My Goodreads Quotes

Allison’s quotes

"Don't you think it's rather nice to think that we're in a book that God's writing? If I were writing a book, I might make mistakes. But God knows how to make the story end just right--in the way that's best for us."
Do you really believe that, Mother?" Peter asked quietly.
Yes," she said, "I do believe it--almost always--except when I'm so sad that I can't believe anything. But even when I don't believe it, I know it's true--and I try to believe it."— E. Nesbit

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Favorite Classics: Number Four--Idylls of the King, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

"Alas for Arthur's greatest knight, a man
Not after Arthur's heart!  I needs must break
These bonds that so defame me: not without
She wills it: would I, if she will'd it? nay,
Who knows? but if I would not, then may God,
I pray him send a sudden Angel down
To seize me by the hair and bear me far
And fling me deep in that forgotten mere,
Among the tumbled fragments of the hills."

So groan'd Sir Lancelot in remorseful pain,
Not knowing he should die a holy man.

-- "Elaine," by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

So concludes my favorite poem from my favorite poetry collection of my favorite poet: The Idylls of the King, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  (Idylls, by the way, means a lovely, beautiful scene that often cannot be sustained.  I had to look it up.)

How did I come upon this fairly obscure collection, you may ask?  I shall tell you.

For my freshman year of high school, I had to write a thesis.  This may sound ambitious to you.  It certainly sounded ambitious to me.  But my writing coach insisted I would be fine if I followed fifteen-plus simple steps.

I was not fine.  It was a dreadful thesis.  It was mainly a dull, uninspired recounting of the Arthurian legends in their various forms, revolving around the argument that none of them really existed anyway-- which, as a friend once pointed out, is a somewhat difficult thesis statement to elaborate on since no one ever disagreed with it in the first place.

But it counted for a decent chunk of my grade, so I did my best on it.  I immersed myself in Arthurian legends: Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain (well, some of it); the more interesting bits of several different versions of Tristan and Iseult; Chretien de Troyes's romances; excerpts from Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur; T. H. White's delightful The Sword in the Stone; and, finally, a queer little poem called Elaine by a poet I hardly knew.

 It was enchanting.  Lovely.  Spritely, shimmering, and all sorts of ephemeral adjectives that don't quite make sense in context but seize my poetic soul.

 Young, romantic Elaine, a lady in her own right, falls desperately in love with Sir Lancelot and (spoilers!) dies of grief when he refuses her.  And O! how I felt for Elaine, who everyone pinched companionably on the cheek and said how adorable her crush on Lancelot was, never realizing that her broken heart had never ceased bleeding dry...


 But I had yet to discover the crowning gem of Tennyson's Arthurian poems: the haunting, elegiac The Lady of Shalott, which, although not technically part of his Idylls, is often included with it.

 On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
To many-towered Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round and island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Although focusing once again on Elaine (or a character so similar as to be identical), the titular Lady of Shalott, this earlier poem bears little resemblance to its successor.  It has divinely lovely imagery that makes no sense whatsoever.  I have no opinion on its meaning, but it, for me, is the pinnacle of Romantic poetry.

 This poem alone does not secure this collection its spot on my favorites shelf, however.  This collection has a personal significance for me.

 While vacationing in Alabama for New Year's, I stayed with my wonderful aunt and uncle.  While lounging around between a massive breakfast and an equally hearty lunch, my wonderful aunt mentioned that my wonderful grandmother had sent down a collection of old books she thought I might like-- my taste for old books being widely known in the family.

 The first one I reached for was Idylls of the King.  And upon opening it, I saw signatures marching across the front page in faded, lovely handwriting.  James Edward.  Richard Kerrick.  John Emmet.  Walter Vincent.  Mary Eleanor.  Mary Agnes.  And finally, Mary Bernadette.

 My great-great uncles.  My great-great grandparents.

 My family.

 So yes, I love Tennyson's Idylls of the King.  How can I not, when a passion for it runs five generations back?
Reminder: You remember the drill from last year!  Comment on any of the favorite classics posts to be entered in the favorite classics giveaway!  Entries are capped at one per post, but feel free to comment more.  This series won't take place consecutively but will be scattered around blog tours and interviews until it concludes on my birthday, the twenty-fourth.  As for the hint for tomorrow's book: what happens when one novel follows the individual plotlines of an entire village?

(Also: Hurrah for my fiftieth post!)


ghost ryter said...

Hurrah for your fiftieth post, and hurrah for Tennyson! He's one my favorite poets. :)
Hmm...that hint for the next book has me stumped. The only thing that comes to mind is the play, "Into the Woods", but that's probably not it.

Allison Ruvidich said...

Isn't Tennyson fabulous? And no, not Into the Woods. : ) I'll give you a hint: it was written by a woman who wrote under a man's name to be taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

Would tomorrows author be Georgette Heyer? The Idylls sounds like a beautiful book!
I love things to do with Arthur or Lancelot.

ps. Hurrah!

Sarah said...

I feel like I've read "The Lady of Shallott"- I have a book of poetry referenced in Anne of Green Gables, and I'm pretty sure it's in that book. I don't remember much about it, but, yeah.

Psalms w guitar said...

We love "the Lady of Shallot" I've been meaning to try some of his other ones, thanks for the inspiration. By the way, they're available here: in audio

Laura Pol said...

I have to admit that I have never heard of any of these! Will have to go learn more about them! Congrats on the 50th post! Exciting! :D

Allison Ruvidich said...

@Jemma- No, it's not, but I LOVE Georgette Heyer! I've only read the Grand Sophy, but I've checked another out from the library, so I'll be expanding my knowledge. : ) If you like King Arthur, you ought to try T H White. He's terrific!

@Sarah- That book sounds so cool! Now I want to reread Anne of Green Gables... and Little Women... and A Little Princess! (So many littles!)

@Psalms w Guitar- Ooh, those are lovely! There's nothing quite so nice as hearing a poem out loud.

@Laura- Don't you love learning about new books? Thank you!