Morte D'Arthur - Epilogue 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 at 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 a 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. Tennyson (1809 – 1892)
This is the epilogue at the end of ‘Morte D’Arthur’ Tennyson’s famous poem on the death of the legendry King Arthur from the Knights of the Round Table. Not everybody is aware of these lines and it certainly was the case at our local U3A discussion on Tennyson.
It is Christmas Eve and the Parson has been reading and it is long into the evening with the remains of the fire smoldering. It is known that a cockerel will call out repeatedly well before the advent of day. And the cockerel is calling out many more times than three in the denunciation of Peter.
But what the parson had been reading stirred Tennyson into thought so much so that his dreams were of Arthur, King Arthur who is often also equated to his dead close friend Arthur Hallam – ‘I seem’d / To sail with Arthur under looming shores’.
I do love the words – ‘when dreams / Begin to feel the truth and stir of day’ which indicate he has been dreaming right up to daybreak when dreams dissolve in the reality of day.
It is what he dreamed that is so important … if you read the end of the death of Arthur in Tennyson’s poem you will be aware of the bark and the portraying of Arthur’s moving descriptive departure at death …
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
Look'd one black dot against the verge of dawn,
And on the mere the wailing died away.
Everybody is overjoyed at the return of the legendry King Arthur. And what good would then be accomplished. Equally Tennyson is overjoyed if he is thinking of Arthur Hallam, which is probably the case. And then the link to Christianity as the Christmas Bells peal out in joyous celebration of the arrival of Christmas Day.
Tennyson explored immortality and was hoping for individuality to be retained in any afterlife. He didn’t want the afterlife to be lost in a nebulous generic love cloud. For interest here is a link to a study of Tennyson and immortality – A Short Analysis of Tennyson’s ‘Morte d’Arthur’ – Interesting Literature
Tennyson on Wikipedia – Alfred, Lord Tennyson – Wikipedia