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Posts Tagged ‘dreaming of King Arthur’

Alfred, Lord Tennyson is perhaps my all-time favorite poet, and while I much admire his wonderful Idylls of the King, I admit I am charmed by the earliest version that survived, “The Epic” which includes what would later become “The Passing of Arthur,” the final great poem, but also this beautiful prologue that associates Arthur with Christmas and describes a bit of Tennyson’s process and self-doubt, including an earlier version of Idylls of the King he destroyed. Because of “The Epic” I always associate King Arthur with Christmas. I will not post here the longer body of the poem that became “The Passing of Arthur,” but simply the opening and closing of the poem.

And again, I wish “Happy Christmas!” to all my readers with the wish that “each evening from December to December, before you drift asleep upon your cot, [you] think back on all the tales that you remember of Camelot.”

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Epic

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

At Francis Allen’s on the Christmas-eve,—
The game of forfeits done—the girls all kiss’d
Beneath the sacred bush and past away—
The parson Holmes, the poet Everard Hall,
The host, and I sat round the wassail-bowl,
Then half-way ebb’d; and there we held a talk,
How all the old honor had from Christmas gone,
Or gone or dwindled down to some odd games
In some odd nooks like this; till I tired out
With cutting eights that day upon the pond,
Where, three times slipping from the outer edge,
I bump’d the ice into three several stars,
Fell in a doze; and half-awake I heard
The parson taking wide and wider sweeps,
Now harping on the church-commissioners,
Now hawking at geology and schism;
Until I woke, and found him settled down
Upon the general decay of faith
Right thro’ the world: “at home was little left,
And none abroad; there was no anchor, none,
To hold by.” Francis, laughing, clapt his hand
On Everard’s shoulder, with “I hold by him.”
“And I,” quoth Everard, “by the wassail-bowl.”
“Why yes,” I said, ” we knew your gift that way
At college; but another which you had—
I mean of verse (for so we held it then),
What came of that?” “You know,” said Frank, “he burnt
His epic, his King Arthur, some twelve books”—
And then to me demanding why: “O, sir,
He thought that nothing new was said, or else
Something so said ‘t was nothing—that a truth
Looks freshest in the fashion of the day;
God knows; he has a mint of reasons; ask.
It pleased me well enough.” “Nay, nay,” said Hall,
“Why take the style of those heroic times?
For nature brings not back the mastodon,
Nor we those times; and why should any man
Remodel models? these twelve books of mine
Were faint Homeric echoes, nothing-worth,
Mere chaff and draff, much better burnt.” “But I,”
Said Francis, “pick’d the eleventh from this hearth,
And have it; keep a thing, its use will come.
I hoard it as a sugar-plum for Holmes.”
He laugh’d, and I, tho’ sleepy, like a horse
That hears the corn-bin open, prick’d my ears;
For I remember’d Everard’s college fame
When we were Freshmen. Then at my request
He brought it; and the poet, little urged,
But with some prelude of disparagement,
Read, mouthing out his hollow oes and as
Deep-chested music, and to this result.

……………………………………………………

Here ended Hall, and our last light, that long
Had wink’d and threaten’d darkness, flared and fell;
At which the parson, sent to sleep with sound,
And waked with silence, grunted “Good!” but we
Sat rapt: it was the tone with which he read—
Perhaps some modern touches here and there
Redeem’d it from the charge of nothingness—
Or else we loved the man, and prized his work;
I know not; but we sitting, as I said,
The cock crew loud, as all that time of year
The lusty bird takes every hour for dawn.
Then Francis, muttering, like a man ill-used,
“There now—that’s nothing!” drew a little back,
And drove his heel into the smoulder’d log,
That sent a blast of sparkles up the flue.
And so to bed, where yet in sleep I seem’d
To sail with Arthur under looming shores,
Point after point; till on to dawn, when dreams
Begin to feel the truth and stir of day,
To me, methought, who waited with the crowd,
There came a bark that, blowing forward, bore
King Arthur, like a modern gentleman
Of stateliest port; and all the people cried,
“Arthur is come again: he cannot die.”
Then those that stood upon the hills behind
Repeated—”Come again, and thrice as fair;”
And, further inland, voices echoed—”Come
With all good things, and war shall be no more.”
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.

________________________

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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