Friday, 11 November 2011

THE LADY OF SHALOTT




THE LADY OF SHALOTT 1888 Sir James William Waterhouse: You can see it in The Tate Gallery London.

She sits alone and lonely, viewing the beautiful city of Camelot through a mirror. She weaves a tapestry, copying the images from the mirror into the picture that she sews. She doesn’t know why she sits like this, never to view the real world. She only knows that to look, is forbidden. The reader of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem knows that “The Lady of Shalott” is cursed, if she looks, she will die.

“Willows whiten, aspens quiver, 
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.”


"The Lady of Shalott" tells the story of a beautiful woman who lives in a tower in Shalott, which is an island on a river that runs, along with the road beside it, to Camelot; the setting of the legends about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Every day, the woman weaves a tapestry picture of the landscape that is visible from her window, including Camelot. There is, however, a curse on her; the woman does not know the cause of the curse, but she knows that she cannot look directly out of the window, so she views the subjects of her artwork through a mirror that is beside her. The woman is happy to weave, but is tired of looking at life only as a reflection. One day, Sir Lancelot rides by, looking bold and handsome in his shining armour, and singing. The woman cannot resist going to the window and seeing the beautiful Lancelot for herself.




“I am half sick of shadows,” JW Waterhouse, can be seen at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada.

“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.”


“The Lady sees the exterior world, not through a window that opens onto real space and nature, but only as the shadow of that reality reflected in the magic mirror. The curse does not allow her to appear at the casement where the exterior and interior worlds can meet and merge; she is totally cut off. The emphasis upon love and confinement of the woman becomes intensified in the fictional Lady of Shalott, a subject that allowed the artist's imagination more freedom of interpretation.”
From “The Embowered Woman:” Elisabeth Nelson

Waterhouse continually frames her in poses in which her alluring beauty can be displayed.

“Paintings representing the Lady in her boat were as popular as interior scenes. The Lady setting out for Camelot, alive in her boat, allowed an artist like Waterhouse to portray the pathos of the "cursed" Lady, who follows her heart knowing she is going to die doing so. Mario Praz has perceived throughout the literature of Romanticism "the inseparability of pleasure and pain and, on the practical side, a search for themes of tormented, contaminated beauty" (The Romantic Agony, 1970). Tennyson and Waterhouse, poet and painter, seemed to have agreed with Edgar Allan Poe, who explained in "The Poetic Principle" that a "certain taint of sadness is inseparably connected with all the higher manifestations of true Beauty." Exterior scenes provided the artist a different subject, mood, and set of circumstances with which to work.”
Again from “The Embowered Woman:” Elisabeth Nelson -- you can read her complete essay here


“And moving thro' a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls.
And there the surly village-churls
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.”


The lady weaves her tapestry in a richly appointed, artificial bower, cut off from the world. Restraint is a word that seems to sum up the Victorian’s attitude to sex.

The Lady of Shalott is as restrained as any slave in a 21st century BDSM fantasy.






“The Lady of Shalott sees Lancelot”; JW Waterhouse, 1894: Leeds, art gallery, UK .

The lady doesn’t speak, she scarcely moves. Waterhouse here, presents her in chains; she may as well be wearing a chastity belt. Her look is lascivious; predatory. Her mouth shows the beginnings of a snarl, as she growls out her urge to copulate. She has seen her mate and even death will not stop her.

“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…”


Perhaps in works of art and literature like “The Lady of Shalott” and contemporary Erotica we have a meeting of minds. Readers of Erotica and Pornography are certainly turned on, and carefully tuned in to the Victorian notions of sexual restraint. The clothes restricting womens’ ability to breathe, let alone run. The concept of the woman just being there, until she is needed; until the male requires sexual release. The woman is displayed for the viewer in an erotic reverie; she is waiting, wet, wilting with desire for her mate. But this is not just a male fantasy; women fantasise about these things as much as men. Those tight, tight corsets forcing the breasts upwards and outwards. Velvet and lace stretching over smooth, silky, creamy flesh. It is an urgent notion of beauty that women and men both cherish. We allow the fantasy to tease out the moment when we copulate; a restorative, groan as that first thrust of penetration finally, finally occurs.

“She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro' the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She looked down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror cracked from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.”

The Lady sees the beautiful Lancelot in her mirror. She will risk the curse to see him in the flesh. Sexual release will mean real death, even more than “la petite mort” -- she doesn’t care. Tennyson’s carefully crafted words bring the Lady’s passion from simmering, to boiling point. She is frantic with desire…

Lancelot, these days, wears leather. He’s a biker, I think. The engine throbbing into his crotch reminding him that he is all male. He has been too long away from his lady, the engine growls his frustration.

And the scenario has endless possibilities -- so let’s play a little. Have some fun. The role play can be as serious as you want to make it; or as joyous, but BDSM fulfils a huge need for many people out there.

It doesn’t have to be a submissive female, waiting for the attention of a Dominant male. It can be reversed; a Dominant woman and a submissive male.


He waits hopelessly for his Lady’s attention. All he needs is a gentle brush of her hand; a look would suffice. She will forbid him sexual release and he will comply; how can he not? Like the Lady of Shalott, he waits. He would wait for an eternity for her. His hard, muscular chest is bare, his tight, frayed jeans cover a throbbing erection. His Lady likes it that beneath the worn denim his cock pulses. His orgasm is forbidden, until his Lady permits…


…maybe it’s two women engaged in the Dominant/submissive scenario -- she is tied at her wrists and ankles -- spread wide and open on the four poster bed. She waits for the ecstasy of her Mistress’ lips caressing her soft inner thigh; her small, pointed tongue thrusting, dancing into her wet, willing labia. She will touch her clitoris with the tip of her tongue…


…or two men; his Master keeps him locked in the cage that is his home. There is limitless intelligence in his dark eyes, yet he paces the floor like the animal he has become. He remembers the night that his Master claimed him. His Master had laughed at him as he tried to deny the attraction; His Master knew that the slave was already half in love. The slave is trying so hard to be patient, but his strong fingers grip the bars and he growls his frustration. Seeing him like this, it is hard to believe that he is passive; living only for the moment that his lover’s cock will open him…


And it doesn’t even need to be about sex. Fulani suggests, if it’s done right, this kind of relationship can have an almost spiritual quality; an exquisite sharing of trust that many people find is as important as sex.

“Actually by no means all bdsm play involves sex (i.e. penetrative sex) at the same time as the bdsm - it depends on the people, their relationship, the nature of the fantasy etc. Obviously if the sub has a forced sex fantasy the two will be closely linked, but other possibilities exist - e.g. sex as the conclusion of play, or the wind-down after play, or something that happens on another occasion, or even in some relationships it's purely play and no sex in the usual sense of the word. That of course doesn't mean it's not sexual - just that the play itself satisfies sexual desires. Which is, I guess, the definition of fetishism.”

Fulani



It’s a game, it’s a wonderful fantasy. It is played out in our Erotic night and daydreams. Some of us never move beyond the dreaming stage; but we have all inherited a gift from the Victorians in the tales that they tell, and through those tales, we have our own Erotica.

Thanks to Jan Vander Laenen for correcting my appalling French -- Jan knows what I mean! And thanks to Fulani for his incisive comments, and for allowing me to quote him.

Here is Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s complete poem. “The Lady of Shalott.”

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
To many-tower'd Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver, 
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow veil'd,
Slide the heavy barges trail'd
By slow horses; and unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd
Skimming down to Camelot:
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?

Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley, 
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
Down to tower'd Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers "'Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott."

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.

And moving thro' a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls.
And there the surly village-churls
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.

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;
And sometimes thro' the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed;
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling through the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter'd free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazoned baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn'd like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often through the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
Moves over still Shalott.

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.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro' the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She looked down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror cracked from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower'd Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seër in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance—
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
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,
Turned 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.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round 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 cross'd 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."

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