Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Passing of Arthur


One of the most stirring passages from Tennyson's Idylls of the King are the last stanzas of "The Passing of Arthur," in which the wounded king is spirited away to the "island-valley" of Avalon.

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! but thou,
If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.
But now farewell. I am going a long way
With these thou seest—if indeed I go
(For all my mind is clouded with a doubt)—
To the island-valley of Avilion;
Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadowed, 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
Looked one black dot against the verge of dawn,
And on the mere the wailing died away.
But when that moan had past for evermore,
The stillness of the dead world’s winter dawn
Amazed him, and he groaned, ‘The King is gone.’
And therewithal came on him the weird rhyme,
‘From the great deep to the great deep he goes.’
Whereat he slowly turned and slowly clomb
The last hard footstep of that iron crag;
Thence marked the black hull moving yet, and cried,
‘He passes to be King among the dead,
And after healing of his grievous wound
He comes again; but—if he come no more—
O me, be yon dark Queens in yon black boat,
Who shrieked and wailed, the three whereat we gazed
On that high day, when, clothed with living light,
They stood before his throne in silence, friends
Of Arthur, who should help him at his need?’
Then from the dawn it seemed there came, but faint
As from beyond the limit of the world,
Like the last echo born of a great cry,
Sounds, as if some fair city were one voice
Around a king returning from his wars.
Thereat once more he moved about, and clomb
Even to the highest he could climb, and saw,
Straining his eyes beneath an arch of hand,
Or thought he saw, the speck that bare the King,
Down that long water opening on the deep
Somewhere far off, pass on and on, and go
From less to less and vanish into light.
And the new sun rose bringing the new year. Share

3 comments:

elena maria vidal said...

As an afterthought:

"Into the West"
(sung by Annie Lennox in LOTR movie)

Lay down,
your sweet and weary head.
Night is falling.
You have come to journey’s end.

Sleep now,and dream
of the ones who came before.
They are calling,
from across a distant shore.

Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see.
All of your fears will pass away.
Safe in my arms,
you’re only sleeping.

What can you see,
on the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea,
a pale moon rises.
The ships have come,
to carry you home.

And all will turn,
to silver glass.
A light on the water.
All souls pass.

Hope fades,
Into the world of night.
Through shadows falling,
Out of memory and time.

Don’t say,
We have come now to the end.
White shores are calling.
You and I will meet again.
And you’ll be here in my arms,
Just sleeping.

What can you see,
on the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea,
a pale moon rises.
The ships have come,
to carry you home.

And all will turn,
to silver glass.
A light on the water.
Grey ships pass
Into the West.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Elena: Beautiful posts lately.

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, Cathy, I am on poetry binge.