Idylls of the King

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A series of 12 connected poems by Tennyson, of which ‘Morte d'Arthur’, subsequently incorporated in ‘The Passing of Arthur’, was composed in 1833 after A. H. Hallam's death and published in 1842. In 1855–6 he began writing the first Idyll, which was to become ‘Merlin and Vivien’, which he followed with ‘Enid’, later divided into ‘The Marriage of Geraint’ and ‘Geraint and Enid’. The first four were published in 1859 as ‘Enid’, ‘Vivien’, ‘Elaine’, and ‘Guinevere’ and constituted, though with many revisions, roughly half of the final version. In 1869 followed ‘The Coming of Arthur’, ‘The Holy Grail’, ‘Pelleas and Ettarre’, and ‘The Passing of Arthur’. ‘The Last Tournament’ was published in the Contemporary Review in 1871, then, with ‘Gareth and Lynette’, in 1872. ‘Balin and Balan’, written 1872–4, did not appear until 1885. The sequence as now printed first appeared in 1891.

The poems present the story of Arthur, from his first meeting with Guinevere to the ruin of his kingdom and his death in the ‘last, dim, weird battle of the west’. The protagonists are Arthur and Guinevere, Launcelot and Elaine, but the design embraces the fates of various minor characters. The adultery of Guinevere and Launcelot is seen as one of the forces that destroys the idealism and bright hopes of the Round Table, and the scene in which the guilty Guinevere ‘grovelled with her face against the floor’ before Arthur to listen to his long denunciatory speech was received with great enthusiasm; his forgiveness of her (‘Lo! I forgive thee, as Eternal God | Forgives’) moved the poet himself to tears.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Lord Tennyson Alfred (1809—1892) poet

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