Summary and Analysis of The Passing of Arthur by Tennyson

About the Poet:

Lord Alfred Tennyson (August 1809- October 1892) was a Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland during the reign of Queen Victoria. While he still remains one of Britain’s most popular poets till date, some of his short-lyrical works include “Break, Break, Break”, “Tears, Idle Tears” and “Crossing the Bar”. His work has become a strong pillar to the foundation of modern English Literature and continues to inspire poets till today.

Introduction to The Passing of Arthur:

The passing of Arthur is a poem by A. L. Tennyson that talks about the story as told by Sir Bedivere, the last survivor of the round table. He overhears Arthur lamenting and is present beside him until his last breath. As Arthur is dying, Bedivere fulfils Arthur’s last few wishes to get him to. What is mentioned next are the events that unfold until the death of the honourable king Arthur.

Setting of The Passing of Arthur:

The poem is Bedivere’s narration of his encounters with King Arthur before his demise. The story is set around the time when Bedivere overhears Arthur lamenting over his mistakes and failures, hence starts to console the king with his past honourable endeavours. Arthur in return, cries of the fight that he must face with the enemies that are disguised as his subjects and is thus very sorrowful for this situation to have occurred. Both later go on to fight against these evils together, but King Arthur who is severely injured, asks Bedivere to throw his sword, named Excalibur into the lake. The part of the poem mentioned in “The passing of Arthur” is the period when Arthur is living on is last few breaths while Bedivere watches and obeys his orders from the king. The theme of this poem is mentioned in dark and glum terms like “Bitter tears against a brow” (line 19) and “the days darken around me” (line 45) to denote the sense of loss and sorrow at the death of the brave King Arthur.

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Poetic Devices in The Passing of Arthur:

Alliterations:
Alliterations are present in almost every sentence with short to long spaces ranging from phrases like “stem to stern” and “black stol’d, black hooded” to “laid his head upon her lap” and “Smote by the fresh beam of the springing east”.
Simile:
Line 2: “Dark as a funeral scarf from stem to stern”
Line 9: “Of lamentation, like a wind that shrills”
Line 21: “And colourless, like the wither’d moon”
Line 29: “So like a shattr’d column lay the King”
Line 57: “Rise like a fountain for me night and day.”
Line 74: “Mov’d from the brink, like some full-breasted swan”
Personification/ Metaphor:
Line 7: “A cry that shiver’d to the tingling stars”
Line 19: “Dropping bitter tears against a brow”
Line 25: “That made his forehead like a rising sun”
Line 28: “Mix’d with the knightly growth that fringed his lips”
Line 38: “When every morning brought out a noble chance”
Line 57: “Rise like a fountain for me night and day”
Line 63: “Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.”
Line69: “Nor ever wind blows loudly”

Summary of The Passing of Arthur:

The poem is about King Arthur who is on the verge of his death, asking Bedivere to follow his last orders. It involves the king to get over three of his spiritual challenges to trust his faith: to trust in God’s presence, to fight his last grim battle, and to finally cast his trusted sword named Excalibur into the lake. Bedivere is by Arthur’s side although Arthur crossed each step by himself. The poem sends a message of solidarity of self even when present in a community. Tennyson portrays message of human community that paradoxically needs to happen in isolation.

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Critical Analysis of The Passing of Arthur:

“The Passing of Arthur” is Tennyson’s method of sending out the message of true success and peace for making all the right decisions can only be obtained when you are isolated from humanity. The theme of trust and faith over oneself is highlighted when Arthur is stripped of his wealth and his moral support which he expected from his men. Although Bedivere is by his side, Arthur has no one else to trust but himself and only in this situation does he see things clearly.

Central Idea of The Passing of Arthur:

This poem by A. L. Tennyson is one of real struggle over one’s morality but not in the physical but in the mental and emotional aspects. Arthur has made wronged decisions that have led him to lose not only his city of Camelot, but also his Queens, his prized possessions and his trusted men. It is in this isolation that Arthur is capable of seeing things in their real form, when he is devoid of the noise that the community created which drew him away from doing what was right. It is a reflection of what society does to man and how he must keep control over their influence if he wishes to do what is needed of him.

Tone of The Passing of Arthur:

The poem begins with Bedivere obeying Arthur’s orders of taking him to the lake where he takes his last few breaths. Arthur has lost his city, his loved ones and his trusted men and now has only Bedivere by his side. The lake emerges with three queens that carry King Arthur into the river as they shed bitter tears at his nearing demise. As the fresh curls fall off of Arthur’s face, he is asked by Bedivere for a sense of direction. Bedivere asks Arthur of where to go and which way to lead now that he won’t be guided anymore. Arthur replies stating that he should trust in the path God has made for him and also asks him to pray for his soul to rest in peace. Arthur soon dies in the arms of the queens while Bedivere who is the last member of the Round Table is now left to uncover another journey of his own.

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Conclusion:

The poem “The Passing of Arthur” is about loss and sorrow but also empowers you to think for yourself and devoid from any distractions that life may have in store for you. It gives the example of Arthur, who after being so courageous and strong, makes the wrong decisions that boils down to bad consequences. But through the entire process, Arthur realises that it is his decisions that he takes in solitude that are the ones that will truly bring him peace. As he nears his death, he imparts this knowledge to Bedivere who seems to be lost without his guidance. This poem is a lesson to tell each individual to trust his community but trust much more in their own intellect and intuition when it comes to making decisions.
Contributor: Deeksha Honawar