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Meter: A study of Idylls of the King, Part 3: Gareth and Lynette

Published by OJB in the blog OJB's blog. Views: 267

Gareth and Lynette tell the story of a young man by the name of Gareth, and his quest to become one of Arthur's knights.

The story begins with a Gareth and his mother having an argument over the fact that Gareth wants to become a knight of Arthur; they reach an agreement where Gareth will serve as a kitchen knave for one year under Arthur before making a plea to become a knight. Gareth and a few other servants reach Camelot and to their amazement, the city is beyond glorious. I'd like to scan and go over the following lines as it highlights a theory I apply to my own writing.

At times the summit of the high city flash'd:
At times the spires and turrets halfway down
Prick'd thro' the mist; at times the great gate shone
Only, that open'd on the field below;
Anon, the whole fair city had disappear'd.

(Lines 189-193)

Notice how the description on Camelot is nothing impressive, but let us look at the reaction of the party.

Then those who went with Gareth were amazed,
One crying, "let us go no further, lord:
Here is a city of enchanters, built
By fairy kings." The second echo'd him,
"Lord, we have heard from our wise man at home
To northward, that this king is not the King,
But only Changeling out of Fairyland,
Who drave the heathen hence by sorcery
And Merlin's glamour." Then the first again,
"Lord, there is no such city anywhere,
But all a vision."

(Lines 194 -204)

We can see that despite the description is vague, the reaction from the characters are afraid of what they see, and quickly resort to rumors in hopes that Gareth will not take them into the city. This leads me to my theory:

Powerful image: 1-2 details that cause a character to have a massive reaction.
Powerful reaction: Massive amounts of details in the image, cause the character to have a simple (Yet powerful) reaction.

This might seem opposite of what you think, but I believe that less is more.

I'd like to scan the above to see what type of interesting metrics are going on.

At times/ the sum/mit (>) of the /high cit/y flash'd: (Iamb/Iamb/Double Iamb/Iamb) *
At times the spires/ and tur/rets half/way down (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Prick'd thro/ the mist; at times/ the great/ gate shone (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)**
Only, /that op/en'd on/ the field/ below; (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Anon, /the whole /fair cit/y had/ dis(>)appear'd. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb) ***

Then those/ who went/ with Gar/eth were/ amazed, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
One cry/ing, "let/ us go /no furth/er, lord: (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Here is /a cit/y of /enchant/ers, built (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
By fair/y kings./" The sec/ond ech/o'd him, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
"Lord, we/ have heard/ from our /wise man /at home (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
To north/ward, that /this king/ is not/ the King, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
But on/ly Change/ling out /of Fair/yland, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Who drave/ the heath/en hence /by sor/cery (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And Merl/in's glam/our." Then/ the first/ again, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
"Lord, there/ is no/ such cit/y an/ywhere, (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
But all/ a vis/ion." (Iamb/Iamb)

*There is an Elision in the line, but I am not 100% sure what syllable is being slurred.

** Some would mark the last line as a Spondee, but there is an advanced Metric theory that states that if you have three similar stressed words in a row, the middle one gets 'demoted.' We will be covering this idea later.

*** There is an Elision in the 5th foot of the line. Disa is to be pronounced as one Syllable.

Gareth makes it to Camelot and becomes a Kitchen Knave, there we learn a few things.

1. Lancelot has saved King Arthur's life once.
2. King Arthur has saved Lancelot's life twice.
3. Genevieve cannot bear children (this plays an important role later on.)

Gareth does his time (which only ends up be a month because his mother releases him from his vows early.) and request that Arthur bestow upon him a quest.

After this, a young woman by the name of Lynette appears in Arthur's court and reports that her older sister is being held hostage by four, evil knights called: Morning-Star, Sun, Evening-Star, and Night. Lynette request that Lancelot (Arthur's greatest knight) accompany her, but instead Arthur gives her Gareth, The Kitchen Knave.

These four knights are actaully an Allegory for the different stages of life.
Morning-Star: Birth
Sun: Your prime.
Evening-star: Your Twilight years.
Night: Death.

But how do we know this is an Allegory?

A couple ways. Each of the knight's shields are show different levels of use. Morning-star's shield is plain. Sun's shield is decorated. Evening-star's is well worn. And Night's shield is made up on bone.

Here is the description of Evening-Star's shield.

And gave a shield whereon the star of even
Half-tarnish'd and half-bright, his emblem, shone.


More so, and rather annoyingly, Lynette keeps shouting the word 'Allegory' are different times. While I admire the device, I would never use the device in my own writing of having a character shout 'Allegory' or 'Metaphor' as a way to let the reader know that there is something going on beyond the surface. For me, either the reader gets the Allegory I am presenting, or they don't.


At first, Lynette is not kind to Gareth, as he is known to be a kitchen Knave, and feels insulted that he was given to her. But with each knight Gareth defeats, Lynette's respect and admiration for him grows, until she finally sees him as her equal.

Gareth eventually defeats all four knights, and becomes Lynette's hero and marries her.


Story structure: The over all purpose of this story -in terms of story structure- is to show the beauty and honor of King Arthur's court. We see brave men, receive quest, and achieve honor and love because of it. We must be first shown the dream, in all its glory, before we can start destroying it.


My favorite lines from this chapter are as followed. It is Reflection, spoken out loud, by Gareth. It's meant to show his dedication to accomplishing his quest, despite the overwhelming odds.

...I follow up the quest,
Despite of Day and Night and Death and Hell.

(Lines 864-865)

Such a beautiful line, and if I was to place an Allusion into my own work, it would be these lines.


I wanted to end today's look with two lines of meter I found interesting.

Not proven, who swept the dust of ruin'd Rome. -Line 133

Not prov(en), (II) /who swept/ the dust/ of ru/in'd Rome. (Iamb(Hyper)/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

The mid-line female/hyper-metrical ending in the first foot is only possible due to the Caesura pause. It was a convention of old practices, and I am not 100% sure if it is still used or not in today's meter. This will differently be a topic I investigate -or rather this convention can still be used today- as I continue my study of Meter.

Full of wistful fear that he would go, Line 170

^ Full /of wist/ful fear that he would go, (Headless Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

It is rare for me to find a headless Iamb used in older works. It was a convention that was used, abandoned, and only recently (last 40 or less years) has resurfaced. Despite it's rarity, I love he used no other substitutions in the line. It is a risky device, and only have page and page of Iambic Pentameter does he use it.


That concludes my look at Chapter 2: Gareth and Lynette. I hope you've enjoy this look.

If you have any questions or thoughts, please leave a comment or a like.


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