Nor ever yet had Arthur fought a fight Like this last, dim, weird battle of the west. 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. And lightly went the other to the King. But now the whole Round Table is dissolvd Which was an image of the mighty world, And I, the last, go forth companionless, And the days darken round me, and the years, Among new men, strange faces, other minds. He heard the deep behind him, and a cry Before. Tennyson knew a number of these earlier English and French versions, and their differences, perhaps unintentionally, remain embedded in his Idylls of the King. Such a sleep They sleep--the men I loved.
My house are rather they who sware my vows, Yea, even while they brake them, own'd me King. Then went Sir Bedivere the second time Across the ridge, and paced beside the mere, Counting the dewy pebbles, fixed in thought; But when he saw the wonder of the hilt, How curiously and strangely chased, he smote His palms together, and he cried aloud: 'And if indeed I cast the brand away, Surely a precious thing, one worthy note, Should thus be lost for ever from the earth, Which might have pleased the eyes of many men. Then Sir Bedivere took the king upon his back and so went with him to that water. His own thought drove him like a goad. Speak out: what is it thou hast heard, or seen? Make broad thy shoulders to receive my weight, And bear me to the margin; yet I fear My wound hath taken cold, and I shall die. There those three Queens Put forth their hands, and took the King, and wept. O light upon the wind, Thine, Gawain, was the voice--are these dim cries Thine? The King is sick, and knows not what he does.
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. 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. More things are wrought by prayer Than this world dreams of. Yet, for a man may fail in duty twice, And the third time may prosper, get thee hence: But, if thou spare to fling Excalibur, I will arise and slay thee with my hands. What record, or what relic of my lord Should be to aftertime, but empty breath And rumours of a doubt? And lightly went the other to the King.
Then with both hands I flung him, wheeling him; But when I looked again, behold an arm, Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful, That caught him by the hilt, and brandished him Three times, and drew him under in the mere. As he worked on into the second half of the century there were more editions: Thomas Wright's of 1858 and James Knowles' popular modernized version of 1862 that went through seven printings by the time of Tennyson's death. Yet still thy life is whole, and still I live Who love thee; but who hates thee, he that brought The heathen back among us, yonder stands, Modred, unharmed, the traitor of thine house. And then Sir Bedivere hid Excalibur under a tree. There drew he forth the brand Excalibur, And o'er him, drawing it, the winter moon, Brightening the skirts of a long cloud, ran forth And sparkled keen with frost against the hilt: For all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks, Myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth-work Of subtlest jewellery. Yet I thy hest will all perform at full, Watch what I see, and lightly bring thee word. I perish by this people which I made,-- Tho' Merlin sware that I should come again To rule once more--but let what will be, be, I am so deeply smitten thro' the helm That without help I cannot last till morn.
For friend and foe were shadows in the mist, And friend slew friend not knowing whom he slew; And some had visions out of golden youth, And some beheld the faces of old ghosts Look in upon the battle; and in the mist Was many a noble deed, many a base, And chance and craft and strength in single fights, And ever and anon with host to host Shocks, and the splintering spear, the hard mail hewn, Shield-breakings, and the clash of brands, the crash Of battleaxes on shattered helms, and shrieks After the Christ, of those who falling down Looked up for heaven, and only saw the mist; And shouts of heathen and the traitor knights, Oaths, insults, filth, and monstrous blasphemies, Sweat, writhings, anguish, labouring of the lungs In that close mist, and cryings for the light, Moans of the dying, and voices of the dead. His own thought drove him like a goad. A little thing may harm a wounded man. To read an illuminated version of the poem from 1912, click on:. Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me? 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 Lyonnesse 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 strait of barren land.
I think that we Shall never more, at any future time, Delight our souls with talk of knightly deeds, Walking about the gardens and the halls Of Camelot, as in the days that were. There drew he forth the brand Excalibur, And o'er him, drawing it, the winter moon, Brightening the skirts of a long cloud, ran forth And sparkled keen with frost against the hilt: For all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks, Myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth-work Of subtlest jewellery. Speak out: what is it thou hast heard, or seen? And lightly went the other to the King. But, as he walked, King Arthur panted hard, Like one that feels a nightmare on his bed When all the house is mute. So Tennyson worked on the legends for over fifty years. But now much honour and much fame were lost.
He, stepping down By zig-zag paths, and juts of pointed rock, Came on the shining levels of the lake. Right well in heart they know thee for the King. 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 Burned at his lowest in the rolling year, On the waste sand by the waste sea they closed. Last, as by some one deathbed after wail Of suffering, silence follows, or through death Or deathlike swoon, thus over all that shore, Save for some whisper of the seething seas, A dead hush fell; but when the dolorous day Grew drearier toward twilight falling, came A bitter wind, clear from the North, and blew The mist aside, and with that wind the tide Rose, and the pale King glanced across the field Of battle: but no man was moving there; Nor any cry of Christian heard thereon, Nor yet of heathen; only the wan wave Brake in among dead faces, to and fro Swaying the helpless hands, and up and down Tumbling the hollow helmets of the fallen, And shivered brands that once had fought with Rome, And rolling far along the gloomy shores The voice of days of old and days to be. Dry clashed his harness in the icy caves And barren chasms, and all to left and right The bare black cliff clanged round him, as he based His feet on juts of slippery crag that rang Sharp-smitten with the dint of armd heels-- And on a sudden, lo! A little thing may harm a wounded man. What record, or what relic of my lord Should be to aftertime, but empty breath And rumours of a doubt? I am going a long way With these thou seëst--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-meadow'd, happy, fair with orchard-lawns And bowery hollows crown'd with summer sea, Where I will heal me of my grievous wound. Yet now, I charge thee, quickly go again, As thou art lief and dear, and do the thing I bade thee, watch, and lightly bring me word.
Then murmured Arthur, 'Place me in the barge. I see thee what thou art, For thou, the latest-left of all my knights, In whom should meet the offices of all, Thou wouldst betray me for the precious hilt; Either from lust of gold, or like a girl Valuing the giddy pleasure of the eyes. Little man, little man, thy father if he had been alive durst not have used that word, but thou hast grown presumptuous because thou knowest that I shall die. 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. But now much honour and much fame were lost.