Idylls of the King: The Passing of Arthur (excerpt)

That story which the bold Sir Bedivere,
  First made and latest left of all the knights,
  Told, when the man was no more than a voice
  In the white winter of his age, to those
  With whom he dwelt, new faces, other minds.
  For on their march to westward, Bedivere,
  Who slowly paced among the slumbering host,
  Heard in his tent the moanings of the King:
  "I found Him in the shining of the stars,
  I mark'd Him in the flowering of His fields,
  But in His ways with men I find Him not.
  I waged His wars, and now I pass and die.
  O me! for why is all around us here
  As if some lesser god had made the world,
  But had not force to shape it as he would,
  Till the High God behold it from beyond,
  And enter it, and make it beautiful?
  Or else as if the world were wholly fair,
  But that these eyes of men are dense and dim,
  And have not power to see it as it is:
  Perchance, because we see not to the close;--
  For I, being simple, thought to work His will,
  And have but stricken with the sword in vain;
  And all whereon I lean'd in wife and friend
  Is traitor to my peace, and all my realm
  Reels back into the beast, and is no more.
  My God, thou hast forgotten me in my death:
  Nay--God my Christ--I pass but shall not die."

  Then, ere that last weird battle in the west,
  There came on Arthur sleeping, Gawain kill'd
  In Lancelot's war, the ghost of Gawain blown
  Along a wandering wind, and past his ear
  Went shrilling, "Hollow, hollow all delight!
  Hail, King! to-morrow thou shalt pass away.
  Farewell! there is an isle of rest for thee.
  And I am blown along a wandering wind,
  And hollow, hollow, hollow all delight."
  And fainter onward, like wild birds that change
  Their season in the night and wail their way
  From cloud to cloud, down the long wind the dream
  Shrill'd; but in going mingled with dim cries
  Far in the moonlit haze among the hills,
  As of some lonely city sack'd by night,
  When all is lost, and wife and child with wail
  Pass to new lords; and Arthur woke and call'd,
  "Who spake? A dream. O light upon the wind,
  Thine, Gawain, was the voice--are these dim cries
  Thine? or doth all that haunts the waste and wild
  Mourn, knowing it will go along with me?"

  This heard the bold Sir Bedivere and spake:
  "O me, my King, let pass whatever will,
  Elves, and the harmless glamour of the field;
  But in their stead thy name and glory cling
  To all high places like a golden cloud
  For ever: but as yet thou shalt not pass.
  Light was Gawain in life, and light in death
  Is Gawain, for the ghost is as the man;
  And care not thou for dreams from him, but rise--
  I hear the steps of Modred in the west,
  And with him many of thy people, and knights
  Once thine, whom thou hast loved, but grosser grown
  Than heathen, spitting at their vows and thee.
  Right well in heart they know thee for the King.
  Arise, go forth and conquer as of old."

  Then spake King Arthur to Sir Bedivere:
  "Far other is this battle in the west
  Whereto we move, than when we strove in youth,
  And brake the petty kings, and fought with Rome,
  Or thrust the heathen from the Roman wall,
  And shook him thro' the north. Ill doom is mine
  To war against my people and my knights.
  The king who fights his people fights himself.
  And they my knights, who loved me once, the stroke
  That strikes them dead is as my death to me.
  Yet let us hence, and find or feel a way
  Thro' this blind haze, which ever since I saw
  One lying in the dust at Almesbury,
  Hath folded in the passes of the world."

  Then rose the King and moved his host by night,
  And ever push'd Sir Modred, league by league,
  Back to the sunset bound of Lyonnesse--
  A land of old upheaven from the abyss
  By fire, to sink into the abyss again;
  Where fragments of forgotten peoples dwelt,
  And the long mountains ended in a coast
  Of ever-shifting sand, and far away
  The phantom circle of a moaning sea.
  There the pursuer could pursue no more,
  And he that fled no further fly the King;
  And there, that day when the great light of heaven
  Burn'd at his lowest in the rolling year,
  On the waste sand by the waste sea they closed.
  Nor ever yet had Arthur fought a fight
  Like this last, dim, weird battle of the west.
  A deathwhite mist slept over sand and sea:
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Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson, FRS was Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland during much of Queen Victoria's reign and remains one of the most popular British poets.  more…

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