Trinitarian Symbolism In Tennyson's The Passing of Arthur

Trinitarian Symbolism In Tennyson's The Passing of Arthur

Length: 1480 words (4.2 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
It is a common proverb that all things happen in three's, and in fact many phases of life happen in combinations of three. There is the trifold concept of body, mind and spirit, which encompasses the physical, mental and spiritual makeup of a human being. There is the fact that we live first as a child then an adult and finally as an elder and there are three stages of a woman's life, that of maiden, mother and crone. There is the also the aspect of time as in the past, present and future. There are the three acts of birth, life and death. Some people believe in the combination of birth, death and rebirth (meaning life after death), and in the Christian faith tradition, the number three, symbolized by the Trinity (Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer), has come to mean wholeness. Looking at sections from, the poem "The Epic" and the book Idylls of the King, specifically, "The Passing of Arthur," we discover that there is a surprising amount of Trinitarian symbolism found in Tennyson's works.
Three times Arthur has to ask Sir Bedivere to throw the sword Excalibur into the lake. This is in fact a testing of faith, one that encompasses body, mind and spirit, meaning he is tested physically, mentally and then spiritually. After being mortally wounded, King Arthur tells Sir Bedivere to "take Excalibur, / And fling him far into the middle mere:/ Watch what thou seest, and lightly bring me word" (Norton, 1298, 204-6). When he takes the sword to the water's edge the first time, he cannot bring himself to throw it in because of the Excalibur's blinding beauty. Tennyson describes the Excalibur as "brightening," "sparkled," "twinkled with diamond sparks, / Myriads of topaz-lights..." Bedivere "gazed so long/ That both eyes were dazzled" (Norton, 1298, 222-7). He returns to Arthur, who sends him back to complete his mission. Thus Sir Bedivere fails his first test, that of the physical realm.
The second test he faces a mental challenge as the second time, Bedivere determines that if he throws the Excalibur into the water, "a precious thing, one worthy of note, / Should thus be lost for ever from the earth... What good should follow this, if this were done?" (Norton, 1299, 257-60). His own intelligence gets in the way of what he knows to be true, and he has a lack of faith in his king and in mortality, as he doesn't want Arthur to be forgotten.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Trinitarian Symbolism In Tennyson's The Passing of Arthur." 19 Oct 2019

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Symnbolism in the Hound of the Baskerville by Arthur Conan Essay

- Symbolism is when authors use items to signify certain ideas by giving them a meaning that is different from what it literally represents. Most authors use this literary device in their books, because it adds to the deepness of the book. Symbolism allows the author to give a deeper meaning to a concept. In the classic mystery, The Hound of the Baskerville by Arthur Conan Doyle, symbolism is utilized. The three items that Doyle applied symbolism to were the moor, the hound and Stapleton’s nets. The moor is portrayed as darkness and eeriness....   [tags: moor, hound, nets, symbolism]

Research Papers
571 words (1.6 pages)

Tennyson's Ulysses: A Call to Humanity Essay

- Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s subject matter and tone of his poetry became drastically different following the death of his best friend (Cain 126), a reaction to bearing the emotional brunt of life without him. This friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, whom Tennyson met in the poets’ club at Trinity College in Cambridge, and who was also engaged to Tennyson’s sister (Cain 126) died in Vienna at age 22 of a cerebral aneurysm (Cash 6). Combining pure emotion and thought into one, Tennyson finished “Ulysses,” one of his greatest poetic works, 20 days after being informed of his death (Cash 6)....   [tags: Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Poetic Analysis, Literature]

Research Papers
1353 words (3.9 pages)

Tennyson's In Memoriam Essay

- Tennyson's In Memoriam In Memoriam is an elegy to Tennyson's friend Arthur Hallam, but bears the hallmark of its mid nineteenth century context, 'the locus classicus of the science-and-religion debate.'Upon reflection, Hallam's tragic death has proved to be an event that provoked Tennyson's embarkation upon a much more ambitious poetic project than conventional Miltonian elegy, involving meditation upon the profoundest questions faced by mankind. Scientific advancements, most notably in the fields of geology and biology, challenged the beliefs that form the foundation of Christianity: the belief in a beneficent God responsible for creation and ensuing superintendence and the beli...   [tags: Tennyson Elogy Memoriam Essays]

Research Papers
2674 words (7.6 pages)

Tithonus By Alfred Tennyson Essay

- Death takes man into a world from where he cannot return but immortality has brought Tithonus far away from the world of men, too far to retrace his steps .Tithonus, written by Alfred Tennyson is based on Greek mythology, Tithonus fell in love with Eos, goddess of the dawn, and asked her for immortality. Unfortunately for Tithonus he did not ask for eternal youth, only eternal life. He, therefore, grows old but never dies while Eos not only never dies but also never grows old. What makes Tithonus's situation worse is that "the gods themselves cannot recall their gifts." The poem touches upon the themes of isolation and death as well as an escape from the arduous burden of life, themes which...   [tags: Alfred Tennyson]

Free Essays
932 words (2.7 pages)

Tennyson's Merlin and Vivien Essay

- Tennyson's Merlin and Vivien Known as one of Victorian England's finest poets, Lord Alfred Tennyson epitomized the agony and despondency of the degradation of one's character. His masterpiece, The Idylls of the King, explicates the grand scheme of corruption of the Authurian age while simultaneously paralleling Tennyson's own internal struggles. A most intriguing chapter of The Idylls, "Merlin and Vivien" portrays the manipulative Vivien, identified as pure evil and hatred, as her corruptive beauty leads to Merlin's self-destruction....   [tags: Lord Alfred Tennyson Papers]

Research Papers
1648 words (4.7 pages)

Essay on Alfred Lord Tennyson's Maud; A Monodrama - Madness or Maud?

- Alfred Lord Tennyson's Maud; A Monodrama - Madness or Maud. The journey of life overflows with grand moments intermingled with inevitable sorrow. Each moment creating a chain reaction. In Maud; A Monodrama, Alfred Lord Tennyson explores the journey of a man in the universal search for the perfect Garden of Eden. Originally titled Maud or Madness, he described the “little Hamlet” as the history of a morbid poetic soul” who is “the heir of madness, an egotist with the makings of a cynic” (Hill 214)....   [tags: Tennyson Maud Essays]

Research Papers
2051 words (5.9 pages)

Alfred Tennyson, Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell, and Essay

- Alfred Tennyson, Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell, and "In Memoriam" Alfred Lord Tennyson was born August 6, 1809, at Somersby, Lincolnshire. He was the fourth of twelve children. As a boy he led a very miserable and unhappy life. In 1828 Tennyson entered Trinity college, Cambridge. The most important part of his experience there was his friendship with Arthur Henry Hallam, who was the son of a well known historian. Hallam encouraged and inspired Tennyson to write. Hallam died in 1833. Tennyson published poems in 1842 which proved to be a great success and secured his position as the foremost Victorian Poet....   [tags: Tennyson Darwin Lyell Memoriam Essays]

Research Papers
3224 words (9.2 pages)

Death in Life in Alfred Lord Tennyson's Poetry Essay

- Death in Life in Alfred Lord Tennyson's Poetry Alfred Lord Tennyson, a Victorian poet, used characters from history and mythology for his poetry. Much of his poetry touches upon the subject of death and loneliness. For example, the Lady of Shallot dies when she looks beyond her inner world, Mariana lives in constant sadness over her departed lover, and Tithonus lives forever in an agony worse than death. With a background of melancholia, isolation or anguish Tennyson conveys themes of half-life and death-in-life by the use of uses imagery, symbolism and figures of speech....   [tags: Alfred Lord Tennyson Poets Poetry Essays]

Research Papers
976 words (2.8 pages)

An Analysis of Tennyson’s The Princess Essay

- An Analysis of Tennyson’s The Princess Alfred, Lord Tennyson is the most influential poet of the Victorian Age. He was named poet laureate of England by the Queen, and the first poet to receive a title Lord. In his lifetime Tennyson has produced many works which are considered great. Such one is The Princess which is a long narrative poem with a number of songs. One of these songs is “ Tears, Idle Tears”, a poem full of sorrow and grief. In this fragment of The Princess the speaker is desperate because of the death of his love....   [tags: Tennyson Princess Essays]

Research Papers
859 words (2.5 pages)

Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott Essay

- Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott What used to be a simple home is now a sacred sanctuary, a refuge from all the filth of the world, a place to trap and stifle beauty, adventure, and passion. What used to be a simple woman is now an angel, a pure and domestic celestial being. I live in an era where women are considered most beautiful when isolated, helpless, and even dead; where a lady with passion is scarier than a bitter hag; where feminine is now a synonym for pure, selfless, and submissive; where sexism has put on the fancy dress of romance....   [tags: Tennyson Lady Shalott essays]

Research Papers
1556 words (4.4 pages)

Related Searches

He wants to keep the sword Excalibur so that there can material proof of all that has taken place under Arthur's reign. He will not take the leap of faith and trust that Arthur and the Roundtable were more than just a fantasy. He fears that his whole life has been spent defending an illusion, defending something that does not, and did not really exist. Thus he fails the second challenge.
The words that restore Bedivere's faith allowing him to discharge his duty are spoken by Arthur, "a man may fail in duty twice, / And the third time may prosper (Norton, 1300, 297-8)." Bedivere was able to succeed spiritually where he was not able to succeed mentally or physically. He did not look this last time at the sword "I closed mine eyelids" (Norton, 1300, 320), or spend anytime contemplating the future of Excalibur, he only worked on faith and acted. It is the third challenge, the one of spirit that Bedivere passes, and renews his faith in Arthur and in himself. This is not only Bedivere's test, but it is Arthur's third and final test in Idylls, that of giving up the sword and trusting in others with his future.
During the second and third tests, there are references to the Lady of the Lake in regards to Excalibur. The first refers to the nine years that the Lady spent making the sword, and as nine is the square of three it seems doubly significant here as Bedivere uses it as an excuse to not discharge his duty. "King Arthur's sword, Excalibur, / Wrought by the lonely maiden of the Lake. / Nine years she wrought it (Norton, 1299, 271-3)." The other reference is that of the arm which catches the sword.
But when I looked again, behold an arm,
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
That caught him by the hilt, and brandished him
Three times, and drew him under in the mere. (Norton, 1300, 326-9)
It is known that this arm is the Lady of the Lake because she the only one described as being clothed in white samite. The Lady of the Lake has a third significance, as she is one of three powerful women in the Arthurian Legend.
These three women, are the Lady of the Lake, the Queen of Orkney, known here as Bellicent, and Arthur's wife Queen Guinevere. Interlaced within the story of the rise and fall of Camelot, they make their appearance together near the end of the tale as the three Queens in the barge.
Three Queens with crowns of gold: and from them rose
A cry that shivered to the tingling stars,
And, as it were one voice, an agony
Of lamentation … There those three Queens
Put forth their hands, and took the King, and wept.
But she, that rose the tallest of them all
And fairest, laid his head upon her lap, …
And called him by his name, complaining loud,
And dropping bitter tears against a brow (Norton, 1301, 366-79).
Arthurian Legend has the Lady of the Lake as a changeable persona, sometimes as Nimue and at others as Morgan Le Fay, however she is "Queen" of the Island of Avalon. The Queen of Orkney, is Bellicent in Tennyson's tale but is known elsewhere as Morgause, and shares here the same fate, wife of Lot, sister to Arthur and mother of Mordred, Arthur's son/nephew/killer. Queen Guinevere, the barren Queen, could never give a son to Arthur and was in love with Lancelot, his most trusted knight. These three women in their respective roles of fertility also represent maiden, mother and crone aspects or the triple goddess, a pagan belief. The Lady was supposedly virginal in white, the Queen of Orkney is a mother figure and poor Guinevere is a barren woman, a crone.
Arthur united England underneath the rule of its Pagan or Olde gods and the Christian faith by mixing the beliefs of the two into one being, making himself a divine legend. But Tennyson puts a decidedly Christian aspect to his Arthurian legend. When Arthur is being taken to Avalon he emphasizes to Bedivere the importance of change, away from the Pagan gods towards Christianity and the importance of prayer, faith and belief in one God.
The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world. …
If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day …
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend? (Norton, 1302, 408-21)
Arthur is a Christ like savior, who is born, dies and then is to be reborn for his people. The whole reason the barge takes the mortally wounded Arthur to Avalon is that there he will heal his wound and come again when his people need him. "Merlin sware that I should come again/ To rule once more" (Norton, 1297, 191-2). In "The Epic", the poem takes place between Christmas Eve and Morning; symbolic in that it is the time of Christ's birth and Arthur is reborn in the poem during that time period.
And all the People cried,
‘Arthur is come again: he cannot die.'
Then those that stood upon the hills behind
Repeated—‘Come again, and thrice as fair;'
And, further inland, voices echo'd— ‘Come
With all good things, and war shall be no more' (Norton, 1218, 346-51)
An interesting point of note, the people cry out three different sayings, one of which is now that Arthur is reborn, he can not die, another that Arthur is three times as fair and the third, that there shall be peace and good things shall happen.
To reiterate, Tennyson floods his poetry with Trinitarian symbolism showing that in Bedivere's trial there is the concept of body, mind and spirit, encompassing the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of humanity. Three strong women in the legend are in fact the three stages of a woman's life, maiden, mother and crone. Arthur himself is the combination of the cycle of birth, death and rebirth and a Christian like savior of the people eschewing faith away form Pagan beliefs.

Norton English Anthology, Vol 7
Return to