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Arthurian Allusions in the Music of Modern Society

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For thousands of years people throughout the world have become enamored with the tale of King Arthur and the elements that go along with legends that feature him. The exciting and twisting tales are able to quickly grab one’s attention. Even though the origin of the age-old tale of King Arthur is still not fully known, the plotline continues to be featured in many areas of modern society. Arthurian allusions are common in popular culture, but the meaning they convey today does not always match what they did originally; one area that Arthurian allusions are widely found in is music.

The music of modern society is full of Arthurian allusions. One example of this comes from the song ‘All These Things’ by Shannon Wright. Wright references the Arthurian element of Camelot. Wright does so stating, “Says you’re the cause of all her pain / But all these things don’t carry Camelot” (Wright). In Arthurian legend, Camelot was the kingdom in which Arthur resided. This, however, is not what Wright sings about. The use of Camelot within Wright’s song is intended to mean an idyllic place filled with happiness (‘Definitions for Camelot’). References to Camelot today take a different approach when compared to the traditional uses; however, one can plainly see the connection between the two uses of the term as they are both describing a wonderful place. The traditional sense refers to a specific place that was wonderful, and today’s use of the word takes a more generalized approach.

Another musical reference to Arthurian legend from today’s society comes from the song ‘Waitin’ on the Sky’ by Steve Earle. Known for his distinct personality which is visible throughout his music, Steve Earle alludes to the Arthurian element of The Holy Grail in his song from 2011 stating, “Been across the ocean and now I’m back again / Searchin’ for the holy grail” (Earle). In Arthurian legend, The Holy Grail was believed to have been not only at Christ’s Last Supper, but also at his crucifixion to collect his blood. This gave the object major significance, thus making locating the treasure the purpose of many of King Arthur’s quests (‘The Quest for Holy Grail’). The search for The Holy Grail as used by Steve Earle takes on a different meaning than that of Arthurian legend. In using this allusion, Steve Earle is meaning that he is, in life, is looking to find what makes him feel spiritually and emotionally complete. In addition, he was likely meaning that he was trying to accomplish his goals which would feel like finding The Holy Grail. Earle’s allusion to The Holy Grail takes a more secular approach to the idea, but nonetheless represents the enduring aspects of Arthurian legends.

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A third musical allusion to an Arthurian element within modern society comes from a song titled ‘Sharp Darts’ by The Streets; the song is intended to express the greatness of the band’s music. In doing this the song states, “Holding up Excalibur / Your beats are inferior” (The Streets). In Arthurian legend Excalibur is the magical sword given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake (Currin). In ‘Sharp Darts’, the allusion to Excalibur does not represent a physical sword being raised, but rather the greatness of the band’s music. This song takes a much less formal approach in mentioning Excalibur than would have ever been accepted traditionally; this is also true in the allusion to The Holy Grail.

Kate Walsh’s ‘I Cling on for Dear Life’ also references Excalibur by alluding to the Arthurian element of the sword in the stone. The lyrics of the song state, “Like a sword in the stone / It keeps my blood in flow / To pull it out would turn the lights out” (Walsh). In Arthurian legend, the only man that was able to remove the magic sword from the stone was Arthur; this in turn made him king. When Arthur became ruler of Camelot, the land was changed from the feuding state that it was in. In ‘I Cling on for Dear Life’, Walsh is singing about the depression she feels after going through a tragedy, which is presumably a breakup. In alluding to the sword in the stone, she is saying that the person who brings her true happiness is not the one that she is meant to be with, so they cannot be together. This allusion is comparing the fact that Arthur was the only person that could pull the sword out from the rock to the feeling of sadness Walsh has in the discovery that the person she is in love with cannot bring her true happiness or “pull the sword from the stone” which is her life. If the right person did come along and “remove the sword”, her life would completely change and she is not ready for this. The modern day meaning of the Arthurian element of the sword in this instance represents the idea that we sometimes have to do something that seems as if it is impossible in order to end up where we are meant to be.

Additionally, the Arthurian element of the magical island of Avalon is mentioned numerous times throughout modern music. One example of this comes from the song ‘Back to Avalon’ by Kenning Loggins stating, “It’s never as easy to return / but if you’re willing to go on / We’ll find a way back to Avalon” (Loggins). In this song, Loggins is pleading for someone he cares about to come back into his life. He is referring back to the time when they had been together as “Avalon”. In contrast to meaning the place in which Excalibur was forged and where King Arthur is taken to die, the modern day meaning of Avalon is an adjective describing a time that resembles a utopia. Loggins remembers the time in which he and this person were together as being close to perfection. This is why he describes it by alluding to such a sacred place as Avalon. In listening to the songs in which Arthurian elements have been alluded to, one can see that the list contains many different genres ranging from country to hip-hop. This is representative of the impact that the telling of the legend of King Arthur has had on modern society.

The telling of a great king known as Arthur dates back to the eleventh century AD (Mark). The story has since been told many different ways by many different people. Despite the years that have passed, people today are still fascinated by the accounts of King Arthur. In modern society, mentions of the might king are found all around the world. The themes of Arthurian legend can be found immensely in modern music. It is said that each person dies twice; once when they actually pass away, and secondly the last time their named is spoken. If this is true, one can confidently infer that King Arthur, a true person or a character of fiction, will live forever.

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Arthurian Allusions in the Music of Modern Society. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/arthurian-allusions-in-the-music-of-modern-society/
“Arthurian Allusions in the Music of Modern Society.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/arthurian-allusions-in-the-music-of-modern-society/
Arthurian Allusions in the Music of Modern Society. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/arthurian-allusions-in-the-music-of-modern-society/> [Accessed 4 Feb. 2023].
Arthurian Allusions in the Music of Modern Society [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2023 Feb 4]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/arthurian-allusions-in-the-music-of-modern-society/
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