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Meter: A study of Idylls of the King, Part 6: Balin and Balan

Published by OJB in the blog OJB's blog. Views: 224

The story of Balin and Balan begins with King Arthur challenging Balin and Balan, twin brothers, to a duel. Arthur defeats them both, and the two become his knights.

Later, reports of a demon haunting a nearby forest reach Arthur's court, and Balan takes on the quest to slay the creature, leaving Balin in the care of Arthur's court.

Balin, who suffers from madness, does his best to become a noble night, and begins to hero worship Lanealot; however, one day he sees Lancelot and Guinevere having a secret meeting. This causes Balin to sink into a mad rage, and he flees into the forest.

Once there Balin meets Vivien -the primary villain of Idylls of the King. She is a pagan, hence she is at odds with Arthur's Christian court, and plans to undermine his rule. The introduction of Vivien is somewhat unsettling. The whole chapter is very brutal and dark, but I want to show, then scan, the introduction of Vivien.

But now the wholesome music of the wood
Was dumb'd by one from out the hall of Mark,
A damsel-errant, warbling, as she rode
The woodland alleys, Vivien, with her squire.

"The fire of heaven has kill'd the barren cold,
And kindled all the plain and all the wold.
The new leaf ever pushes off the old.
The fire of heaven is not the flame of hell.

"Old Priest, who mumble worship in your quire-
Old Monk and nun, ye scorn the world's desire,
Yet in your frosty cells ye feel the fire!
The fire of heaven is not the flame of hell.

"The fire of heaven is on the dusty ways.
The wayside blossoms open to the blaze.
The whole wood-world is one full peal of praise.
The fire of heaven is not the flame of Hell.

"The fire of heaven is lord of all things good,
And starve not though this fire within thy blood,
But follow Vivien thro' the fiery flood!
The fire of heaven is not the flame of hell!"

(Balin and Balan lines 430-449)

But now/ the whole/some mus/ic of/ the wood (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Was dumb'd /by one/ from out /the hall /of Mark, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
A dam/sel-er/rant, warb/ling, as she rode (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
The wood/land all/eys, Viv/ien, with/ her squire. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

"The fire/ of heaven/ has kill'd /the bar/ren cold, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And kind/led all /the plain /and all the wold. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
The new /leaf ev/er push/es off the old. (Double Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb) *
The fire /of heaven/ is not/ the flame/ of hell. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

"Old Priest, /who mum/ble wors/hip in /your quire- (Spondee/Iamb/Iamb/Double Iamb)*
Old Monk and/ nun, ye scorn /the world's /desire, (Spondee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Yet in/ your frost/y cells/ ye feel /the fire! (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
The fire /of heaven/ is not/ the flame /of hell. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

"The fire /of heaven /is on /the dust/y ways. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
The way/side bloss/oms op/en to /the blaze. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
The whole/ wood-world /is one /full peal /of praise. (Double Iamb/Double Iamb/Iamb)*
The fire /of heaven/ is not /the flame /of Hell. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

"The fire/ of heaven /is lord/ of all /things good, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And starve/ not though /this fire /within /thy blood, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
But foll/ow Viv/ien thro' /the fier/y flood! (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
The fire /of heaven/ is not /the flame /of hell!" (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

*Metrically, I wanted to look at the double Iambs that appear. While to some they might not appear as a double Iamb, I am going to show how they are.

The(1) new(2) /leaf(3) ev(4)/er push/es off the old.

Each foot, the stress increases.

"Old (3) Priest(4), /who (2) mum(4)/ble (1) wors(4)/hip(1) in(2) /your(3) quire(4)

There it is again. 1-2-3-4. (I think the above lines really shows the Rhythm that IP can have.)

This next line has two double Iambs!

The(1) whole(2)/ wood(3)-world(4) /is(1) one(2) /full(3) peal(4) /of (2) praise(4).

1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4!

This 1-2-3-4 pattern is what helps IP from having a monotonous sound. IP would sound very boring if it was nothing but 1-4/1-4/1-4/1-4/1-4/. These 1-2-3-4 patterns are what your IP should be aiming for.


Vivien uses her seductive ways and lies to drive Balin even madder, and he rushes off into the forest. At the same time, Balan, who is hunting the demon, hears Balin's mad cries and believes it to be the demon. Balan and Balin meet and fight; they both deliver a mortal wound to each other not realzing they are the other's brother until it is too late.

The story ends with this tragic paragraph.

'Balan answer'd low,
"Good night, true brother, here! Good marrow there!
We two were born together, and we die
Together by one doom:" and while he spoke
Closed his death-drowsing eyes, and slept the sleep
with Balin, either lock'd in either's arm.


So here ends part 6. This short chapter (only 620 lines long) is one of my favorites from Idylls due to its tragic ending.


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


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