Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Mirror Crack'd

I am not too sure how many of you are familiar with Tennyson’s poem “The Lady of Shalottt”. For those of you that are not it is a Victorian poem by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

It is one of my favourite poems and has been the inspiration of many artists, writers and musicians.
It was loosely based on the Arthurian legend of Elaine of Astolat, as recounted in a thirteenth-century Italian novella titled Donna di Scalotta. Tennyson focused on the Lady's "isolation in the tower and her decision to participate in the living world, two subjects not even mentioned in Donna di Scalotta."

The Lady of Shalott lived in an island castle in a river which flowed to Camelot. She had been cursed and was doomed to constantly weave a magic web without looking directly out at the world. Instead she looks into a mirror which reflects the busy road and people of Camelot which pass by her island. Her world is changed forever when she sees the reflection of Sir Lancelot in her mirror. She stops weaving and looks out her window, toward Camelot, bringing about the curse. Which brings us to my favorite stanza in the poem.

Out flew the web and floated wide-
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalottt.

She then leaves her island tower, finds a boat on which she writes her name, and floats down the river to Camelot. She dies before arriving. Upon the people who see her, is Lancelot who thinks she is beautiful.

There can be many interpretations to the poem from the dilemma that faces artists, writers, and musicians: to create work about and celebrate the world, or to enjoy the world by simply living in it. I myself love it as a highly romantic and tragic story.

With many interpretations from a written sense it has also been the inspiration for many an artist. One artist JW Waterhouse painted 3 different pictures depicting different episodes in the poem all very different from each other. They are above in the chronological order in which they were painted.

The first done in 1888 is one of my favorite paintings. The third and last painting is in the Art Gallery of Ontario, hanging next to my favorite picture of the Marchesa Casati. A treat for them to be both together.

The verse containing the words "the mirror crack'd from side to side" gave the title to one of Agatha Christie's detective stories and parts of the poem are referred to several times throughout it. The cover by Tom Adams slightly modifies one of the Waterhouse pictures, to create an intriguing bewitching cover.

I always like to re-imagine things I have seen or written so how would it be if our main character were a man? Food for thought!


  1. that's good to know, I like 'the mirror crack'd.'

  2. Hello David:
    Like you, Tennyson is a poet who we much admire with, perhaps, one of our favourite poems being 'Crossing the Bar'. That said, there are so many of interest.

    'The Lady of Shalott' has, as you say and show here, been the inspiration for much else.

  3. great article as usual, david! i honestly haven't read the poem, but i do know the famous line about the mirror. i'll definitely read the whole thing, for sure!

    Costin M.

  4. What I got from that poem was; take the risk for what you want worry about the outcomes later.

  5. I can't but think of the Loreena McKennitt song while enjoying this post...

  6. It's a very interesting post as always. These photos are a perfect choice. That poem is amazing.

  7. I have never read that poem. Love the backstory. It's camelot meets ancient mythology.
    These are great paintings and photos. Love the modern interpretation of the last shot.


  8. Hi, David - I nominate this posting to Your Top 10. It's all that we enjoy about you — style, beauty, history, irony and something to chew on. Merry Christmas from Mark.

  9. Hi darrrling David!
    such a wonderful post!
    Adore all Agatha Christie' mysteries!
    Death on The Nile; my fave!

    ps: Congrats on your new fab blog!

  10. Hii! I'm back!!!

    So amazing pictures!!! I love the first one!!


    Adrien Loren

  11. Hi David! I foud you blog during a blogging session and .....OMG I love it!
    Just in the home page I like all the posts...especially the Tom Ford quotation from the 60's. Congrats for this very interesting post, as all the others I've read. I prefer this kind of blog, that silly outfit posts. Good job!
    I hope you'll visit mine!
    I'm following you ;)

    Alessandro - The Fashion Commentator

  12. Many thanks all for your great comments.

    Alessandro, Many thanks for your visit and comment, I am just going to check out your blog now!

    Adrien, I hope that you had a great time.

    Lenore, Agatha is a longtime fave of mine.

    Jane and Lance, Tennyson is a favourite especially this and Enoch Arden

    Mark, one of the top ten out of the 500 or so posts that I have done! Wow!

    Diego, you must read it!

    Dimitri, Many thanks

    Thombeau, I know I had it playing when I wrote it! It goes on forever!

    Giorgio, many thanks!

    Aneroxic, so true in many areas of life!

    Joseph, thankyou!

  13. one of my very favorite poems too!

  14. Beautiful imagery. I'm inspired to read the poem.
    Merry Christmas!

  15. love this! :)
    thanks for the wonderful comment!
    merry christmas!!

  16. Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year!!

    this is incred, love the photos
    Great post, thanks for sharing!

    if you like we can follow each other on bloglovin :)
    let me know!

  17. great article, david! merry christmas!

  18. WOW love those pics.. nice ideas!

  19. Lady of Shalott story is so tragic! My b/f has that reproduction - that's how i found out about her. i was happy to see it here

    Such inspiring blog!


  20. I was so infatuated with the Lady of Shalott and the way each word was so so perfect and how it rolled off the tongue! Gorgeous post!!

    Hope you had a great christmas/new year break too : )


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