Death, Dying, Grief and Mourning

            "Death is always the same,
                               but each man dies in his own way."

Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands, 1960

   

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Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur, 1469
First Printed: Wm. Claxton, 1485
Edited: Eugene Vinaver 1947

 Translated from Middle English to Modern English

Death of Arthur

 

Book 21, Chapter V

Death of Arthur:

But I may not stand, mine head works so. Ah Sir Launcelot, said King Arthur, this day have I sore missed thee: alas, that ever I was against thee, for now have I my death, whereof Sir Gawaine me warned in my dream. Then Sir Lucan took up the king the one part, and Sir Bedivere the other part, and in the lifting the king swooned; and Sir Lucan fell in a swoon with the lift, that the part of his guts fell out of his body, and therewith the noble knight’s heart brast. And when the king awoke, he beheld Sir Lucan, how he lay foaming at the mouth, and part of his guts lay at his feet. Alas, said the king, this is to me a full heavy sight, to see this noble duke so die for my sake, for he would have holpen me that had more need of help than I. Alas, he would not complain him, his heart was so set to help me; now Jesus have mercy upon his soul! Then Sir Bedivere wept for the death of his brother. Leave this mourning and weeping, said the king; for all this will not avail me, for wit thou well and I might live myself, the death of Sir Lucan would grieve me evermore; but my time hieth fast, said the king. Therefore, said Arthur unto Sir Bedivere, take thou Excalibur, my good sword, and go with it yonder water side, and when thou comest there I charge thee throw my sword in that water, and come again and tell me what thou there seest. My lord, said Bedivere, your commandment shall be done, and lightly bring you word again.

So Sir Bedivere departed, and by the way he beheld that noble sword, that the pommel and the haft was all of precious stones; and then he said to himself: If I throw this rich sword in the water, thereof shall never come good, but harm and loss. And then Sir Bedivere hid Excalibur under a tree. And so, as he might, he came again unto the king, and said he had been at the water, and had thrown the sword in the water. What saw thou there? Said the king. Sir, he said, I saw nothing but waves and winds. That is untruly said of thee, said the king, therefore go thou lightly again, and do my commandment; as thou art to me dief and dear, spare not, but throw it in. Then Sir Bedivere returned again, and took the sword in his hand; and then him thought sin and shame to throw away that noble sword, and so eft he hid the sword, and returned again, and told the king that he had been at the water, and done his commandment. What saw thou there? Said the king. Sir, he said, I saw nothing but the waters wap and waves wan.

Ah, traitor untrue, said King Arthur, now thou hast betrayed me twice. Who would have weened that, thou that hast been to me so life and dear? And thou art named a noble knight, and would betray me for the richness of the sword. But now go again lightly, for they long tarrying putteth me in great jeopardy of my life, for I have taken cold. And but if thou do now as I bid thee, if ever I may see thee, I shall slay thee with mine own hands; for thou wouldst for my rich sword see me dead.

Then Sir Bedivere departed, and went to the sword, and lightly took it up, and went to the water side; and there he bound the girdle about the hilts, and then he threw the sword as far into the water as he might; and there came and arm and an hand above the water and met it, and caught it, and so shook it thrice and brandished, and then vanished away the hand with the sword in the water. So Sir Bedivere came again to the king, and told him what he saw. Alas, said the king, help me hence; for I dread me I have tarried over long. Then Sir Bedivere took the king upon his back, and so went with him to the water side. And when they were at the water side, even fast by the bank hoved a little barge with many fair ladies in it, and among them was a queen, and all they had black hoods, and all they wept and shrieken when they saw King Arthur. Now put me into the barge, said the king. And so he did softly; and there received him three queens with great mourning; and so they set them down, and in one of their laps King Arthur laid his head. And then that queen said: Ah dear brother, why have ye tarried so long from me? Alas, this wound on your head caught over-much cold. And so then they rowed from the land, and Sir Bedivere cried: Ah my lord Arthur, what shall become of me, now ye go from me and leave me here along among mine enemies? Comfort thyself, said the king, and do as well as thou mayst, for in me is not trust for to trust in; for I will into the vale of Avilion to heal me of my grievous wound: And if thou hear never more of me, pray for my soul. But ever the queen and ladies wept and shrieked, that it was pity to hear. And as soon as Sir Bedivere had lost sight of the barge, he wept and wailed, and so took the forest; and so he went all that night, and in the morning he was ware betwixt to holts hoar, of a chapel and an hermitage.

Book 21 Chapter VI:

Then was Sir Bedivere glad, and thither he went; and when he came into the chapel, he saw where lay an hermit groveling on all fours, there fast by a tomb was new graven. When the hermit saw Sir Bedivere he knew him well, for he was but little tofore Bishop of Canterbury, that Sir Modred flemed. Sir, said Bedivere, what man is there interned that ye pray so fast for? Fair son, said the hermit. I wot not verily, but by deeming. But this night, at midnight, there came a number of ladies, and brought hither a dead corpse, and pray me to bury him; and here they offered an hundred tapers, and gave me an hundred besants. Alas, said Sir Bedivere, that was my lord King Arthur, that here liest in this chapel. The Sir Bedivere swooned; and when he awoke he prayed the hermit he might abide with him still there, to live with fasting and prayers. For from hence will I never go, said Sir Bedivere, by my will, but all the days of my life here to pray for my Lord Arthur. Ye are welcome to me, said the hermit, for I know ye better than ye win that I do. Ye are the bold Bedivere, and the full noble duke, Sir Lucan the Butler, was your brother, Then Sir Bedivere told the hermit all as ye have heard to fore. So there bode Sir Bedivere with the hermit that tofore Bishop of Canterbury, and there Sir Bedivere put upon him poor clothes, and served the hermit full lowly in fasting and prayers.

Thus of Arthur I find never more written in books that be authorized, nor more of the very certainty of his death heard I never read, but thus was he led away in a ship wherein were three queens; that one was King Arthur’s sister, Queen Morgan le Fay; the other was the Queen of Northgalis; the third was the Queen of the Waste Lands. Also there was Nimue, the chief lady of the lake, that had wedded Pelleas the good knight; and this lady had done much for King Arthur, for she would never suffer Sir Pelleas to be in no place where he should be in danger of his life; and so he lived to the uttermost of his days with her in great rest. More of the death of King Arthur could I never find, but that ladies brought him to his burials; and such one was buried there, that the hermit bare witness that sometime was Bishop of Canterbury, but yet the hermit knew not in certain that he was verily the body of King Arthur; for this tale Sir Bedivere, knight of the Table Round, made it to be written.

 

   
 

Adrienne Nater, 2008

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