Meter: A study of Idylls of the King, Part 2: The Coming of Arthur

Published by OJB in the blog OJB's blog. Views: 407

Welcome to part 2 of this study. Today we will be looking at the first chapter of Idylls, The Coming of Arthur. The story begins as such:

Leodogran, the king of Cameliard,
Had one fair daughter, and none other child:
And she was fairest of all flesh on earth,
Guinevere, and in her his one delight.

-The Coming of Arthur, lines 1-4

I think it is an interesting opening to have us be introduced to Arthur's love interest, Guinevere, before Arthur himself. I believe this is because it is through Guinevere that Arthur's rise and fall is possible.

The chapter continues with a little backstory: Because of the petty in-fighting that has occurred after King Uther's death over the throne, Hordes of wild beast and Heathens have been laying siege to Britain, destroying everything in their path.

I'd like to scan the next section then go into discussion as I found it to be a very interesting passage.

And thus the land of Cameliard was waste,
Thick with wet woods, and many a beast therein,
And none or few to scare to chase the beast:
So that wild dog and wolf and boar and bear
came night and day, and rooted in the fields,
And wallow'din the gardens of the king.
And ever and anon the wolf would steal
The children and devour, but now and then,
Her own brood lost or dead, lent her fierce teat
To human sucklings; and the children, housed
in her foul den; there at their meat would growl,
and mock their foster-mother on four feet,
Till, straighten'd they grew up to wolf-like men,
Worse than the wolves.

-Lines 20-33

And thus /the land of Cam/eliard /was waste, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Thick with/ wet woods,/ and man/y (>) a beast /therein, (Trochee/Spondee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)*
And none/ or few/ to scare to chase the beast: (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
So that/ wild dog/ and wolf /and boar and bear (Double Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
came night/ and day, and root/ed in /the fields, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And wall/ow'd in /the gard/ens of /the king. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And ev/er and/ anon/ the wolf /would steal (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
The child/ren and /devour, /but now/ and then, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Her own /brood lost /or dead, lent her/ fierce teat (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Trochee/Spondee)
To hum/an suck/lings; and /the child/ren, housed (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
in her/ foul den; there at their meat would growl, (Double Iamb/iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
and mock/ their fost/er-moth/er on/ four feet, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Double Iamb)
Till, straight/en'd they/ grew up/ to wolf/-like men, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)**
than the wolves. (Trochee/Iamb)

*An Elision appears in the fourth foot. The unstressed Y and A are to be pronounced as a single syllable.

** The third foot has an Illusionary Trochee. At first glance, people with only basic Metrical understanding would put the stress on the GREW instead of the UP, but this is incorrect. Anytime you have an Idiomatic verb (A verb followed by a preposition) the stress goes on the Preposition.

A few things I find interesting about this passage is that Tennyson has his Spondees follow his Trochees as he does in lines 21 and 28. As I continue through this story, I want to see if this pattern continues. This very might well be a stylish device done by Tennyson.

Also, the tale of wolves kidnapping children and raising them as their own is a story that has appeared throughout history. It leaves me to question where this myth originated from. It reminds me of Clive Barker's Rawhead Rex, a story about a Beast-like man attacking a small England town; this leaves me to wonder if England has ghost stories about men raised by beast/beast-men, similar to werewolf stories.


King Leodogran calls Arthur for aid (This is the call to action part of the story). Arthur answers the call and defeats the petty kings, heathens, and beast, saving King Leodogran's kingdom.

During the battle, King Arthur meets Lancelot and the two have this brief exchange.

[Arthur] "Thou dost not doubt me king,...."

[Lancelot] "I know thee for my king... I trust thee to the death."

After this exchange, Arthur and Lancelot become best friends, which adds to the tragedy that happens later in the story.

Afterward, King Arthur asks for Guinevere's hand in marriage. This transitions the story into the Debate/refusal to the call' arc in story structure. King Leodogran debates with himself if you should let Arthur marry his only daughter; this is because there is questions if Arthur is in-fact king Uther's son and the rightful ruler of Brittan.

King Leodogran talks to three people about Arthur's origins (the number 3 repeats itself a lot throughout the story as we will find out) and we learn. The Following.

1. Arthur was crowned by the Wizard Merlin.
2. Arthur was gifted with a magical sword by The Lady of the Lake, that must be returned to her at Arthur's death.
3. Arthur is an extraordinary fighter.


During this time, a Knight by the name of Mordred spies on the conversations going on before the king. This foreshadows the fact that Mordred will be one of Arthur's major nemesis.

In the end King Leodogran grants Arthur permission to marry his daughter, and the two are wedded.


Mordred vs Arthur, a Note on sound.

While Tennyson did not create the character of Mordred, whoever did had a great understanding of sound. Arthur is a name that rolls of the tongue and is pleasant to hear and say. Mordred on the other hand ends both syllables with a hard 'd' which is a mute sound (meaning you can't roll it off the tongue). Whoever named these characters did a great job in having the hero's name pleasant, and the villain's name harsh and unjoyable to hear and say.

While not a rule, when naming a villain or main hero, one should think about the sound of their names, and if it reveals the type of person they are.


That is all for this chapter. If you have any thoughts or questions, please leave a comment of like.

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