Archive for January 21, 2023

Page 17: The Death of the Arthur

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2023 by dcairns


For truly as thou sayest, a Fairy King
  And Fairy Queens have built the city, son;
  They came from out a sacred mountain-cleft
  Toward the sunrise, each with harp in hand,
  And built it to the music of their harps.
  And, as thou sayest, it is enchanted, son,
  For there is nothing in it as it seems
  Saving the King; though some there be that hold
  The King a shadow, and the city real:
  Yet take thou heed of him, for, so thou pass
  Beneath this archway, then wilt thou become
  A thrall to his enchantments, for the King
  Will bind thee by such vows, as is a shame
  A man should not be bound by, yet the which
  No man can keep; but, so thou dread to swear,
  Pass not beneath this gateway, but abide
  Without, among the cattle of the field.

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where St. Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

The castle of Tintagel, stronghold of the Dukes of Cornwall. The impregnable fortress rock, which could only be taken by guile, or treachery from within. Last night, I had used both.

There were magicians in the forest also in those legendary days, as well as strange animals not known to modern works of natural history. There were regular bands of Saxon outlaws–not like Wat–who lived together and wore green and shot arrows which never missed. There were even a few dragons, these were small ones, which lived under stones and could hiss like a kettle.

“Where I come from,” said the Black Knight, “everyone is black. As far as the eye can see. White people are regarded as freaks of nature. The sight of a white person causes cows to birth poisonous shrubs.”

SIR LAUNCELOT takes off his field helm and sits alongside the BLACK KNIGHT. A scrap of paper flutters from the lining of his helm. The BLACK KNIGHT picks it up, glances at it then gives it to SIR LAUNCELOT who looks at it idly, frowns his incomprehension and tucks it in his couter where he keeps his clean khaki handkerchief, offering:

Sir Palomides, said Dinadan, here is a castle that I know well, and therein dwelleth Queen Morgan le Fay, King Arthur’s sister; and King Arthur gave her this castle, the which he hath repented him sithen a thousand times, for sithen King Arthur and she have been at debate and strife; but this castle could he never get nor win of her by no manner of engine; and ever as she might she made war on King Arthur. And all dangerous knights she withholdeth with her, for to destroy all these knights that King Arthur loveth. And there shall no knight pass this way but he must joust with one knight, or with two, or with three. And if it hap that King Arthur’s knight be beaten, he shall lose his horse and his harness and all that he hath, and hard, if that he escape, but that he shall be prisoner. So God me help, said Palomides, this is a shameful custom, and a villainous usance for a queen to use, and namely to make such war upon her own lord, that is called the Flower of Chivalry that is christian or heathen; and with all my heart I would destroy that shameful custom. And I will that all the world wit she shall have no service of me. And if she send out any knights, as I suppose she will, for to joust, they shall have both their hands full. And I shall not fail you, said Sir Dinadan, unto my puissance, upon my life.

Seven passages from seven Arthurian page seventeens (as near as I could calculate with the various e-books involved; The King has an illo on page 17 but the para quoted starts on page 16 and concludes on page 18. So there. Thomas Malory’s paragraphs are just as distressingly overlong as I remembered.

One of the most annoying WORDS I recall ever encountering was in an afterword to The Wasteland, maybe by Eliot himself. “Obviously” said the afterword, this is based on the Grail Quest. I had just read the thing and admired the language no end, but hadn’t got that AT ALL. I still haven’t.

The Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson; The Wasteland, from The Complete Poems of T.S. Eliot; The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart; The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White; The King by Donald Barthelme; Knight Time, an unpublished screenplay by Charles Wood, based on The King by Donald Barthelme; Le Mort D’Arthur, Vol 2 by Thomas Malory.

Illustration by Barry Moser.