Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Lady of Shalott or Why I Blog

When I was in therapy (of course I was in therapy) in many ways (although not in all ways) I'm sure I was a pain-in-the-ass for my therapist. I was always on time for my appointments and I didn't overstay; I never NEVER called her outside of our appointed time, even a couple of times when I was in acute emotional distress...and there were a couple of times, in the 18 months that I saw her, that I was in acute emotional distress between visits...I just always toughed it out and waited for my 4:30 Wednesday appointment...leading her to say I had no sense of object permanence. Um, dunno about that, but it did occur to me that she must not have been a fan of Garrison Keillor or understood anything about the stoicism one develops being raised by Scandinavian Lutherans...so in those ways I was probably a pretty good client...but I have a master's degree in psychology and I've worked for a number of years as a clinician in a university department of psychiatry, so I think it's fair to say that I occasionally (OK, often) argued finer points of the various theories of psychology and diagnostics with her more than the average bear might argue such points. Also, because I'm a reader, I made a lot of references to literature in our discussions of my various neuroses. To my delight, my shrink (unlike most shrinks I know, and having worked in a department of psychiatry, I know quite a few) was no slouch when it came to literature...she was well read...and she could give as good as she got, which I enjoyed very much.

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...


13 comments:

Sam said...

This was so very well written. I wish you had gotten it entered into the contest, it's really good. I was unfamiliar with the poem, but enjoyed you taking us through it. I was also grateful for a chance to get to know you a little better through this entry. You are a great addition to the J-Land community and I am glad I found your journal.
Sam

emmapeeldallas said...

Thanks for your kind words, Sam.

Judi

Elizabeth said...

..yes I concur with Sam.....lovely!...VERY, I loved this.....Hey, you could catch a boat off Galveston...South Padre?...grab your 'kini and a six pack...you'll be singin in no time..Gitchie, gitchie, ya ya da da ..Wait that's Lady Marmalade....nevermind..

;)

emmapeeldallas said...

:)

Wow, thanks so much for the compliment, Elizabeth! I just discovered your journal, and I'm a big fan already, so PLEASE put me on the list so I can link to you. (You'll see my request again under comments on your most recent post, because I want to make sure I don't miss out.) Thanks again for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it, and btw, you're right, I'd love to slip off to Galveston or Padre and sail away, singing...sounds good to me!

Judi

belfastcowboy75 said...

Unbelievable. This is my favorite poem. I have a framed print of the Waterhouse painting in my office, behind my desk, a gift from a student who sensed how I felt. You have done a wonderful job explicating here, and even better is the application to your own life.

When I teach the poem, I compare it to Plato's allegory of the cave, where a person's perceptions are limited to shadows of representations of reality. Later, when I teach Hamlet (that Scandinavian and would-be Lutheran), I invoke the Lady when we discuss Ophelia, who is destroyed, not by defying the curse, but by obeying it.

What's a woman to do?

emmapeeldallas said...

I wish I could audit a class where you're teaching this poem. I just stumbled upon it, years ago, and although I loved it immediately, and at one time knew it so well I could recite it from memory, I've never had the pleasure of sitting in a classroom and hearing anyone teach it, let alone someone who loves it as I do. And the Plato and Hamlet references...they make so much sense, although I admit they've never occurred to me before. Thank you, Paul.

Judi

p.s. - thanks too for making me chuckle; from now on, whenever anyone refers to Hamlet (and yes, as you might guess, that happens so often here in Dallas)...nevertheless, whenever it does happen, in my head I'll be thinking "Scandinavian and would-be Lutheran"...

:)

Mrs. L said...

So new kid on the block - heckuva nice essay. Did Hume read it yet?
You know who.

emmapeeldallas said...

Thank you...that means a lot to me, coming from you...you're my lodestar, or certainly one of them...and no, I don't think Hume has read it yet...or if he has, I haven't heard from him...

sierrajazz said...

Wonderful entry. I am learning to appreciate and read more poetry. Loved this entry about ithis poem and about yourself. Wish you could have entered this in Judiths Essay contest. I am new to blogging too, but I welcome you here with open arms. You made a comment in this entry about putting your words "out there in cyberspace" for other to see and how it can free you sometimes... Much the same reasons I journal here too.. I want to read your older entries and look forward to reading future ones.. Welcome and thanks for sharing. I enjoy your style of writing.

cneinhorn said...

very nice essay....cowboy has told me all about the lady of shallot...funny you should mention it here...my reaction was the same as your therapists "but she dies!"

very nice journal you have here

monponsett said...

If you write enough, eventually someone on TV will say the same thing, and you can sue them. Give me just 1% of that Sportscenter money, baby!

Mrs. L said...

Perusing through your blog I re-read this entry. And realized that I consider myself the Madwoman of Chaillot. Not because of any psychosis, but because the play was satirical. Also, at first I thought your reference to Shalott was just the English spelling and mispronunication of Chaillot.

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