The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent


SPECIAL Poetry Monday!: "The Epic (Including the Morte d'Arthur)" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

In honor of my 100 YouTube subscribers, a special reading of a lovely Arthurian poem.


I just passed 100 subscribers on my YouTube channel (which is mostly my Sasha Reads playlist, plus a smattering of law-related songs).

So this is an opportunity to do a special reading of a lovely poem, "The Epic (Including the Morte d'Arthur)" (1842) by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892). Tennyson had an idea in the 1830s for a King Arthur-related epic; this ultimately became, in the 1860s, Idylls of the King. But the death-of-Arthur section was published earlier, in 1842, under the title "The Epic", surrounded by a frame narrative taking place at a contemporary (Victorian-era) Christmas party. When Tennyson incorporated this into the Idylls, he dropped the frame narrative, but I think the frame enriches the Arthurian story by placing it in a Victorian context, tying it more closely to Victorian themes and Tennyson's own views, as well as explicitly analogizing the second coming of Arthur to Christmas and the second coming of Christ. (Obviously, you can also tie the coming of "Arthur, like a modern gentleman" to Tennyson's dead friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, who played an important role in Tennyson's role and works.)

This is longer than usual (about 20 minutes, whereas my other poetry videos are less than 3 minutes long), so I encourage you to set aside a small chunk of time and get yourself a coffee while you listen.

Then loudly cried the bold Sir Bedivere:
"Ah! my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?
Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?
For now I see the true old times are dead,
When every morning brought a noble chance,
And every chance brought out a noble knight.
Such times have been not since the light that led
The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.
But now the whole Round Table is dissolved
Which was an image of the mighty world,
And I, the last, go forth companionless,
And the days darken round me, and the years,
Among new men, strange faces, other minds."…

For the rest of my "Sasha Reads" playlist, click here. Past poems are:

  1. "Ulysses" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  2. "The Pulley" by George Herbert
  3. "Harmonie du soir" ("Evening Harmony") by Charles Baudelaire
  4. "Dirge Without Music" by Edna St. Vincent Millay
  5. "Clancy of the Overflow" by A.B. "Banjo" Paterson
  6. "Лотова жена" ("Lotova zhena", "Lot's wife") by Anna Akhmatova
  7. "The Jumblies" by Edward Lear
  8. "The Conqueror Worm" by Edgar Allan Poe
  9. "Les Djinns" ("The Jinns") by Victor Hugo
  10. "I Have a Rendezvous with Death" by Alan Seeger
  11. "When I Was One-and-Twenty" by A.E. Housman
  12. "Узник" ("Uznik", "The Prisoner" or "The Captive") by Aleksandr Pushkin
  13. "God's Grandeur" by Gerard Manley Hopkins
  14. "The Song of Wandering Aengus" by William Butler Yeats
  15. "Je crains pas ça tellment" ("I'm not that scard about") by Raymond Queneau
  16. "The Naming of Cats" by T.S. Eliot
  17. "The reticent volcano keeps…" by Emily Dickinson
  18. "Она" ("Ona", "She") by Zinaida Gippius
  19. "Would I Be Shrived?" by John D. Swain
  20. "Evolution" by Langdon Smith
  21. "Chanson d'automne" by Oscar Milosz
  22. "love is more thicker than forget" by e.e. cummings
  23. "My Three Loves" by Henry S. Leigh
  24. "Я мечтою ловил уходящие тени" ("Ia mechtoiu lovil ukhodiashchie teni", "With my dreams I caught the departing shadows") by Konstantin Balmont
  25. "Dane-geld" by Rudyard Kipling
  26. "Rules and Regulations" by Lewis Carroll
  27. "Vers dorés" by Gérard de Nerval
  28. "So That's Who I Remind Me Of" by Ogden Nash