And at one point when I was seeing her, I told her that I felt like The Lady of Shalott. "That's not a good analogy!" she said, and she appeared openly upset with me. "But why?" I said, "She defied the frigging curse!" "And then died," my therapist said. "Hmmmmmmmmm," I thought, "What planet are you living on?" but aloud I just said, "Gee, maybe it's my Scandinavian heritage, but I'm well aware that we all die sooner or later; it's inevitible, and anyway, that's not the part with which I'm identifying..."
She didn't believe me, and we never resolved that particular disagreement. For those who don't know the poem, it's an epic romantic poem written by Tennyson in 1842. (I know there's an earlier version, but I like the 1842.) Anyway, The Lady has been cursed...Tennyson doesn't say by whom...and because of the curse she must live alone, in a tower, on an island, just down the river from Camelot. Although it's rumored that a woman lives on the island, she's unknown to the locals, anonymous: "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?"
She is forbidden, by the curse, to participate directly in the life going on all around her; she can't leave the tower or even look out the windows; she does have a large mirror in which she's able to see reflections of the life outside: "And moving through a mirror clear That hangs before her all the year, Shadows of the world appear..."
She must sit all day and weave a tapestry of the reflections she sees in the mirror: "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."
For a while, she's content with catching glimpses of life via the mirror: "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...But in her web she still delights To weave the mirror's magic sights..."
But sometimes she realizes that she's missing out: "Or when the Moon was overhead, Came two young lovers lately wed. "I am half sick of shadows," said The Lady of Shalott."
And then one day, Lancelot comes riding into view in her mirror: "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...The gemmy bridle glitter'd free...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...All in the blue unclouded weather Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather, The helmet andthe helmet-feather Burn'd like one burning flame together, As he rode down to Camelot. 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."
And in an instant, everything changes for The Lady, leading to my favorite lines: "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..."
She's empowered (to use a term I loathe, but it's appropriate here). She leaves the tower and finds a boat, upon which she writes her name: "Down she came and found a boat Beneath a willow left afloat, And around about the prow she wrote The Lady of Shalott."
She gets in the boat, sets it adrift, lies back, and begins chanting her own funeral dirge, because she knows that she's dying: "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."
Tennyson, being the romantic epic poet genius that he was, didn't end the poem there...instead, he writes of the locals finding the boat and her body, and he describes their reactions, including Lancelot's: "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."
It's a terrific poem. But I digress...which is nothing new (I'm the Queen of Digression)...anyway, although I didn't enter the essay contest, Why I Blog, (in addition to being the Queen of Digression, I'm also the Princess of Procrastination)...nevertheless, even though I didn't enter the contest, I've been thinking a lot, being a newbie at blogging, about Why I Blog...and tonight, for a lot of reasons, I've been thinking about this poem.
After all this time, in spite of everything, there are still times that I feel as if I'm shut up in a tower, on an island, down the stream from everything that's appealing and alive; as if I'm standing with my face pressed up against life/love's glass. There's much evidence to the contrary (as my therapist, among others, would be quick to point out, and I know this - that's there's lots of evidence to the contrary)...but one can know this, intellectually, and still in your heart feel isolated, anonymous, alone...
But there's something about writing a blog...putting your thoughts into words, and then putting the words out there, in cyberspace, for others to see...whether what we write is liked or disliked, read or not read...by that act, by putting our words out there, one is connected to the world, and defies the wretched curse ("But who hath seen her wave her hand? Or at the casement seen her stand?" - I have! Isn't she on AOL?) It reminds me a little of chat, in the early days of the net...there's a sense of connection, and it can free you up, in a good way...I'm not sure how it works, but for some of us, it does work, at least some of the time...
So when I sit down at my keyboard and type away and hit "save", I feel better...I know I've left the web, left the room, but the mirror hasn't cracked (at least not yet); I don't have to go find a boat (a good thing, as that could be tricky, here in Dallas) and I don't have to sing...a VERY good thing...I like to sing, but y'all don't wanna have to hear me sing...