Lady of Shalott


Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right-
The leaves upon her falling light-
Thro’ the noise 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

-Alfred Lord Tennyson


Going to Central Park on a winter day, it is easy to feel the desolation of the place.  The bare branches of the trees, the frozen pond, and the numbing , stinging chill all contribute to that feeling of death.  Yet there is exquisite beauty to the place: the solemn stillness and eerie silence give the place a magical, mysterious majesty.

In the the tranquility of the place, I stood alone.  And yet, it was as if I was not alone; it was as if ghosts of the winter were with me, keeping me company.  The pond I was staring at was dead, and calm; it was easy for me to commune with the ancient spirits of the past, rising from the lifeless waters to make their presence be known to the living.  In the haunting stillness of the distance, I could see an old wooden boat making its way through the chilled waters.  It sole passenger was a beautiful woman, clad in white, and pale of face, a solemn, mournful expression on it; she was just as lifeless as the place, but she was amazingly beautiful.

That is the image found in John William Waterhouse’s painting from 1888, The Lady of Shalott, which is based on the Alfred Lord Tennyson poem of the same name.  The Lady of Shalott lives in a tower in an “island in the river / Flowing down to Camelot.” Living alone, “she weaves by night and day / A magic web with colours gay.”  She cannot leave her place, for “A curse is on her if she stay / To look down to Camelot.”  A mirror is her only window to the outside world, and she gazes at it often, observing the common folk going about with their lives; she envies what she sees.

One day, the Lady of Shalott decides to leave her prison-sanctuary and ventures into the outside world.  She goes into a boat and attempts to cross the river to Camelot.  But before she could reach the shore she dies.


Words and image by Jesus Celebrados