Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Favorite Fictional Character Repost --- The Lady of Shalott

Once again I must apologize for allowing life to get in the way of having a brilliantly written new post for you to enjoy.  This bronchitis or whatever the crap it is is still kicking me in the butt and my cough doesn't seem to be getting any better.  I have days where I don't cough much at all and then I have some where it seems I'm doing it all the time.  I'm also going on a staycation from work over the weekend so I've been working open to close the last few days in order to get everything I need done before I take 4 days off.  I promise that next week I will have something new and shiny for you to enjoy.  In the meantime please let me reintroduce you to a character that I first posted about in 2099.  She is still the only character to come from poem though I have a few others that I have thought about.  So with no further ado, here is The Lady of Shalott.

I'm not sure I can really describe why this poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson gets to me the way it does. Why the main character of this beautifully written work makes me want to cry every time I read what happens to her. Nor am I going to give an academic dissertation on the themes found in this work. That is for another time. What I'm going to try and explain here is what I feel when I read this poem and why The Lady of Shalott is my third pick for My Favorite Fictional Character.

As most people who have read this poem, I encountered it for the first time in my Senior English class in high school. All I remember is reading along in class and having this well of emotion come out that I'm not sure had ever been brought out by any other poem. It was a feeling of utter sadness and regret for this woman who was condemned to live alone with no physical contact from the outside world.

She is loosely based off of Elaine of Astolat from the Arthurian legends. Though many of the details from the poem are not to be found in the original story. We meet her as a woman living in a tower that sits on an island in the middle of a river. She is physically isolated from any other human being. Her only view of the comings and goings around her is through a mirror. If she were to gaze directly out the window a curse would come over her so she has never chosen to do such a thing before. One day Sir Lancelot rides by and the Lady of Shalott is so enchanted by what she sees that she looks out the window and with the breaking of her mirror she condemns herself to death. The rest of the poem recounts her journey down the river to Camelot and her eventual death.

What really upset me the first time I read this was Sir Lancelot's response once the Lady reaches Camelot lying dead in her boat. As a young man I found it to be callous and cold. Upon later reflection I really couldn't blame him, for how is he to know the small role he played in this tragedy.

Her story had stuck with me since then and I tend to read the poem many times throughout a normal year. I have the above print by Waterhouse framed and hanging in my living room and I listen to Loreena McKennitt sing the poem about as often as I read it. The sadness and total isolation she felt still gets to me and I end up putting myself in her shoes. If I were ever in her situation would I eventually get to the point where I would say "I am half sick of shadows", damn the consequences and choose to live just one last moment in the world.

I' m not sure I can fully express the emotions this poem and it's "hero" convey in me so I will post the poem here and let you read it for yourself.

The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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-tower'd Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Through the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow veil'd,
Slide the heavy barges trail'd
By slow horses; and unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early,
In among the bearded barley
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly;
Down to tower'd Camelot;
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers, " 'Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott."

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot;
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls
Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd lad,
Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad
Goes by to tower'd Camelot;
And sometimes through the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two.
She hath no loyal Knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often through the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot;
Or when the Moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed.
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter'd free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon'd baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armor rung
Beside remote Shalott.
All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn'd like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro' the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, burning bright,
Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;
On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow'd
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flashed into the crystal mirror,
"Tirra lirra," by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining.
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower'd Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And around about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance --
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right --
The leaves upon her falling light --
Thro' the noises of the night,
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darkened wholly,
Turn'd to tower'd Camelot.
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and Burgher, Lord and Dame,
And around the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? And what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the Knights at Camelot;
But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."

This is the talented Loreena McKennitt putting the poem to song.


Blodeuedd said...

I love her version, she sings so beautifully :)

Yvette said...

I too am a fan of Loreena McKennitt. She has a beautiful way with words and music.

A very visual and moving poem, Ryan.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful song, great post.

Feel better Ryan.

JaneGS said...

Who can read this poem and not remember Anne of GG and friends playing this and Anne as Elaine in a leaky "barge" and Gilbert rescuing her?

Forever connected in my mind!