Meter: A study of Idylls of the King, Part 9: The Holy Grail.

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Welcome to part 9 of my study of Idylls of the king. Today we will be looking at chapter 8, The Holy Grail. This story is rather straight forward. While Arthur is away, a number of his knights see a vision of the Holy Grail (this occurs after Galahad sits on Merlin's seat.) Having seen the vision of the Grail, The knights swear a vow to find it.

King Arthur returns and hears the story, but he becomes worried that this quest will be the ruin of his kingdom -as most of his knights have sworn to find the Grail. He allows the knights who have sworn the oath to go on their quest and waits for their return.

Bors, Lancelot, and Percivale all see a distorted image of the Grail, but none of them are able to obtain it; Sir Galahad, however, sees a clear image of the Grail and sails off into the ocean to obtain. He ascends to heaven.

The part where Sir Galahad ascends into heaven via boat is almost identical to the end of C.S Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where Reepicheep paddles a Canoe into Aslan's country (Heaven.) I do wonder if C.S Lewis was somewhat inspired by this story.

Having failed their quest, the remaining knights return to Arthur and find the kingdom in ruin. Arthur reflects on how his fear came true and states that even if he had seen the Grail, he would not have gone on the quest as it is his duty to protect his kingdom. The Knights ponder if the quest was indeed worth the price that was paid.


Metrically, I'd like to scan the following lines. It is a scene where, halfway through the quest, Percivale reflects on the king's dark prediction.

"Thereafter, the dark warning of our king,
That most of us would follow wandering fires,
Came like a driving gloom across my mind.
Then every evil word I had spoken once,
And every evil thought I had thought of old,
And every evil deed I ever did,
Awoke and cried, 'This quest is not for thee.'
And lifting up mine eyes, I found myself
Alone, and in a land of sand and thorns,
And I was thirsty even unto death;
And I, too, cried, 'This quest is not for thee.'
(The Holy Grail, lines 368-378)

"There-af/ter, the/ dark warn/ing of /our king, (Iamb/Double Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
That most/ of us/ would foll/ow wand/ering fires, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Came like/ a driv/ing gloom/ across /my mind. (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Then eve/ry ev/il word /I (>) had spok/en once, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)*
And eve/ry ev/il thought/ I (>) had thought /of old, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)*
And eve/ry ev/il deed /I ev/er did, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Awoke/ and cried,/ 'This quest/ is not/ for thee.' (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And lift/ing up/ mine eyes,/I found/ myself (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Alone,/ and in/ a land /of sand /and thorns, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And I/ was thirst/y ev/en un/to death; (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And I,/ too, cried,/ 'This quest/ is not/ for thee.' (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

*I Had = I'd. I'm not sure when the 'spelling' of I'd came into being, but this is how he is pronouncing it in this lines. I was asked recently how I know the writer's intent when I scan, the truth is I don't. Tennyson is dead so I can't ask him what he intended or did not intend. However, there are 'rules' to writing IP, and seeing how the first line of this story scans IP, I can assume that he is applying the established rules to his work. Putting an Anapest into IP would have been considered bad form, so, knowing that, I can assume that Tennyson wants I had to be Eluded into I'd.


This concludes Part 9 of my study. If you have any thoughts or questions, please leave a like or comment!

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