The Lady of Shalott

The Lady of Shalott

The Lady of Shalott, by John William Waterhouse. 1888.

I love this painting. It’s mystical, edgy, sharp, ethereal, and the stuff of dreams. Tennyson’s Elaine of Astolat. Elaine of the curse, something out of Plato’s cave, mixed strangely with the myth of Medusa, as if in reverse. Obliquely. Tangentially.

She could never look at reality directly. Only through a mirror. Doomed to see reflections, doomed to observe others in love while locked away. An allegory for artists and writers and anyone who separates themselves from life, remains severed from it, looking at life from afar.

King Arthur and Lancelot and Elaine. The Pre-Raphaelites and their obsessive nostalgia for another world, another time. Camelot. Astolat. Plato’s cave. Who hasn’t dreamed of knights and the Round Table and the Sword in the Stone? And the trail leads all the way back to the 5th century, not the 11th or the 12th or the 13th. The trail leads back to a time in Britain a few decades after the Romans had left, not six or seven or eight centuries later. No jousting, no armor from the Middle Ages. The real Arthur lived at the dawn of the Dark Ages, and may have altered history by delaying the Saxon conquest, keeping Britain for the Celts a little longer.

But that’s a story for another time. The reason for the painting and the above discourse? Just this poem of mine that has nothing whatsoever to do with any of it . . . .

 

Fleshing out the Holy Debts of Tomorrow

I

The fragrance of swirls in her eyes
The cheap joke of beauty
Merges with the light of intelligence
To remake tragedy in her orbs

Turning away from
The temple
The Mysteries
Like women
Scorned until
Hollywood calls

She runs and runs
And bridges
The fields the flowers
Would open for her
If seasons and biologies

Genes
And time
Were willing to
Embrace Something
Beyond themselves

Night-hats and star-religions
Judge the clouds
To be next

Blades of dark green thrust
Into the cones and join
The next

But her will is what I want
Her blessing is what I seek
And I go after soft grasses and
Star-fields
Without a good job or a fortune
Or a plan

II

Next is in the head
Next will be right back

As I fall for her in the lake
Dream of the clouds falling now
Getting wet enough to burst
Wet enough to
Underscore Dada plays
Dada songs and books

Where will her swirling eyes be
If I lose the picture frames
The camera
The echo?

III

They said no more than a
Taste
No more than a touch
But how do they know when and why
I absorb?

No more palaces they said
And I lifted her off
Democratic couches

No more
Rouge for the rich or
Parlors for indecent rudeness beyond

Master/slave . . . I took her home
To my attic

IV

Side by side in the grass like two
Songs composed
By polyphonic twins
We are the burst of light in Alaska Scotland New
Zealand China
There were warnings before the screams
Doubts
And strong sympathies in anthologies of Nature
Nurture and related schematica

Roll with me Roll with me
Paint our bodies gold
And wet-green
Gold and wet-brown

V

The Letter found me around the world
Standing next to the dungeon
But not inside!

You must take this
For what it was . . . she said

You must know love
Flickers like third-hand copies
Of Metropolis
In the darkness of art galleries . . .
I needed good sycophantic love

She said . . . I needed
A wedding of possession!

Pages float in the stream
Running through and around the dungeon
Beside me I will go on
To find more sarcasm
Breeding in the hay and seed
And wind

 

 

— by Douglas Pinson

 

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