Monday, October 25, 2010

Tennyson's honeysuckle

A regret that I have in living here is that in our last place we had a little sheltered nook I called ‘honeysuckle corner’. Facing north-west it had walls behind it to the south and east. There was several stands of sweet-scented honeysuckle. It was our favourite spot all summer and autumn, a lovely place to sit and read on a lazy sun-lit day under the filtered shade of the judas tree, the buzz of bees browsing the borage and chive flowers as background. .

On a still evening we would go out at night to sit and savour the honeysuckle’s fragrance in the moonlight. Some lines from Tennyson spring to mind.

‘Good Lord, how sweetly smells the honeysuckle
In the hush of night, as if the world were one
Of utter peace and love and gentleness.’

The lines come from ‘Gareth and Lynette’ which is a scene from the lengthy series ‘Idylls of the King’. Gareth’s mother, a noble’s widow doesn’t want him to leave home to serve as a knight at the court of King Arthur. She says she’ll release him only if he works as a kitchen hand at the court. He calls her bluff and goes off.

His mother sends a message to Arthur who immediately, but anonymously, makes Gareth a knight. A beautiful maiden - Tennyson’s maidens are either very beautiful or very ugly – Lynette, comes with a tale of distress. Her sister, Lady Lyonors is being besieged by four bad knights, the last of whom seems likely as the model for Tolkein’s Black Riders.

‘A huge man beast of boundless savagery.
He names himself the Night and oftener Death,
And wears a helmet mounted with a skull’.

Despite her request for Lancelot, when Gareth volunteers, Arthur accepts. Lynette refuses to accept this kitchen servant as a knight which takes up quite a length of verse.

Despite Gareth killing the first two villains, Lynette still refuses to accept his knightly status. Eventually Lancelot appears and gives Gareth his horse, his armour and his sword for the third encounter. Gareth is successful. Whereupon Lynette has a change of heart – hence the lines I quote. He successfully goes on to defeat the fourth and most dangerous rogue.

I’ve always admired Tennyson’s word music. Indeed, he is without peer. And I find myself forgiving him much for his conclusion to this episode. It's bang-on.

'And he that told the tale in older times
Says that Sir Gareth wedded Lynors
But he, that told it later, says Lynette.’

In terms of the story as Tennyson tells it had to be so. Well done the Bard.

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