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!

Over at Mon Peche

It is a Pas de Deux by Newton

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