"The Passing of Arthur," like the entire poem, concerns itself with the same problems as In Memoriam and offers much the same solutions. This close resemblance should remind us that in its earliest form the tale of Arthur's departure from this earth, like Tennyson's great elegy, was a direct response to Hallam's death. Both poems not only emphasize man's essential need to believe but also those forces which make it so difficult for him to do so. Equally important, they both dramatize the process of authentication by which individual men reach the state of belief. When I point to these similarities I am not holding that Bedivere is an allegorical representation of Tennyson, or that King Arthur is Arthur Hallam, or, for that matter, that Arthur, who is so frequently and elaborately described in terms of Christ, is meant to be Him. Rather that Tennyson draws upon these analogous situations to present what remain his main concerns throughout much of his poetic career: that both men and their societies must be founded on faith — or, more accurately, on many faiths, on faith between ruler and ruled, man and woman, worshipper and God; and that such faith, however essential, is necessarily a tenuous, subjective, nonrational matter. In Memoriam appears optimistic because its overall movement shows how one man, Tennyson, achieves faith after great trials, whereas The Idylls of the King is most pessimistic because it dramatizes the destruction of an ideal when men do not keep faith. "The Passing of Arthur," while making it quite clear how the Round Table failed, yet offers some cause for hope when it presents the trials, triumphs, and conversion of the ordinary man, Bedivere.

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[This lexia has been adapted from George P. Landow, "Closing the Frame: Having Faith and Keeping Faith in Tennyson's 'The Passing of Arthur.'" Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 56 (1974), 423 — 42.

Last modified 30 November 2004