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‘The Passing of Arthur’ is part of the epic poem ‘Idylls Of The King’ written by Alfred Lord Tennyson, an except of which is given here. In this poem, King Arthur is seen to deliver a final message to Sir Bedivere, his loyal follower. He advises him about the inevitability of change and its constant nature and how people ought not to be affected by it.
About the poet:
Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) was a British poet of the Victorian Era. After Wordsworth, he was appointed the Poet- Laureate. His works include ‘In Memoriam’, an elegy written in honour of his friend A. H. Hallam. Other famous works would be ‘Idylls Of The King’ from which this excerpt is taken, ‘Ulysses’ and ‘Crossing the Bar’.
The central theme of the poem is faith in God. Every line reverberates with this emotion, how the listener, Sir Bedivere, ought to turn to God and embrace change after he, Arthur, is gone.
This is an excerpt of the epic poem is written blank verse, a part of a stanza in the middle. Each of the other stanza is found to be of varying length. It thus has no rhyme scheme with iambic pentameter.
Explanation of the poem:
And slowly answer'd Arthur from the barge: "The old order changeth, yielding place to new, And God fulfils himself in many ways, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world. Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me? I have lived my life, and that which I have done May He within himself make pure! but thou, If thou shouldst never see my face again, Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice Rise like a fountain for me night and day. For what are men better than sheep or goats That nourish a blind life within the brain, If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer Both for themselves and those who call them friend? For so the whole round earth is every way Bound by gold chains about the feet of God. But now farewell.
The stanza begins with King Arthur answering to Sir Bedivere, the last of his knights, as he lays in the battlefield badly wounded. He consoles the anguished knight’s misgivings regarding the same here.
Arthur begins by saying that times are changing and a new order arises as he lays fallen. He attributes this change to God working in his mysterious ways and asks Sir Bedivere to comfort himself.
He states that he’d lived life to his fullest and wishes for God to make him ‘pure’, essentially conveying that he is ready to accept the change life threw his way. He asks his knight too to pray for his soul should he never see him again. He asks him to raise his voice so much so that it carries to him after he embarks on a journey with his queens. He goes on to compare men who do not pray with mere animals such as sheep and goats. He further reiterates his love for God by stating how the world in bound under the feet of God and hence, he is the Supreme Being who ought to be worshipped.
In the last line, he bids farewell to his knight.
Thus, this poem states how people should believe in God and worship him whole-heartedly. They must thus be humble in life and open to change.