-beds, and clutch'd the sword,
136 And strongly wheel'd and threw it. The great brand
137 Made lightnings in the splendour of the moon,
138 And flashing round and round, and whirl'd in an arch,
139 Shot like a streamer of the northern morn,
140 Seen where the moving isles of winter shock
141 By night, with noises of the northern sea.
142 So flash'd and fell the brand Excalibur:
143 But ere he dipt the surface, rose an arm
144 Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
145 And caught him by the hilt, and brandish'd him
146 Three times, and drew him under in the mere.
147 And lightly went the other to the King.
148 Then spoke King Arthur, drawing thicker breath:
149 "Now see I by thine eyes that this is done.
150 Speak out: what is it thou hast heard, or seen?"
151 And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere:
152 "Sir King, I closed mine eyelids, lest the gems
153 Should blind my purpose, for I never saw,
154 Nor shall see, here or elsewhere, till I die,
155 Not tho' I live three lives of mortal men,
156 So great a miracle as yonder hilt.
157 Then with both hands I flung him, wheeling him;
158 But when I look'd again, behold an arm,
159 Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
160 That caught him by the hilt, and brandish'd him
161 Three times, and drew him under in the mere."
162 And answer made King Arthur, breathing hard:
163 "My end draws nigh; 't is time that I were gone.
164 Make broad thy shoulders to receive my weight,
165 And bear me to the margin; yet I fear
166 My wound hath taken cold, and I shall die."
167 So saying, from the pavement he half rose,
168 Slowly, with pain, reclining on his arm,
169 And looking wistfully with wide blue eyes
170 As in a picture. Him Sir Bedivere
171 Remorsefully regarded thro' his tears,
172 And would have spoken, but he found not words,
173 Then took with care, and kneeling on one knee,
174 O'er both his shoulders drew the languid hands,
175 And rising bore him thro' the place of tombs.
176 But, as he walk'd, King Arthur panted hard,
177 Like one that feels a nightmare on his bed
178 When all the house is mute. So sigh'd the King
179 Muttering and murmuring at his ear, "Quick, quick!
180 I fear it is too late, and I shall die."
181 But the other swiftly strode from ridge to ridge,
182 Clothed with his breath, and looking, as he walk'd
183 Larger than human on the frozen hills.
184 He heard the deep behind him, and a cry
185 Before. His own thought drove him like a goad.
186 Dry clash'd his harness in the icy caves
187 And barren chasms, and all to left and right
188 The bare black cliff clang'd round him, as he based
189 His feet on juts of slippery crag that rang
190 Sharp-smitten with the dint of armed heels--
191 And on a sudden, lo! the level lake,
192 And the long glories of the winter moon.
193 Then saw they how there hove a dusky barge
194 Dark as a funeral scarf from stem to stern,
195 Beneath them; and descending they were ware
196 That all the decks were dense with stately forms
197 Black-stoled, black-hooded, like a dream--by these
198 Three Queens with crowns of gold--and from them rose
199 A cry that shiver'd to the tingling stars,
200 And, as it were one voice, an agony
201 Of lamentation, like a wind, that shrills
202 All night in a waste land, where no one comes,
203 Or hath come, since the making of the world.
204 Then murmur'd Arthur, "Place me in the barge,"
205 And to the barge they came. There those three Queens
206 Put forth their hands, and took the King, and wept.
207 But she that rose the tallest of them all
208 And fairest, laid his head upon her lap,
209 And loosed the shatter'd casque, and chafed his hands,
210 And call'd him by his name, complaining loud
211 And dropping bitter tears against his brow
212 Striped with dark blood: for all his face was white
213 And colourless, and like the wither'd moon
214 Smote by the fresh beam of the springing east;
215 And all his greaves and cuisses dash'd with drops
216 Of onset; and the light and lustrous curls--
217 That made his forehead like a rising sun
218 High from the daïs-throne--were parch'd with dust;
219 Or, clotted into points and hanging loose,
220 Mix'd with the knightly growth that fringed his lips.
221 So like a shatter'd column lay the King;
222 Not like that Arthur who, with lance in rest,
223 From spur to plume a star of tournament,
224 Shot thro' the lists at Camelot, and charged
225 Before the eyes of ladies and of kings.
226 Then loudly cried the bold Sir Bedivere:
227 "Ah! my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?
228 Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?
229 For now I see the true old times are dead,
230 When every morning brought a noble chance,
231 And every chance brought out a noble knight.
232 Such times have been not since the light that led
233 The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.
234 But now the whole ROUND TABLE is dissolved
235 Which was an image of the mighty world;
236 And I, the last, go forth companionless,
237 And the days darken round me, and the years,
238 Among new men, strange faces, other minds."
239 And slowly answer'd Arthur from the barge:
240 "The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
241 And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
242 Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
243 Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?
244 I have lived my life, and that which I have done
245 May He within Himself make pure! but thou,
246 If thou shouldst never see my face again,
247 Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
248 Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
249 Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
250 For what are men better than sheep or goats
251 That nourish a blind life within the brain,
252 If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
253 Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
254 For so the whole round earth is every way
255 Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.
256 But now farewell. I am going a long way
257 With these thou seëst--if indeed I go--
258 (For all my mind is clouded with a doubt)
259 To the island-valley of Avilion;
260 Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
261 Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
262 Deep-meadow'd, happy, fair with orchard-lawns
263 And bowery hollows crown'd with summer sea,
264 Where I will heal me of my grievous wound."
265 So said he, and the barge with oar and sail
266 Moved from the brink, like some full-breasted swan
267 That, fluting a wild carol ere her death,
268 Ruffles her pure cold plume, and takes the flood
269 With swarthy webs. Long stood Sir Bedivere
270 Revolving many memories, till the hull
271 Look'd one black dot against the verge of dawn,
272 And on the mere the wailing died away.
Credits and Copyright
Together with the editors, the Department of English (University of Toronto), and the University of Toronto Press, the
following individuals share copyright for the work that went into this edition:
Screen Design (Electronic Edition):
Sian Meikle (University of Toronto Library)
Sharine Leung (New College Computing Facility)
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