he duty of the first section is to establish very clearly and to solidify a comic solution: the complete embodiment of a world with firm and luminous standards, permanent and workable values. The details of this vision of success must be imprinted on the reader's mind so that in the later parts of the poem he can recognize how specific and how complete the parody is. The force of the poem depends very largely on its ability to make its mocking points [157/158] concrete and exact; it can do this only by presenting an image of Camelot's success that is so striking it will not leave us, even long after the enemies have taken over.
The first section proceeds very methodically to build that memorable image. The opening poem, "The Coming of Arthur," gives a rational and discursive definition of the bases of the new world, its values and its demands. The second, "Gareth and Lynette," provides a poetic image of that world in action, proving Camelot's power to sustain itself. It is a more or less static image, drawn from the realm of innocence. The world of the last two idylls in this section, "The Marriage of Geraint" and "Geraint and Enid," is the world of experience, and its corresponding image is of dynamic change and repentance. Comedy thus ranges over and metaphorically dominates the total human perspective: from perfection to imperfection, timelessness to the transient, dream to actuality.
"The Coming of Arthur" [ full text of poem] opens the Idylls by posing its most crucial general problem: how do we know, what is the nature of knowledge, what sort of knowledge is authentic? The question is Arthur himself. who is he, where does he come from, how does he operate? Leodogran appears as the reader's surrogate, forced to decide whether or not to yield his being and his love. He must determine what truth is and how one arrives at it. The Idylls begins, then, in the most demanding way; with an essay on epistemology. Of course it is all superficially more concrete than this, but Leodogran's search for Arthur's origin and nature leads him into the most basic considerations, those that can be answered only by Merlin's riddling or by the king's dream. It is a search for evidence that ends by rejecting evidence altogether.
Leodogran's most immediate problem is to investigate the nature of evidence, the means by which we find truth. We do learn a great deal about the nature of that truth and its function, that is, about the nature and function of Arthur, but the central dramatic problem involves the sorting through of evidence that appears to conflict. Leodogran must find how to know before he can worry about the results of knowledge. His dilemma is compounded by the fact that few others seem the least bit troubled by this problem. Almost everyone else is dead certain, most of all the "great Lords and [158/159] Barons" (l. 64) of the realm, who are quite clear about evidence:
for lo! we look at him [Arthur],
And find nor face nor bearing, limbs nor voice,
Are like to those of Uther whom we knew.
This is the son of Gorloïs, not the King;
This is the son of Anton, not the King. [ll. 69-73]
This simple faith in the senses is the first faith rejected in the Idylls. Mere empiricism is always wrong, self-confident empiricism always dangerous. These assured logicians claim to have known Uther, but they knew only his face, bearing, limbs, and voice. Empiricism, the first real enemy in the poem, is now made to seem stupid and irrelevant, for the Idylls begins in comedy. But there is a deadly appeal in the empiricist's logic, a simplicity and ease quite attractive when compared with the difficulties Leodogran must endure when he casts away these assurances.
The ultimate answer to the king's problem is given immediately in the poem, in the urgent and dramatic words of Lancelot:
Sir and my liege . . . the fire of God
Descends upon thee in the battle-field:
I know thee for my King! [ll. 127-29]
The phrasing suggests that knowledge involves commitment; Lancelot acknowledges that Arthur is king and pledges his loyalty. He knows because he has experienced Arthur's kingship; it is as simple as that. The test of knowledge and the only genuine source of it is in experience - not necessarily, or even importantly, physical experience, but in the immediate participation in the imaginative life of the thing perceived. Witnesses, then, can be reliable only insofar as they are artists; their logic means nothing and there are no points they can prove, no case they can make. Only insofar as they can re-create the very life of the truth they report can that truth be transmitted. We know, then, in direct imaginative experience.
Leodogran, however, does not yet comprehend this, or at least the experience is not yet available to him; so he turns to witnesses, thinking that he can get at knowledge by empirical means. What he finds in the reports of his chamberlain, of Bedivere, and of Bellicent, is a chaotic jumble of facts that confuses his judgment only to provide him with inward certainty. The real facts of Arthur's birth are so impossible to determine that Leodogran is forced - or allowed - to go beyond facts to the essential truth. The testimony of the three witnesses conflicts wildly but only superficially. Each statement acts to represent the speaker's full belief in [159/160] Arthur's legitimacy and spirituality [This same view is developed by Gray's "A Study in Idyl" and his Man and Myth]. Leodogran learns from them to create his own poetry and his own belief. Out of his dream he fashions an experience that testifies as art testifies: without logic and proof but with life and power.
His first lessons, however, are negative ones; he has not yet learned to ask the proper questions. He searches after Arthur's secrets as if Arthur were a specimen to be traced and classified: "Knowest thou aught of Arthur's birth?" (l. 146). His chamberlain very rightly responds that spiritual agencies cannot be discussed in terms of origins. Only those in touch with magic, Merlin and Bleys, understand magic events. Leodogran is vexed that he cannot receive a direct answer to a direct question — "O friend, had I been holpen half as well / By this King Arthur as by thee today, / Then beast and man had had their share of me" (ll. 160-62). Such things as births, he assumes, are surely matters of record, or at least matters of plain fact. But Arthur is not to be discovered in this way; "our Arthur's birth," as the chamberlain concludes, is "secret" (l. 158). As Gray points out, this our is the key to the chamberlain's speech ("Study," p. 119). It indicates that despite his inability to reply to Leodogran's questions, he has found the answers. From the very start, then, Leodogran's mode of proceeding is criticized.
The next witness, Bedivere, provides a more subtle criticism of the logical and empirical proceedings. A clumsy, dull-witted soldier, he shares Leodogran's pragmatic assumptions. He is Arthur's first knight, loyal and brave, utterly convinced of Arthur's spirituality, but his understanding fails completely to grasp what he knows by experience. He is bold to defend the king against slander (ll. 175 - 76), but his own version of Arthur's birth is so gross as almost to constitute slander. He blithely repeats the gossipy, lurid tale of how Uther, driven by uncontrollable "heat" (l. 197), so lusted after Ygerne that he killed her husband. She remarries "with a shameful Swiftness" (l. 204) and begets "all before his time" (l. 210) a son, Arthur.
This inglorious beginning does not bother Bedivere at all; he cheerfully tells it to defend Arthur. How he can imagine that Leodogran will be much reassured by this thinly disguised story of rape (Bedivere is no euphemist) is not clear; what is clear is that he [160/161] is unconscious of the effect of the tale not only because he is stupid but because such things do not matter to him. His faith is beyond the need of proof, though his understanding is happy to provide it for the skeptical. Bedivere shows how completely faith and understanding, internal convictions and external verification are divorced in this idyll. Arthur will later strive to bring them into harmony, and will, for a time, succeed. Such a union is, in fact, forecast in Bedivere's story, where. Arthur's origin in physical lust is complemented by his mystical training with Merlin. The body and the spirit are thus united, somewhat crudely, of course, but, for Bedivere, appropriately, When there is, as there is in this idyll, a conflict between faith-imagination-experience and logic-reason-proof, however, the first are always held to be superior.
The superiority of imaginative experience is finally stated explicitly by the last witness, Bellicent, whose testimony is most important because her experience is most direct, least affected by superficial judgments: "I was near him" (l. 255), she says, and that one point counts for everything. She does, in fact, tell us a good deal about Arthur, describing his coronation and the participation of the Lady of the Lake, who is the most obvious sign of Arthur's spirituality, his symbolic association with the soul; Tennyson's gloss on this figure's symbolic importance is very direct: "The Lady of the Lake in old legends is the Church" (Ricks, p. 1477). Bellicent's most important duty, however, is to continue Leodogran's education in the legitimate means of finding truth. Leodogran is very properly moved by her story of Arthur's coronation; he is beginning to learn the truth within him and is secretly glad to receive such vital imaginative confirmation: "Thereat Leodogran rejoiced" (l. 309).
He still is plagued by rationalistic itches, however, and, thinking "to sift his doubtings to the last" (l. 310), returns doggedly to the issue of proof. Bellicent, presumably Arthur's sister, should know the facts if anyone does, he supposes. But she dismisses this approach immediately: "What know I" (l. 325). She goes on to point out that if he wants ocular proof, it isn't there:
What know I?
For dark my mother was in eyes and hair,
And dark in hair and eyes am I; and dark
Was Gorloïs, yea and dark was Uther too,
Wellnigh to blackness; but this King is fair
Beyond the race of Britons and of men. [ll. 325-30]
Arthur is not to be explained in these terms. [161/162] But there is meaning in what follows, the simple tale of the childhood play of Bellicent and Arthur and of Arthur's sweet comfort to her when she was unjustly punished. Here, Tennyson boldly turns to the naïveté of domestic comedy to define the basis of his epistemology. Bellicent's story not only portrays but transmits the experiential basis of spiritual truth: "he was at my side, / And spake sweet words, and comforted my heart, / And dried my tears, being a child with me. / And many a time he came" (ll. 347-50). The deliberate simplicity of this speech, especially the artless conjunctions, expresses a natural acceptance so basic it resists all but the most childlike language. There are no logical connections in the ands, just the marvelous reassurances of fairy tale, of childhood warmth and parental protection. With this inward assurance, precise facts yield to the magnificent non sequiturs of comedy: "But those first days had golden hours for me, / For then I surely thought he would be king" (ll. 356 - 57).
She does add the tale of Arthur's mysterious birth from the waves, but this story seems to her much less important because it is not a part of her direct experience. It is confirming in a way, and thus makes sense, but she really needs no confirmation. When she asks Merlin, then, if Bleys's story is "true," Merlin taunts her with her basic mistake: "And truth is this to me, and that to thee; / And truth or clothed or naked let it be" (ll. 406-07). In other words, Merlin riddles her to mock her useless (and uncharacteristic) search for single and verifiable external truth. He is not, one must add, suggesting any sort of relativistic doctrine here, at least not a relativism of truth.20 Truth is single, though it may be expressed, "clothed," in different forms. Tennyson himself glossed the lines as follows: "The truth appears in different guise to divers persons. The one fact is that man comes from the great deep and returns to it." (Ricks, p. 1480).
Tennyson's comments are not always to be trusted, but this one seems appropriate enough. Merlin realizes that Bellicent knows better, and he is simply chiding her. The rationalistic belief in growth into wisdom, echoed symbolically in the opening phrase, "rain, rain, and sun!" (l. 402), and stated directly in "A young man will be wiser by and by" (l. 403), is burlesqued by the actual [162/163] dominating cycles: "An old man's wit may wander ere he die" (l. 404); rain may or may not yield to sun: "Rain, sun, and rain! . . .Sun, rain, and sun!" (ll. 408-09). Merlin knows what Bellicent knows and, when he is not "in jest" (l. 419), says that Arthur is beyond mortality:
Merlin in our time
Hath spoken also, not in jest, and sworn
Though men may wound him that he will not die. [ll. 418-20]
Leodogran finally achieves the same inner experience and inner truth, not, significantly, through his understanding but through a dream. Bellicent's poetry has so much power that he immediately clothes the truth in his own myth. In the dream, the "phantom king" (l. 429) is at first surrounded by an obtrusive landscape, filled with carnage, fire, death, and the sound of dissonant, doubting voices. All this, the image of rational judgment, yields finally to pure imaginative actuality: "the solid earth became / As nothing, but the King stood out in heaven,/ Crowned" (ll. 441-43), The solid earth, all empirical evidence, becomes as nothing in the presence of authentic experience.
Leodogran's search thus becomes a climactic parable of the search for knowledge. It stands in this first idyll because it represents the central subject of the Idylls as a whole. Leodogran's success is important in creating an initial image of the means for finding the experience of truth. Camelot fails because Leodogran's victory is difficult to repeat; latcr doubters either rest in empiricism, distrust the visions that come to them, or respond hysterically to dangerous, partial visions. The truth is there all along, available, as Bellicent shows, to the most direct and unsophisticated experience. But the world itself becomes sophisticated.
As well as providing this crucial statement on method, the first idyll also does a great deal to define the nature of the spiritual truth with which it is concerned. Though explicitly a spiritual truth, it can find expression only in the physical. Idylls of the King carefully puts its mystical perceptions into a concrete, even flatly practical frame. The ideal works through the real; spiritual experience is one with social experience. Arthur is not an enemy of the empirical; at his height, "the world/ Was all so clear about him, that he saw / The smallest rock far on the faintest bill" (ll. 96-98). He can also see "even in high day the morning star" (l. 99). He perceives beyond the senses but not around them; he must work in the world, in the body. Thus his need for Guinevere:
for saving I be [163/164] joined
To her that is the fairest under heaven,
I seem as nothing in the mighty world,
And cannot will my will, nor work my work
Wholly, nor make myself in mine own realm
Victor and lord. [ll. 84-89]
His will is not incomplete without Guinevere; it just lacks social power: it cannot work to create a realm. Without her, he is not nothing, but nothing "in the mighty world." By joining himself to her lie is committing himself to social action and duty, acknowledging himself human. This is the personal reflection of ecce homo, repeated in the divine and comic promise to every man, the potential for creating a Paradise on earth:
. . . But were I joined with her,
Then might we live together as one life,
And reigning with one will in everything
Have power on this dark land to lighten it,
And power on this dead world to make it live. [ll. 89-93]
Coordinating body and soul, divinity becomes man, giving light and form to what is now dark and void. Arthur's promise is thus couched in dynamic, eventually perilous terms: the joining together of all antagonistic qualities.
The most essential balance is that of body and soul, but all opposites must unite in the central truth, not only moral and psychological ones but social ones as well. Before Arthur came, King Leodogran had been so overwhelmed with the chaos and brutality of his uncontrolled realm that lie had hoped even for the stability offered by tyranny, "groaned for the Roman legions here again, / And Caesar's eagle" (ll. 34-35). Arthur offers a balance of freedom and control, spontaneity and order. The crucial means for holding the balance is very simple: "man's word." The word is the symbol of God's gift to man, the ability to give life and permanence to all concrete and formless objects and acts. Art and life itself are guaranteed by the power of the word to give lasting coherence.
Arthur extends this gift to the political and social world, giving meaning to human community by insisting on the permanence of the word. The word must contain the greatest reality; man's will, that is, must be larger than circumstances. If God is real, His gift must have potency; therefore, "Man's word is God in man: / Let chance what will, I trust thee to the death" (ll. 132-33). No external evidence is demanded beforehand, not because Arthur is willfully [164/165] naïve, not because he is a mystic, and not because Tennyson is working to achieve a "tragic irony" (it is Lancelot, his ultimate betrayer, to whom Arthur speaks). Words must mean more than things; vows more than passing influences. If they do not, there is nothing either divine or human. Arthur has no choice; if he is to offer men the chance to be men, he must build his world on the permanence of complete trust.
He is betrayed in the end by the trivial change, the impermanence of all things. Even Excalibur, the symbol of his kingdom and his personal power, has "Cast me away!" written on the side opposite "Take me" (ll. 304, 302), By accepting life, Arthur is forced into transiency. In the manner of all great heroes, however, he refuses to accept this condition. By insisting on constancy, he fails and also succeeds. He is not wrong to demand permanence; though it is impossible, it is man's only hope. Arthur is not just an artist but a comic artist [both Priestley, p.37, and W. David Shaw, pp 46-47, develop the theme of Arthur as artist]. He opens the wilderness, letting in the sun and making broad, clear paths for all men. He offers men joy, youth, and acceptance, not some gray set of religious prohibitions or renunciations. Camelot is a comic world, and this idyll, like nearly all comedies, ends with a marriage, one that takes the "Sun of May," the springtime and fertility that descend on the married couple, and expands it to all society, promising to "make the world / Other" (ll. 471-72). Arthur first turns on the senex, the fossilized parental figure, this time Rome, and dismisses him without tribute, "Seeing that ye be grown too weak and old" (l. 510). Once liberated, the new society is "all one will" (l. 515), harmonious and eternally young. Arthur has "made a realm" (l. 518). The power contained in his truth is the power to re-create the world.
"Gareth and Lynette,"
The next idyll, "Gareth and Lynette," provides an illustration of the points made rather directly in "The Coming of Arthur." It is the exemplum for the opening argument. It does not so much define the values of Camelot as create for us an image of the promise it holds: the union of freedom and order. Above all it is an idyll characterized by simplicity and directness. In Gareth's world, there are no real problems. [165/166]
It is therefore appropriate that "Gareth and Lynette" should have the clearest and most elementary form of any of the idylls. For the first and only time, the society is pure enough to allow the force of innocence to express itself without perversion and compromise. This is the only idyll with a strictly chronological structure. Gareth can move through restriction after restriction to a final victory all the more satisfying because it is, in its major outlines, so very predictable. Such clean and direct progress is never possible again because the medium is never present again. Gareth is able to dedicate himself successfully to abstractions like "honor": simplified desires can work only in a world made simple by purity. Gareth wishes just to serve for glory, and this one resolution can solve all his problems of confinement, identity, and social being, and, symbolically, the problems of the state. Later, much more strenuous and ingenious attempts toward victory will fail in a world made complex by impurity.
At this point Gareth is allowed to present the highest human possibility, "ideal manhood closed in real man" ("To the Queen," l. 38). He represents the likeness of Arthur which passed over the faces of all the knights when they took the vows of obedience. In other words, he is the ideal human imitation of Arthur (and of Christ) and thus is the pattern of the poem. Therefore, though he progresses through a classic comic plot of testing (obscurity, disguise, temptation, final assertion of won identity), the real test is not of Gareth but of his king and his society. Gareth's success proves the authenticity of Arthur and Camelot. The conversion of Lynette, then, is not so much an artful doubling of Gareth's test (though it is that) as it is a symbolic cleansing of the doubt that could corrupt social obedience to Arthur. The real question, in other words, is whether the world can sustain magnificent innocence, and the answer, for the moment at least, is a resounding yes.
But in the Idylls as a whole it cannot be sustained, primarily because the union of gentleness and manliness celebrated by the marriage of Gareth and Lynette is later disrupted by a rejection of the two principal virtues celebrated by the idyll and its two main themes: obedience and grace, particularly as the latter is manifested in charity, forgiveness, and kindness.
The idyll is a poem of spring in every sense: the opening image of a flooded river suggests renewal and the abundant powers of youth, as well as specific and crucial spiritual qualities. Gareth sees that, [166/167] despite its apparent abandon, the river "dost His will, / The Maker's" (ll. 10-11). He instantly transcends the evidence of his senses with his intuition of the certainty of divine control. Subtly, this beginning establishes exactly what is lacking in the later empiricists and exactly what Arthur insists on: an assumption of spirituality.
In order to realize this extrarational faculty, Gareth must overcome many obstacles, the first of which is created by his mother, who "holds me still a child" (l. 15). Like all comic heroes, he must assert his manhood in order to begin his real initiation. The fact that Bellicent's demands are so explicitly sexual — she begs him to consider his impotent father, "the yet-warm corpse" (l. 79), who "beside the hearth / Lies like a log, and all but smouldered out!" (ll, 73-74) — really simplifies his problem by stating it so bluntly. The traditional battle with the father has already been won; he must simply escape from his mother. His later prolonged struggle to overcome Lynette's doubts parallels this first difficult fight with his mother and suggests that the real test is not presented by knights (or men) at all. His real triumph is over women, a fact both humorous in its suggestion of triviality and ominous in its anticipation of Guinevere's later frailty.
Gareth, however, has no real dilemmas. He certainly has solved the problem Leodogran had had with doubt. When his mother (the same Bellicent who had convinced Leodogran) tentatively raises rationalistic worries about Arthur's origins in order to poison Gareth's mind — "wilt thou leave / Thine easeful biding here, and risk thine all, / Life, limbs, for one that is not proven King?" (ll. 125-27) — he deals with her very shortly: "Who should be king save him who makes us free?" (l. 136). So much for proof! Gareth sees that the liberator is defined by the process of liberation; the king is he who forms subjects and continually is in the process of defining himself as king, He is always making us free. The existential answer is the one later given by Merlin and by the Idylls as a whole, though Gareth is one of the few embodiments of the central creed: that the proof of spiritual fact comes unbidden and never totally through the senses; it is guaranteed by faith, obedience, and charity.
Gareth demonstrates these qualities at once by agreeing to Bellicent's trial, which provides him the opportunity to enact a ritual testing. He recognizes that
his only way to glory lead
Low down through villain kitchen-vassalage. [ll. 156-57]
Gareth must [167/168] submit to the central paradoxical action of Christianity: losing himself in order to find himself. He sees that "the thrall in person may be free in soul" (l. 162) and declares, "I therefore yield me freely to thy will" (l. 165). The renunciation of personal will allows him riot only personality but freedom, and Gareth has, in fact, pronounced the key to the success of Camelot.
In the Christian tradition so strongly marked in this poem, Gareth's renunciation, obedience, and eventual glory are an imitation of Arthur's own initial obscurity (he "rode a simple knight among his knights" in "The Coming of Arthur," l. 51) and eventual triumph and, of course, of the Christ whom Arthur suggests. The Christ-like character of Gareth's own action is implied very quietly but nonetheless very firmly. He travels to Arthur at Eastertime and later acts among his fellow kitchen-thralls in such a way "that first they mocked, but, after, reverenced him" (l. 497). In any case, Gareth comes to Camelot already possessed of the mysteries that could preserve its glories; he arrives not really to be initiated but to demonstrate the possibilities of Arthur's rule.
In one sense all he has to do is to be young - to assert first the power and then the magnificence of youth. Even Merlin, the prophetic voice of doom throughout the Idylls, provokes Gareth's proper scorn. It is true, of course, that Merlin's statement that the vows are those by which men must be bound but which "no man can keep" (ll. 265-68) expresses the central ironic vision of the entire poem. But he is wrong in applying that prophecy to Gareth, who will temporarily belie the wizard's grim truth. It is not only the temporary irrelevance of the vision that causes Gareth to dismiss Merlin, however; Merlin is also old, and the comic form now evident in the idyll sees all the old as enemies — pompous, windy, and tyrannical. It is difficult, in other words, to keep a hollow, dusty ring out of Merlin's voice. There is no artistic inappropriateness here; prophecies of doom are simply incongruous in comedies. When, as happens here, their truth is later revealed, it comes with additional force.
The other blocking agent and emissary of the old is Sir Kay, Gareth's temporary master and, in his lack of generosity, an enemy of all that comedy values. He hates the young simply because he is old. Perhaps more significantly, his insensitivity is decidedly out of place in Camelot: he promises to take Gareth and "Like any pigeon . . . cram his crop, / And sleeker shall he shine than any hog" (ll. 49-50).[168/169] Lancelot very properly responds, "A horse thou knowest, a man thou dost not know" (l. 453). Camelot has been built to avoid just this confusion of man and animal and the perilous invasion of the human by the bestial. But again the darkness of the reference is not stressed, and Sir Kay is really cast as an officious buffoon, like one of Dickens's comic magistrates, temporarily a nuisance but not ultimately dangerous. Gareth easily throws him over when the time comes, having passed the test of obedience and humility.
The quest that he undertakes, then, arises straight from the center of the comic vision: "Let be my name until I make my name!" (l. 562). He proceeds with no name because he believes in the grand power of the human will to create its own personality and being. The rest of the idyll, in one sense, illustrates the truth of that perception.
It must persuade us and, of course, Lynette, who is in her way as pure as the hero. But she is initially so committed to the evidence of the senses (even her single joke is based on Gareth's smelling of the kitchen) that she is unable to recognize that her knave might be something other than he seems. She is, however, as educable as he is, and she undergoes the most important testing in the poem. She learns that man is defined by perpetual being, not by stable externals. Tennyson manages to include this education within one of the oldest of comic themes. Lynette comes on the scene as shrilly as Shakespeare's Kate, presuming even to lecture the king: "Why sit ye there?/ Rest would I not, Sir King, an I were king" (ll. 582 - 83). The reasons for the satisfactions found in the shrew-taming theme are seldom stated so bluntly: "an I were king."
Lynette, like all shrews, threatens the process of the creation of personality by her desire to assume all personality unto herself, More specifically, she threatens all manhood. But her very excesses help ensure the gentleness of the comedy, and they provide the certain traditional clues that she will, in the end, be tamed. In addition, her impulses are basically proper; she asks Arthur to clear the land and create order. In consonance with the form, her sister is threatened with nothing worse than marriage to a brute. Further, even these enemies that surround Lyonors are the traditional enemies of comedy, not only "fools" (l. 620) but of "the fashion of that old knight-errantry" (l. 614). In other words, they, like Sir Kay, are outdated members of an obsolete order which Gareth, like Arthur, must do away with. [169/170]
The final three-part battle (death turns out not to be a test) recalls Red Cross's three-day fight with the dragon as well as Spenser's allegorical model, the three-day period from Christ's crucifixion to his resurrection. All three knights whom Gareth fights suggest some form of compromise or temptation that would make the purity that Arthur demands impossible; Shaw points out that the four antagonism (counting Death as one) also suggest the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, thus adding an extra dimension of joy to Gareth's triumph ("Gareth's four Antagonists," pp. 34-35) The first, the Morning Star, carries a single crimson banner, suggestive of the passion of youthful ardor and lack of control. The fight is quickly over, Gareth having long ago conquered the impatience and frustration he showed at the opening of the idyll. The second combatant, the Noonday Sun, carries with him suggestions of the traditional Romantic and Victorian association of the sun with reason as opposed to the imaginative moon. Here, reason is seen specifically as the empirical reason that threatens to blind one to the real truth (even "Gareth's eyes had flying blots / Before them when he turned from watching him" [ll. 1005-06]). Though later one of the most dangerous enemies, he is no real threat to Gareth and here defeats himself. "The hoof of his horse slipt in the stream, the stream / Descended, and the Sun was washed away" (ll. 1020-21). The illusion of materialism is no match for spiritual fact. The Evening Star, apparently naked but actually wrapped in the skin of beasts, has become one with the animals, and he represents to Gareth the greatest danger and the most difficult enemy; This same point is made by Buckley, p. 184. For here Gareth is struggling against what he might become (see ll. 1100-04), the inhuman old man, animalistic and egocentric, the largest threat to comic and Christian society. At this point, incidentally, Lynette is converted, admits that she is "shamed" (l. 1135), and humbly asks his pardon. By undergoing a form of Gareth's own humiliation, she becomes courteous and presents a double for the pattern of perfection this idyll illustrates.
The final enemy, Death, provides the clearest indication of the comic nature of the idyll. Gareth has just been defeated by Lancelot, suggesting the puncture of' his last enemy, Pride, and illustrating the key Christian theme that only those who can find selves: "Victor from vanquished issues at the last, / And overthrower from being overthrown" (ll. 1230-31). He goes on to a [170/171] last battle which, of course, is no battle at all. In one of the most brilliant of twists, Tennyson does not extinguish Death in the pattern of old comedies but turns him into life itself. "the bright face of a blooming boy / Fresh as a flower new-born" (ll. 1373-74). Gareth and Lynette have not won eternal stasis but rather a life so pure and rich it contains only the present. The happiness is so great that Tennyson succeeds, for perhaps the only time in his poetry, with a tone of coyness: "And he that told the tale in older times / Says that Sir Gareth wedded Lyonors, / But he, that told it later, says Lynette" (ll. 1392-94). It is the final joke on the old, this time turned against Malory himself. "So large mirth lived" (l. 1391), the poet says. Gareth has accomplished for a time the great social goal of all comedy: he has made joy the one fact of existence.
"The Marriage of Geraint" and "Geraint and Enid,"
The next two idylls, "The Marriage of Geraint" and "Geraint and Enid," are conveniently treated together; they were, in fact, one long poem until 1873, when Tennyson made the division into the present form. The division makes a good deal of sense, since it preserves tonal and generic continuity within this first general section of the Idylls. "The Marriage of Geraint" is an idyllic comedy with some suggestions of turbulence and darkness about its edges; "Geraint and Enid" completes the transition into the world determined by the canons of realism, the world of instability, lapses from grace, doubt.
These are idylls of change and regeneration, idylls of experience. "Gareth and Lynette" had sought to preserve a natural Eden; these next poems seek to recapture an Eden that is lost. Though the permanent confidence that had infused "Gareth and Lynette" is now gone, it is a mistake to overstress the darkness of the Geraint-Enid idylls. The pastoral innocence of the earlier time, the marriage, is carefully structured so as to be contained within the dynamic testing and renewal of Geraint, but to argue that the effect of this structure "is to surround the idealization of the first meeting with the grim details of the present reality" (Poston, p. 270) seems to me to misrepresent the form. The experience contained in the image of the first meeting could just as well be seen as rendering the doubts of the present trivial. [171/172]
The power and undoubted validity of the love perceived in the main section of "The Marriage of Geraint" act to diminish the effect of the doubts and to suggest that they are only temporary. The decision to begin the poem with Enid's unfortunate fragment "I fear that I am no true wife," (l. 108)-and Geraint's subsequent mistrust seems an appeal to a traditional comic structure, where the movement is always from disarray to harmony. The initial disorder is played off against the experience of past love; because the doubts are merely rational and the love full, vital, and a part of experience, we know, from the values already established in the Idylls, that the doubt cannot last. The past order will reassert itself. The dominant effect is not darkness but the pleasant tension that arises from waiting for the good times to come again — for they certainly will come.
In structure and values these idylls are strongly comic. Of course, comedy is more difficult to maintain now than it was in "Gareth and Lynette." Gareth had only to confirm what he was, permanently and unshakably; Geraint must, in the deepest sense, re-form himself. The journey Geraint takes into the wasteland is a journey of self-discovery, a journey into his own moral and psychological being [Reed, pp. 58 - 69, explores this aspect of the journey motif fully, explaining many of the details of the poem in terms of Geraint's psychology and his psychological development.]. Selfhood is no longer a constant; it must, like Camelot itself, be continually rediscovered and reaffirmed. The loss of guaranteed personal stability is a major one, but it is compensated for by the affirmation of the power of renewal, particularly the power of the human will to triumph over circumstances, even the circumstances of its own decay.
The static and innocent world of "Gareth and Lynette" becomes the dynamic world of experience. Ironic forces are present, but they are soundly defeated. Leodogran's dream, that imaginative experience which provided truth and personal identity, is now seen as transient but also infinitely repeatable. One can find again that vital experience which makes knowledge and being possible. It is Geraint, then, even more than Gareth, who is the primary model on which later idylls reflect. Geraint suggests the ability of fallen man to find his way back to Paradise: a more complex but, in its way, more hopeful suggestion than that in the preceding idyll. Geraint is [172/173] the last comic answer to the world of ironic experience, the image of repentance, and regain that ought to preserve Camelot.
Through Geraint, Tennyson shows the corrupting force of rational doubt and the ability of man to find and destroy the source of that doubt. It is not Geraint's doubt of his wife but his doubt of the queen's loyalty — that is, elementary doubt itself — which emasculates him and makes him into a being without will, one "whose manhood was all gone" ("The Marriage of Geraint," l. 59). This doubt removes him entirely from the promise and values of Camelot - "Forgetful of his promise to the King" (l. 50) — consequently from all pleasure, and finally from his true self — "Forgetful of his glory and his name, / Forgetful of his princedom and its cares" (ll. 53-54). He must rebuild a self that has lost touch with primary experience and thereby reaffirm the meaning of his name. Names in Camelot, like all words, must have permanent meaning, so that the world may be made artistically coherent. The assertion "Man's word is God in man" assumes the stability of all its terms, not only God and word, but man as well.
Geraint must show that identity is solid, even if that solidity demands vigilance and great struggles. Geraint and Enid live in a world of fluctuations, of slippery movements and deceptions, and they must master that world lest they be caught by it. The great strength of a central experience that provides love and faith is enough to allow them to delight in change and make it serve a larger constancy:
And as the light of Heaven varies, now
At sunrise, now at sunset, now by night
With moon and trembling stars, so loved Geraint / To make her beauty vary day by day,
In crimsons and in purples and in gems. [ll. 6-10]
The sources of this confidence and love are the subject of "The Marriage of Geraint"; "Geraint and Enid" is concerned with the disappearance of that experience and the ability of man to recapture it.
Tennyson uses two motifs to carry the burden of this theme: the need to express meaning in the permanent and authentic word, and the struggle to bring the senses into conjunction with the spiritual world of experience. "The Marriage of Geraint" presents a harmony of sense and spirit, meaning and word. Geraint appears as another Gareth, duplicating Arthur's function and thus proving his divinity. Like Arthur, Geraint is letting in the light and creating new worlds. By defeating the sparrow hawk, Edyrn, he brings justice to the region and liberates the people from the narrow [173/174] dominance of their fear. In the proem he finds liberation himself: the voice of Enid strikes him suddenly, suspending his normal activity and providing a crucial imaginative experience. He is transformed by her song and decides, "Here, by God's grace, is the one voice for me" (l. 344)- It is not that he is failing in love with merely a voice but that he is struck with a profoundly new experience. His is not a shallow and sensual reaction; the beauty of Enid's voice blends with the comic burden of her song and the power of the particular moment to create, for Geraint, a transfiguring perception.
Enid's song on Fortune, or rather against Fortune, is the center of the poem. She denies the power of circumstance to affect the essential lives of man: "For man is man and master of his fate" (l. 355). The song proclaims man's ability to remain constant and true even in a changing and ironic world: "Turn, Fortune, turn thy wheel with smile or frown; / With that wild wheel we go not up or down" (ll. 350-51). This is the final comic hope of the poem as a whole, and it is to this hope that Geraint responds. Upon seeing Enid, Geraint reacts in the only way possible: "Here by God's rood is the one maid for me" (l. 368). Hearing and seeing do not determine his love; they support it. The proper exercise of the senses is to reinforce and confirm imaginative experience. So long as the experience is still potent they do so, but when the experience fades and is not renewed, the senses achieve an improper dominance.
But for now Geraint is quite wonderfully captivated by comedy. He goes on to defeat Edyrn, that archetypal enemy of all that is generous (in his first great crime he had taken advantage of Earl Ynoil's extreme hospitality, ll. 453-56), young, free, and good. He is also, appropriately, not really very wicked, His fall, like Gareth's earlier defeat at the hands of Lancelot and like Geraint's own later sickness-unto-death, is a necessary part of growth. Though he does not realize it, Geraint is helping to set the necessary pattern for all positive development, a pattern he must soon trace himself. Edyrn's story foreshadows and gives an externalized version of Geraint's own inner collapse and recovery. Edyrn, no less than Geraint, demonstrates that man has the ability to create his own comedy; he "slowly drew himself / Bright from his old dark life" (ll. 594-95)
Nothing in this idyll seems to be troubling Geraint's life, except for his curious worries about Enid's apparel. In one sense it is fitting that he should want only Guinevere to dress his wife. Though this [174/175] alliance later causes him much uneasiness, Enid is, and should be, a legitimate double for Guinevere. Enid and Geraint are duplicating the marriage of Guinevere and Arthur, expanding the realm and showing the cumulative harmony of body and soul. Enid's prolonged frettings about the dress are not frivolous but quite appropriate demonstrations that externals should mesh with spiritual reality. Her willingness to remove her old dress repeats the theme of obedience and trust to the power of inner experience. She is rewarded, significantly, with a glorification, not a mortification of the senses. The only thing ominous about the test is that it is partly a test. Geraint admits that, even with the strength of the experience behind him, he could still doubt a little, enough so as to conduct a kind of laboratory experiment on Enid and her loyalty. Even though his doubts are stilled for a moment, then, his assurances are false - "Now, therefore, do I rest, / A prophet certain of my prophecy, / That never shadow of mistrust can cross / Between us" (ll. 813 - 16) - and he is certain to be attacked at his weakest point: his lingering faith in evidences.
"Geraint and Enid" shows us that attack, the destruction and rebuilding of a personality. Having constructed this superficial and meaningless test, Geraint himself must be tested, and very rigorously. Becoming more infested with doubt, he soon finds himself in a chaotic and dissonant world, where the evidence of the senses jars against spiritual intuitions. He therefore turns hysterically against the senses and constructs another malign test for his wife, telling her to ride ahead of him, never to look back, and, above all, to keep silent the voice that first won him. By denying his senses entirely he is also blocking his way to regaining that initial experience of love that had come from the senses. He claims that he is one "With eyes to find you out however far, / And ears to hear you even in his dreams" (ll. 418-21), but actually he has no valid knowledge of any kind, not even from the senses. His wife tells him so:
Yea, my lord, I know
Your wish, and would obey; but riding first,
I hear the violent threats you do not hear,
I see the danger which you cannot see. [ll. 418-21]
Willfully cutting himself off from all sources of truth, he has only himself. He puts his wife first, and she leads him back into himself.
There he finds total incoherence. He charges Enid to be silent, to utter no word; thus he creates ironies for himself and for her: obedience, for instance, means disobedience. He immediately turns [175/176] Arthur's world upside down, assuming disloyalty and inconsistency everywhere. As he prepares for the first battle in the woods, he cynically tells Enid, "If I fall, cleave to the better man" (l. 152).
But it is Enid's constancy that saves him from himself, even from the ludicrously self-indulgent part of himself symbolized by Limours. The subtle identification of Limours with Geraint is indicated by Geraint's acts of slovenly and insulting overpayment at this point in the poem. He lazily gives a horse and arms to a boy in return for food ("You overpay me fifty-fold" [l. 220]) and offers five horses and their armor for lodging (which so amazes the wily host that he is "suddenly honest" [l. 419]). Geraint is as surly in his lethargy (he responds to an invitation, "If he wants me, let him come to me" [1. 237]) as the most yellow decadent. He is, at this point, Limours. His attempt to kill the word and the constancy it implies leads him to the whirlwind of rioting. He approves the way Limours "told / Free tales, and took the word and played upon it, / And made of it two colours" (ll. 290-92). There is no meaning at all at this level of self. Tennyson shows tlie maudlin self-concern and self-pity at the heart of Geraint's pose of wounded manhood, the ugly sentimentality in his possessiveness; it is Limours being described, but Limours is only a heightened and purified version of this aspect of the hero: "At this the tender sound of his own voice / And sweet self-pity, or the fancy of it, / Made his eye moist" (ll. 348-50).
From rioting, then, Geraint passes to silence, to the true death of the word. Suffering from a secret wound, he falls unconscious "without a word" (l. 508). Here, just at the point of death, he finds his own inner chaos, Earl Doorm, a figure of wordless animalism:
And all the hall was dim with steam of flesh:
And none spake word, but all sat down at once,
And ate with tumult in the naked hall. [ll. 602-04]
This is the black climax of the serious testing. From this depth he is rescued and once again transformed by Enid's voice, this time in the form of a bitter and helpless cry. He immediately beheads Earl Doorm and thus rids himself of doubt.
Tennyson then evokes specific images of the Eden that has been rewon: "And never yet, since high in Paradise / O'er the four rivers the first roses blew, / Came purer pleasure unto mortal kind / Than lived through her" (ll. 762-65). She moves back into Eden, Geraint "hers again" (l. 767). The key word is again. There they meet the other symbol of regained happiness and personality, Edyrn, who [176/177] insists over and over on the principal theme of these idylls: "I am changed" (ll. 824, 872). "By overthrowing me you threw me higher" (l. 791), he says. Arthur himself reinforces the point, maintaining that such reform is far more marvelous and important than is mere consistency. It is a dynamic world now, one that requires continual renewals. The Edyrns, therefore, are most significant. And so, of course, are the secret Edyrns, such as Geraint. Arthur does not know it, but his words about Edyrn apply even more profoundly to Geraint, Edyrn's complement. Even though Geraint feels uncomfortable about the queen (an ominous sign, of course, for the future), "he rested well content that all was well" (l. 951). The magical Tennysonian phrase "all is well" comes to a troubled, changeful world and is therefore all the more comforting.
Last modified 28 March 2001