First draft written early 1834; published in Poems (1842); incorporated into the Idylls of the King (1870) as "The Passing of Arthur." This is the first of Tennyson's poems to be based on Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur. (He had written "The Lady of Shalott" in 1833, before he read Malory.)

1. Like "The Lady of Shalott," this poem represents one of Tennyson's early contributions to medievalism in poetry. In what sense does "Morte d'Arthur" appear escapist and in what committed and immediately relevant to his own age? Does the poem suggest ways in which the modern poet living in an urban, technological, mercantile society can use myth or an idealized past?

2. Tennyson here employs a standard medieval romance literary structure that puts the protagonist through a series of tests that try and educate him. What in particular does Bedivere learn about the%20relation between keeping faith and being able to believe or have faith? What does this have to do with Carlyle?

3. Arthur the King is, at least in small part, also Arthur Henry Hallam (see the biography). What in this poem is amplified by your knowledge of Tennyson's personal grief for his friend?

4. Do you find a second debt to Carlyle in the connection between Arthur's benediction to Bedivere ("The old order changeth, giving place to new,/ And God fulfills Himself in many ways,/ Lest one good custom should corrupt the world" and these passages from Carlyle's "Signs of the Times"?

We have a faith in the imperishable dignity of man; in the high vocation to which, throughout his earthly history, he has been appointed. However it may be with individual nations, whatever melancholic speculators may assert, it seems a well-ascertained fact, that in all times . . . the happiness and greatness of mankind at large have been continually progressive. . . . That admiration of old nobleness, which now so often shows itself as a faint dilettantism, will one day become a generous emulation, and man may again be all that he has been, and more than he has been. [full text]

What similarities can you find between Carlyle's work and Tennyson's?

Last modified 30 November 2004