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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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