Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who followed Wordsworth as Laureate in 1850 set his description of ‘The Passing of Arthur,’ or ‘Morte D’Arthur,’ as a narrative related on Christmas Eve by a supposed poet, Everard Hall, “ mouthing out his hollow oes and aes”.
So all day long the noise of battle roll’d
Among the mountains by the winter sea;
Until King Arthur’s table, man by man,
Had fallen in Lyonness about their Lord,
King Arthur: then, because his wound was deep,
The bold Sir Bedivere uplifted him,
Sir Bedivere, the last of all his knights,
And bore him to a chapel nigh the field,
A broken chancel with a broken cross,
That stood on a dark straight of barren land.
On one side lay the ocean, and on one
Lay a great water, and the moon was full.
Commanded by Arthur, but after long hesitation, Sir Bedivere returned Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, to the Lady of the Lake:
Then quickly rose Sir Bedivere,and ran,
And, leaping down the ridges lightly, plunged
Among the bulrush-beds, and clutch’d the sword
And strongly wheel’d and threw it. The great brand
Made lightnings in the splendour of the moon
And flashing round and round, and whirl’d in an arch,
Shot like a streamer of the northern morn,
Seen where the moving isles of winter shock
By night, with noises of the northern sea.
So flash’d and fell the brand Excalibur:
But ere he dipt the surface, rose an arm
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
And caught him by the hilt, and brandish’d him
Three times, and drew him under in the mere.
Arthur himself departed upon a funereal barge for the
‘ island valley of Avilion;
Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadow’d, happy, fair with orchard-lawns
And bowery hollows crowned with summer sea,
Where I will heal me of my grievous wound.’
So said he, and the barge with oar and sail
Moved from the brink, like some full breasted swan
That, fluting a wild carol ere her death,
Ruffles her pure cold plume, and takes the flood
With swarthy webs. Long stood Sir Bedivere
Revolving many memories, till the hull
Look’d one black dot against the verge of dawn,
And on the mere the wailing died away.
So passed Arthur, “Rex quondam rexque futurus” once king, and king that shall be:
the poet dreams that, fulfilling Merlin’s prophecy, Arthur returned to Britain:
At this a hundred bells began to peal,
That with the sound I woke, and heard indeed
The clear church-bells ring in the Christmas morn.
Next: The Oxen Thomas Hardy