Meter: A study of Idylls of the King, Part 7: Merlin and Vivien

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A storm was coming, but the winds were still,
And in the wild woods of Broceliande,
Before an oak, so hollow, huge, and old
It look'd a tower of ivied masonwork,
At Merlin's feet the wily Vivien lay.
(Merlin and Vivien, lines 1-5)

Welcome to part 7 of my study of Idylls of the King. Today we are looking at the midpoint chapter, Merlin and Vivien. This is a very important Chapter as it show Vivien's first major blow to Arthur's court. The chapter tells the story of Vivien's plight to seduce Merlin into teaching her magic. The entire story is a back and forth between Vivien as she continues to make sexual advances on Merlin, and he does his best to resist her.

The chapter is rather straight forward and there are not many plot points, which I like. The reason I feel this chapter is so strong is that since 90% of the chapter deals with Vivien's advances, and Merlin's struggle to resist; it really gives room for these characters to grow and express themselves.

There comes a moment where Merlin just about 'defeats' Vivien, but then Merlin has a change of heart. The following passage shows where things start to go Vivien's way. I'll post the passage then scan it.

She paused, she turn'd away, she hung her head,
The snake of gold slid from her hair, the braid
Split and uncoil'd itself, she wept afresh,
And the Dark wood grew darker toward the storm
In Silence, while his anger slowly died
Within him, till he let his wisdom go
For ease of heart, and half believed her true;
Call'd her to shelter in the hollow oak,
"Come from the storm," and having no reply,
Gazed at the heaving shoulder and the face
Hand-Hidden, as for utmost grief or shame;
Then thrice essay', by tenderest-touching terms,
To sleek her ruffled peace of mind, in vain.
At last she let herself be conquer'd by him,
And as she cageling newly returns,
The seeming-injured simple-hearted thing
Came to her old perch back, and settled there.
There while she sat, half-falling from his knees,
Half-nestled at his heart, and since he saw
The slow tear creep from her closed eyelid yet,
About her, more in kindness than in love,
The gentle wizard cast a shielding arm.
But she dislink's herself at once and rose,
Her arms upon her breast across, and stood,
A virtuous gentlewoman deeply wrong'd,
Upright and flush'd before him: Then she said:

(Merlin and Vivien, Lines 885 - 910)

She paused, /she turn'd /away, she hung /her head, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
The snake/ of gold /slid from/ her hair, /the braid (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
and/ uncoil'd/ itself, she wept/ afresh, (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And the /Dark wood /grew dark/er toward /the storm (Double Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
In Sil/ence, while/ his ang/er slow/ly died (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Within/ him, till/ he let/ his wis/dom go (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
For ease /of heart, /and half/ believed /her true; (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Call'd her/ to shelt/er in/ the holl/ow oak, (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
"Come from/ the storm," /and hav/ing no /reply, (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Gazed at/ the heav/ing should/er and /the face (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Hand-Hidd/en, as /for ut/most grief /or shame; (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Then thrice/ essay',/ by tend/erest-touch/ing terms, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
To sleek/ her ruff/led peace /of mind, /in vain. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
At last /she let/ herself/ be con/quer'd by (him,) (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb (hyper)
And as /she cage/ling new/ly/ returns, (Imab/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
The seem/ing-in/jured simp/le-heart/ed thing (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
to/ her (1) old (2)/ perch (3) back (4),/ and sett/led there. (Trochee/Double Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

There while /she sat,/ half-fall/ing from /his knees, (Iamb x 5)
Half-nest/led at /his heart, /and since/ he saw (Iamb x 5)
The (1) slow (2) /tear (3) creep (4)/ (1) from her (2)/ closed (3) eye (4)/lid yet, (Double/Double/Iamb) *

About /her, more /in kind/ness than / In love (Iamb x 5)
Her arms/ upon /her breast/ across, and stood, (Iamb x 5)
A virt/uous gent/lewo/man deep/ly wrong'd, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Upright/ and flush'd /before /him: Then /she said: (Iamb x 5)


*I really want to make note of this rising Rhythm that occurs in Iambic Pentameter. Article (1) Adjective (2) Noun (3) Verb (4) occurs a lot.

In the end, Merlin teaches Vivien a charm and falls asleep; Vivien then uses the charm to imprison Merlin inside the oak tree.

The chapter end with this passage.

Then, in one moment, she put forth the charm
Of woven paces and of waving hands,
And in the hollow oak he lay as died,
And lost to life and use and name and fame.
Then crying, "I have made his glory mine,"
And shrieking out, "O fool!" the harlot leapt
Adown the forest, and the thicket closed
Behind her, and the forest echo'd "fool."

(Lines 965-972)


We are half way through people! If any of you have a thought or question, please leave a comment or like!

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