In Idylls of the King, Tennyson incorporates many images which seem to be fairly obvious symbols of either religious or philosophical ideas, rooted deeply in the vast body of Arthurian literature which preceded his own poetry. Arthur's round table, for instance, is now commonly interpreted as representative of "the world, which is both round and flat." While readers are often tempted to simplify the interpretations attached to visual symbols, especially because those images which have become so popularized, Tennyson's poem suggests that the connotations attached to each allegorical image are multiple. While symbols are usually defined as physical, usually visual, manifestations of abstract ideas, "The Holy Grail" questions the very notion of vision, visual interpretation, and even "physical" being. The following passage, from "The Holy Grail," depicts Percivale on his journey through the desert.

And on I rode, and when I thought my thirst
Would slay me, saw deep lawns, and then a brook,
With one sharp rapid, where the crisping white
Play'd ever back upon the sloping wave
And took both ear and eye; and o'er the brook
Were apple ötrees, and apples by the brook
Fallen, and on the lawns. "I will rest here,"
I said, "I am not worthy of the quest;"
But even while I drank the brook, and ate
The goodly apples, all these things at one
Fell into dust, and I was left alone
And thirsting in a land of sand and thorns. [ll. 379-390]


1. Are there multiple connotations attached to the apple here?

2. Does the destruction of physical being, or "ruin into dust" make some sort of commentary about symbolic stagnancy or visual interpretation?

Last modified 9 April 2003