Morte D’Arthur: Summary and Analysis: 2022

About the poet of Morte D’Arthur:

Born in 1809 in England, Alfred Lord Tennyson turned out to be one of the most famous as well as loved poets of the Victorian era. Tennyson escaped home in 1827 to attend Trinity College, Cambridge. At the age of 41, he had established himself as the most popular Victorian-era poet. He received the honor of becoming one of the most famous living persons- with Queen Victoria and Gladstone. Such honor and reputation were not received by any other English writing poet. His contribution to the field of literature has been immense and incomparable. He can surely be seen as one of the half dozen great poets in the English language. He left this world in the year 1892.

Morte D’Arthur: Setting

The setting of the story is that of medieval. There is a medieval atmosphere, medieval wardrobe as well as medieval scenery too. This is clear from the expressions ‘the armed heels,’ ‘the white samite, my sillies, wonderful, the brand Excalibur, etc.’ Essentially, only the background is medieval in nature, but the actual story is Victorian and modern. This modern aspect is seen in the mental conflict that goes on in the mind of Sir Bedivere. The poem is set on a battlefield where the sound of weapons could be heard easily. The poem is actually in the form of conversation that goes on among King Arthur and Sir Bedivere in the form of alternate verses.

Morte D’Arthur: Poetic Devices

Imagery has been used as the most powerful tool in the entire poem to draw a perfect image in the mind of the reader about what is being conveyed. The poet has tried to use the best of the words to make the reader understand what he wants to. And as a reader too, we find the poem to be a success in conveying the message in the best possible way. An excerpt taken as an example of imagery from the poem is:
           ‘Like one that feels a nightmare on his bed
            When all the house is mute. So sigh’d the King
            Muttering and murmuring at his ear, “Quick, quick!’
A few examples of alliteration are:
            ‘man by man’
            ‘wound was deep.’
            ‘Lyonnesse about their Lord’
            ‘Muttering and murmuring.


So all day long, the noise of battle roll’d (A)
Among the mountains by the winter sea; (B)
Until King Arthur’s table, man by man, (C)
Had fallen in Lyonnesse about their Lord, (D)
King Arthur: then, because his wound was deep, (E)
The bold Sir Bedivere uplifted him, (F)
Sir Bedivere, the last of all his knights, (G)
The poem is written in blank verse with no rhyme scheme to keep keep the mood of the poem melancholic and make the reader feel the same.

Morte D’Arthur: Summary

The poem begins with the noise of weapons which could be heard right from the battlefield itself. There was a war going on in the field of battle where King Arthur had lost most of his men. He himself was deeply wounded and was made to uplift by Sir Bedivere. Sir Bedivere was considered to be the last of all knights. He made the King support himself by making him sit on a raised platform right near the ocean where a full moon could easily be seen. King Arthur starts speaking to Sir Bedivere. He tells him of his mighty nature and how and from where he took up the sword to become a king and how he was coerced into his present condition. He also tells him how he feels sad about the death of his brave men whom he lost in the war. He asks Bedivere to take his sword and place it right back in the middle of the water from where he received it.

Since King Arthur was injured, Sir Bedivere made every possible effort not to leave him alone, but ultimately he had to obey his lord. As Bedivere walks away, he passes by the tombs of great men well lit by the light coming from the sky. Finally, he reaches near the lake where he had to put back Excalibur- the king’s sword.

As soon as he took the sword out of his sheath, he was fascinated by the shine and the sparkle of the sword. He found it difficult to place it back, and so, he hid it near the lake. On returning back, Arthur asked him whether he did what he was asked to and what were the things he saw. To which Bedivere gave an unexpected answer. Arthur understood that Bedivere did not complete his job and was then asked by Arthur to go back and try again. Sir Bedivere obeyed his lord and went back.

He was in a complete dilemma. He could not understand the fact that how and why that precious sword embedded with jewels should be thrown in the lake. He thought that it must rather be kept in the treasure. Also, he thought that the king might be out of his senses because he was not well, and that is why he must have asked him to do so.

The same incident happened on his return, and he had to try it one more time. This time he was threatened by King Arthur that if he fails to do it, he would be assassinated. This time Bedivere picked up the sword and threw it right in the middle of the lake. He was astonished to see an arm coming out from the water, which caught the sword and took it inside the lake. As soon as he returned back, the king could make outright from his eyes that the task was completed and told him that now, his death was near. The king asks Bedivere to take him to the place where he saw the tombs. Bedivere does as directed. He made every possible effort to take the king to that place before he dies.

As soon as they reached there, Bedivere was surprised yet again to see three queens standing and crying in one voice. Arthur insists on being taken into the canal boat. His head is placed in the lap of the fairest queen, and as the tears of the queen drop on his pale face, he seems dead. Sir Bedivere calls out for King Arthur and asks him what he would do now as the Round Table was dissolved too. To which Arthur replies that he should not be dependent on the king anymore as he is bidding farewell and that he must move on with something new. Arthur was going miles away from Bedivere, from where he would never return. And as the canal boat starts to move, Bedivere bids farewell to his lord with a heavy heart and remembers all the time they spent together.  Finally, the ship sails and is lost somewhere.

Morte D’Arthur: Analysis

Morte d’Arthur, which could also be called “The Passing of Arthur,” is considered to be one of the most famous works of Tennyson. It was included in his ‘Idylls of the King’ after it was completed in 1842. The poem is thought to be written by Tennyson to escape from the pain of losing his close friend- Arthur Henry Hallam. It is noted by one of the critics that ‘it is as if Tennyson released his darkest vision of death in this poem.’ The brotherhood of Arthur and Bedivere, as described in the poem, perfectly symbolizes the real-life deep friendship of Tennyson and Arthur Hallam. It has been claimed by a few critics that another poem of Tennyson named “The Epic” is actually an apology for this one. Despite the fact that Sir Bedivere was asked to do the work assigned to him almost thrice, he did as obeyed. He did not try to fool or betray the king by lying. Rather he was honest and kept the honor of his lord intact. Describing sunrise by use of expressions like ‘fresh beam of the springing east,’ ‘like a streamer of the northern morn,’ ‘every morning brought a noble chance’ and ‘verge of dawn’ have reflected the positives aspects of King Arthur and his sword. Expressions like ‘dark strait of barren land,’ ‘wasteland where no one comes,’ ‘icy caves,’ ‘frozen hills’ have added only to make the mood of the poem even more gloomy and reflect an unforgiving world along with reflecting a typical northern European winter landscape. Sir Bedivere, despite being involved in a conflict of mind between obeying his lord or keeping the precious sword, overcomes this conflict by letting his loyalty win. One needs to learn a lot from the character of Sir Bedivere about different moral values.

Morte D’Arthur: Central Idea

This poem is a perfect example of loyalty and respect shown in the form of Sir Bedivere’s loyal nature towards his lord, King Arthur. One must be loyal and honor others no matter where like takes us. We will always be remembered only for the good deeds we do. It also highlights the truth that change is a law of nature. Change is necessary for growth and progress. Thus it is our responsibility to accept those changes and take them in a positive manner and start working in the flow of changes, for it will surely lead us to the path of our success.

Morte D’Arthur: Tone

The tone of the poem is melancholic as the entire poem focuses on the ending life of King Arthur. There is no shift of tone as the poet wants the reader to immerse and feel the pain of Arthur’s death and how Bedivere is left all alone. The poet wants the reader to feel the pain of departing from a loved one, and that is the reason the poem even lacks any rhyme scheme. It is kept unrhymed to keep the focus of the reader intact. The tone is well suited for the poem, and we feel sorry for King Arthur and feel pity for Sir Bedivere, who does not know how to accept the fact that his lord is no more alive.

The poem has been successful in aiming right at the emotions of the reader. For once, we imagine how mighty the king was, and the other moment, we start feeling sorry for his pitiful condition. For understanding the poem even better, one might first consider Malory’s account of the death of Arthur, which is considered to be the source for Tennyson’s poems. Moreover, one should let himself/herself being carried away by the rhythm. One must emphasize the theme and related expressions in order to understand the poem even better, as it is not so easy to understand Victorian poetry.

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