'Sir Galahad' by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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MY good blade carves the casques of men,
My tough lance thrusteth sure,
My strength is as the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure.
The shattering trumpet shrilleth high,
The hard brands shiver on the steel,
The splinter'd spear-shafts crack and fly,
The horse and rider reel:
They reel, they roll in clanging lists,
And when the tide of combat stands,
Perfume and flowers fall in showers,
That lightly rain from ladies' hands.

How sweet are looks that ladies bend
On whom their favours fall !
For them I battle till the end,
To save from shame and thrall:
But all my heart is drawn above,
My knees are bow'd in crypt and shrine:
I never felt the kiss of love,
Nor maiden's hand in mine.
More bounteous aspects on me beam,
Me mightier transports move and thrill;
So keep I fair thro' faith and prayer
A virgin heart in work and will.

When down the stormy crescent goes,
A light before me swims,
Between dark stems the forest glows,
I hear a noise of hymns:
Then by some secret shrine I ride;
I hear a voice but none are there;
The stalls are void, the doors are wide,
The tapers burning fair.
Fair gleams the snowy altar-cloth,
The silver vessels sparkle clean,
The shrill bell rings, the censer swings,
And solemn chaunts resound between.

Sometimes on lonely mountain-meres
I find a magic bark;
I leap on board: no helmsman steers:
I float till all is dark.
A gentle sound, an awful light !
Three arngels bear the holy Grail:
With folded feet, in stoles of white,
On sleeping wings they sail.
Ah, blessed vision! blood of God!
My spirit beats her mortal bars,
As down dark tides the glory slides,
And star-like mingles with the stars.

When on my goodly charger borne
Thro' dreaming towns I go,
The cock crows ere the Christmas morn,
The streets are dumb with snow.
The tempest crackles on the leads,
And, ringing, springs from brand and mail;
But o'er the dark a glory spreads,
And gilds the driving hail.
I leave the plain, I climb the height;
No branchy thicket shelter yields;
But blessed forms in whistling storms
Fly o'er waste fens and windy fields.

A maiden knight--to me is given
Such hope, I know not fear;
I yearn to breathe the airs of heaven
That often meet me here.
I muse on joy that will not cease,
Pure spaces clothed in living beams,
Pure lilies of eternal peace,
Whose odours haunt my dreams;
And, stricken by an angel's hand,
This mortal armour that I wear,
This weight and size, this heart and eyes,
Are touch'd, are turn'd to finest air.

The clouds are broken in the sky,
And thro' the mountain-walls
A rolling organ-harmony
Swells up, and shakes and falls.
Then move the trees, the copses nod,
Wings flutter, voices hover clear:
'O just and faithful knight of God!
Ride on ! the prize is near.'
So pass I hostel, hall, and grange;
By bridge and ford, by park and pale,
All-arm'd I ride, whate'er betide,
Until I find the holy Grail.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Sir Galahad: A Journey of Virtue and Perseverance

Oh, what a wondrous tale does Alfred, Lord Tennyson weave in his poem Sir Galahad! The narrative of this poem is full of symbolism, allegory, and a deep understanding of human nature. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, motifs, and meanings of Sir Galahad and how they relate to Tennyson's life and times.


First, let's provide some context on the poem. Sir Galahad was written in 1834 by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who was then a young poet in his late twenties. This poem is part of Tennyson's series of Arthurian poems, which drew inspiration from the medieval legend of King Arthur and his knights. Tennyson's version of the Arthurian legend emphasizes the ideals of chivalry, honor, and duty.

Sir Galahad tells the story of a knight who seeks the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus drank from at the Last Supper. According to legend, the Holy Grail has the power to heal and bring eternal life to those who drink from it. Sir Galahad's quest for the Grail represents his search for spiritual perfection, purity, and salvation.


One of the main themes of Sir Galahad is the pursuit of virtue. Sir Galahad is described as the "purest of all knights" and the "perfect knight." He embodies the virtues of piety, humility, and chastity. He is not interested in fame or fortune, but in serving God and doing what is right. Sir Galahad's pursuit of the Holy Grail is not driven by ambition or curiosity but by a desire to do God's will and achieve spiritual enlightenment.

Another theme of Sir Galahad is the struggle between good and evil. Sir Galahad faces many challenges on his quest, including temptation, doubt, and physical danger. He is tested by demons, enchantresses, and other evil forces that try to divert him from his path. Sir Galahad's unwavering faith and moral strength enable him to overcome these challenges and stay true to his ideals.

A related theme of Sir Galahad is the importance of perseverance. Sir Galahad's quest for the Holy Grail is long and arduous. He faces many setbacks and obstacles along the way, including physical exhaustion and spiritual despair. However, he never gives up and continues to pursue his goal with determination and faith. Sir Galahad's perseverance is a testament to the power of the human spirit and the rewards of staying true to one's convictions.


One of the motifs of Sir Galahad is the symbolism of light and darkness. Sir Galahad's journey takes him through many dark and foreboding places, such as forests, caves, and deserts. These places represent the dangers and temptations that he faces on his quest. However, Sir Galahad is always guided by a "light that never was on land or sea," a divine light that illuminates his path and protects him from harm. This light represents the presence of God and the spiritual enlightenment that Sir Galahad seeks.

Another motif of Sir Galahad is the symbolism of water. Water is a recurring image in the poem, representing purity, cleansing, and rebirth. Sir Galahad bathes in a river before his quest, symbolizing his purification and preparation for his spiritual journey. Later in the poem, he encounters a river that he must cross to reach the Grail. This river is described as "deep and wide and swift," representing the difficulty and danger of the journey. However, Sir Galahad is able to cross the river safely, symbolizing his spiritual rebirth and attainment of the Grail.


Sir Galahad can be interpreted as a reflection of Tennyson's own struggles and beliefs. Tennyson was a deeply religious man who struggled with doubt and despair throughout his life. Like Sir Galahad, Tennyson sought spiritual enlightenment and moral purity. He was also influenced by the Victorian ideals of chivalry and duty, which emphasized the importance of selflessness, honor, and loyalty.

The poem can also be interpreted as a critique of the materialism and superficiality of Tennyson's times. The Victorian era was marked by rapid industrialization, technological advances, and social upheaval. Many people were concerned with wealth, status, and power rather than spiritual and moral values. Sir Galahad can be seen as a response to this trend, emphasizing the importance of virtue, humility, and perseverance over material success.


Sir Galahad is a masterpiece of Victorian poetry, a testament to Tennyson's mastery of language, symbolism, and narrative. The poem's themes of virtue, perseverance, and spiritual enlightenment continue to resonate with readers today. Sir Galahad's quest for the Holy Grail is a timeless metaphor for the human search for meaning and purpose. The poem's message of hope, faith, and moral integrity is as relevant today as it was in Tennyson's time.

Oh, what a journey Sir Galahad takes us on! We cannot help but be moved and inspired by his courage, his faith, and his humility. Tennyson's poem is a true masterpiece of English literature, a work of art that transcends time and speaks to the deepest aspirations of the human soul.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Sir Galahad: A Poem of Chivalry and Purity

Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "Sir Galahad" is a classic example of Victorian poetry that explores the themes of chivalry, purity, and religious devotion. The poem tells the story of Sir Galahad, one of the Knights of the Round Table, who is on a quest to find the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper. Through his journey, Sir Galahad embodies the ideals of chivalry and purity, and his unwavering faith in God leads him to achieve his ultimate goal.

The poem begins with a description of Sir Galahad's appearance, which is characterized by his youthfulness and purity. Tennyson writes, "My good blade carves the casques of men, / My tough lance thrusteth sure, / My strength is as the strength of ten, / Because my heart is pure." These lines establish Sir Galahad as a formidable knight, whose strength comes not only from his physical prowess but also from his moral purity. The repetition of the word "pure" emphasizes the importance of this quality in Sir Galahad's character.

The second stanza introduces the quest for the Holy Grail, which is described as a "mystic vessel" that has the power to heal and bring eternal life. Sir Galahad is chosen by God to undertake this quest, and he sets out on his journey with a sense of purpose and determination. Tennyson writes, "So all day long the noise of battle roll'd / Among the mountains by the winter sea; / Until King Arthur's table, man by man, / Had fallen in Lyonnesse about their Lord, / King Arthur: then, because his wound was deep, / The bold Sir Bedivere uplifted him, / Sir Bedivere, the last of all his knights, / And bore him to a chapel nigh the field, / A broken chancel with a broken cross, / That stood on a dark strait of barren land." This passage sets the scene for Sir Galahad's quest, which takes place in a world that is marked by violence and decay.

As Sir Galahad travels through the wilderness, he encounters various challenges and temptations that test his faith and resolve. In one scene, he comes across a group of maidens who try to seduce him, but he resists their advances and remains true to his vow of chastity. Tennyson writes, "But when Sir Galahad saw her face, / How shrill'd her voice, and how sharp and thin / Her features! and how blank her barren eyes! / Cried out, and fell into a swoon, and so / Sprawled there, as lies a corse within its shroud." This passage highlights the contrast between Sir Galahad's purity and the corruption of the world around him.

In another scene, Sir Galahad comes across a wounded knight who begs for his help. Sir Galahad agrees to assist him, but the knight turns out to be a demon in disguise who tries to kill him. Sir Galahad is able to defeat the demon with the help of a vision of the Holy Grail, which gives him the strength to overcome evil. Tennyson writes, "Then with both hands he flung him, wheeling him; / And down he fell, and with a scream the corpse / Brake, and drove the face into the stream, / And sank, and the sad water blurr'd above." This passage shows how Sir Galahad's faith in God gives him the power to overcome even the most formidable foes.

The climax of the poem comes when Sir Galahad finally finds the Holy Grail. Tennyson writes, "And when Sir Galahad saw that sight, / He fell upon his knees, and cried, 'My Lord, / Have mercy on me, miserable man.'" This passage shows how Sir Galahad's quest has led him to a moment of spiritual enlightenment, where he is able to connect with God in a profound way. The Holy Grail represents the ultimate goal of Sir Galahad's journey, and his unwavering faith has allowed him to achieve it.

In conclusion, "Sir Galahad" is a powerful poem that explores the themes of chivalry, purity, and religious devotion. Through the character of Sir Galahad, Tennyson shows how these ideals can be embodied in a single individual, and how they can lead to spiritual enlightenment and fulfillment. The poem's vivid imagery and lyrical language make it a classic example of Victorian poetry, and its message of faith and perseverance continues to resonate with readers today.

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