A dying art

9th February 2001 at 00:00
I am going a long way... To the island-valley of Avilion Where falls not hail, nor rain, or any snow, Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies Deep-meadow'd, happy, fair with orchard lawns And bowery hollows crown'd with summer seas Where I will heal me of my grievous wound.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92) describes the passing of the legendary King Arthur in his long, leisurely poem, Idylls of the King. Illustrated here by pioneering photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, friend and neighbour of Tennyson in his later years, the poem is in the Poet Laureate's most lush and maserful vein, with sensual, seductive detail enrobing every dramatic occasion. How different from Tennyson's source, the 15th-century outlaw knight and general bad-ass Sir Thomas Malory (1416-71). Malory finished his lengthy Le Morte Darthur in prison around 1470. Shortly thereafter he was released from his sentence for conspiracy and died.

His work, in punchy take-no-prisoners prose, is an uneven recension of many earlier works on the Arthur stories. Parts of it, though, never mind the funny spelling, can stand up and sing with the best narrative in the language.

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