Decorative Initial W hen Bedivere returns to Arthur, the Kingsees immediately in his eyes that he has finally triumphed over himself and managed to keep faith. To his question about what he saw and heard upon hurling the sword into the waters, the knight replies:

Sir King, I closed mine eyelids, lest the gems
Should blind my purpose, for I never saw,
Nor shall see, here or elsewhere, till I die,
Not though I live three lives of mortal men,
So great a miracle as yonder hilt.
Then with both hands I flung him, wheeling him;
But when I looked again, behold an arm,
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
That caught him by the hilt, and brandished him
Three times, and drew him under in the mere. [320-29]

The lines well define the speaker's characteristic limitations. One might well expect that the mysterious arm which caught Excalibur more of a miracle than the sword. Bedivere has been present at Arthur's coronation when the King received the magical sanction of the light that flowed into Camelot, and he certainly knew about the Grail's later appearance. But for him the jewels, the gold, the fine work — all purely physical — are more miraculous. This knight, who could see no appeal in the legends of Arthur's mystic origin, is a practical man, loyal and true within his limitations, but not one who can conceive of the spiritual dimensions of human existence. Nonetheless, with a self-denial that considering his nature is truly heroic, he closes his eyes, enables soul to triumph over sense, and keeps faith with Arthur!

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Source

[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.]


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Last modified 30 November 2004