The Lady of Shalott (1832)

The Lady of Shalott - John William Waterhouse, 1888

Part I 
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; 
The yellow-leaved waterlily 
The green-sheathed daffodilly 
Tremble in the water chilly 
       Round about Shalott. 

Willows whiten, aspens shiver. 
The sunbeam showers break and quiver 
In the stream that runneth ever 
By the island in the river 
       Flowing down to Camelot. 
Four gray walls, and four gray towers 
Overlook a space of flowers, 
And the silent isle imbowers 
       The Lady of Shalott. 

Underneath the bearded barley, 
The reaper, reaping late and early, 
Hears her ever chanting cheerly, 
Like an angel, singing clearly, 
       O'er the stream of Camelot. 
Piling the sheaves in furrows airy, 
Beneath the moon, the reaper weary 
Listening whispers, ' 'Tis the fairy, 
       Lady of Shalott.' 

The little isle is all inrail'd 
With a rose-fence, and overtrail'd 
With roses: by the marge unhail'd 
The shallop flitteth silken sail'd, 
       Skimming down to Camelot. 
A pearl garland winds her head: 
She leaneth on a velvet bed, 
Full royally apparelled, 
       The Lady of Shalott. 

Part II 
No time hath she to sport and play: 
A charmed web she weaves alway. 
A curse is on her, if she stay 
Her weaving, either night or day, 
       To look down to Camelot. 
She knows not what the curse may be; 
Therefore she weaveth steadily, 
Therefore no other care hath she, 
       The Lady of Shalott. 

She lives with little joy or fear. 
Over the water, running near, 
The sheepbell tinkles in her ear. 
Before her hangs a mirror clear, 
       Reflecting tower'd Camelot. 
And as the mazy web she whirls, 
She sees 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, came from Camelot: 
Or when the moon was overhead 
Came two young lovers lately wed; 
'I am half sick of shadows,' said 
       The Lady of Shalott. 

Part III 
A bow-shot from her bower-eaves, 
He rode between the barley-sheaves, 
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves, 
And flam'd 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 from Camelot: 
And from his blazon'd 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 from Camelot. 
As often thro' the purple night, 
Below the starry clusters bright, 
Some bearded meteor, trailing light, 
       Moves over green 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 from Camelot. 
From the bank and from the river 
He flash'd into the crystal mirror, 
'Tirra lirra, tirra lirra:' 
       Sang Sir Lancelot. 

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

Part IV 
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; 
Outside the isle a shallow boat 
Beneath a willow lay afloat, 
Below the carven stern she wrote, 
       The Lady of Shalott. 

A cloudwhite crown of pearl she dight, 
All raimented in snowy white 
That loosely flew (her zone in sight 
Clasp'd with one blinding diamond bright) 
       Her wide eyes fix'd on Camelot, 
Though the squally east-wind keenly 
Blew, with folded arms serenely 
By the water stood the queenly 
       Lady of Shalott. 

With a steady stony glance— 
Like some bold seer in a trance, 
Beholding all his own mischance, 
Mute, with a glassy countenance— 
       She look'd down to Camelot. 
It was the closing of the day: 
She loos'd the chain, and down she lay; 
The broad stream bore her far away, 
       The Lady of Shalott. 

As when to sailors while they roam, 
By creeks and outfalls far from home, 
Rising and dropping with the foam, 
From dying swans wild warblings come, 
       Blown shoreward; so to Camelot 
Still as the boathead wound along 
The willowy hills and fields among, 
They heard her chanting her deathsong, 
       The Lady of Shalott. 

A longdrawn carol, mournful, holy, 
She chanted loudly, chanted lowly, 
Till her eyes were darken'd wholly, 
And her smooth face sharpen'd slowly, 
       Turn'd 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 pale, pale corpse she floated by, 
Deadcold, between the houses high, 
       Dead into tower'd Camelot. 
Knight and burgher, lord and dame, 
To the planked wharfage came: 
Below the stern they read her name, 
       The Lady of Shalott. 

They cross'd themselves, their stars they blest, 
Knight, minstrel, abbot, squire, and guest. 
There lay a parchment on her breast, 
That puzzled more than all the rest, 
       The wellfed wits at Camelot. 
'The web was woven curiously, 
The charm is broken utterly, 
Draw near and fear not,—this is I, 
       The Lady of Shalott.'

Things About Guilt

Two things about me: 1) I live a guilt-saturated existence and 2) I am a compulsive confessor. Both of these things lead me to believe that I am an excellent candidate for Catholicism, and I am seriously considering trying it. I was raised with the deeply held believe that humans are fallen, hideous creatures. My favorite bible verse when I was very young was Psalms 22:6, when David says "But I am a worm, and no man, a reproach of men, and despised of the people." (KJV, Obviously). Why that verse out of the hundreds and thousands I read resonated so deeply with me, I do not know, but if you read any of my childhood journal entries, they basically say the exact same thing, but less King Jamesy. Self-loathing, self-blame, self-chastisement was the theme of my life. I have always considered myself the black sheep of my family, even back when I was a zealot wearing ankle-length denim jumpers and floral turtlenecks (know you know where the loathing comes from). I always considered myself the chiefest of all sinners, worse even than the apostle Paul who coined the phrase in 1Timothy 1:15 - and he was pretty damn bad.

David — Oh that I had the wings of a dove! For then I would fly away and be at rest by Frederic Lord Leighton, P. R. A. (1830-1896)

I live my life now a little more guilt free. I have not identified whether that's because I quit caring, or I seared my conscience to the point that it became dysfunctional, or because I just decided I was a lost cause and not "fit for the kingdom" anyway. Mostly the last one I think, because if my conscience was seared completely I would not still have the abysmal fits of guilt and shame that overtake me from time to time, like when I drink too much and do stupid shit, or when I wear capri pants. Or when the dogs don't get fed for 18 hours. Dark, deep, guilt. With words like "why are you even alive" "what a waste of skin" (I learned that one from a friend), and "no wonder no one can love you" swirling around my brain for hours or sometimes days.

This is the product of stern, inflexible religion pressed into a developing brain. Like juveniles who learn to binge drink before their pre-frontal cortex is fully developed, I grew a brain groove, a natural addiction to guilt as a normal, necessary part of existence. Out of the guilt stems compulsive confessions. Of everything, and nothing - much of which this entire blog serves to deliver. If I can express in words EVERY POSSIBLE WRONG I have committed, admit, confess, repent in some eloquent fashion, or better yet apologize in the most literal way, then my guilt will be alleviated. Y'all are my priests. Didya even know?

Hester Prynne. So relatable. 
I would be willing to bet there are other kids like me who find themselves occasionally paralyzed by guilt and the knowledge that no amount of good behavior can atone for one sin. I'll bet there are even some of those kids reading this. Maybe we've learned over the years to turn our confessions into tongue-in-cheek exposes, or our self-flagellation into relentless physical activity and deprivation, or our penance into all-consuming community service. But it's still there, the guilt, the knowledge of absolute failure, absolute fallenness, absolute wretchedness. It's an ugly beast that rears its head in ultra-defensiveness or ultra-repentance, blame shifting or taking the blame for every.single.thing. That's my MO. I'd rather own it and eat it and be the responsible party if there is even the remotest question of whom is at fault. Give me the lashes. Give me the punishment. Like Hester Prynne, bearing the full wrath for the sins not just her own, I don't mind. Just please, please, give me the forgiveness too.

This is a monster that I wrestle with. Not one I have slain. One who lives in his cave and comes out when I least expect to try to eat me alive. Some days I can beat him back. Some days, he wins. But he's always there. Maybe one day I will find the right weapon to kill him, the silver bullet, the holy water. Maybe one day I will be strong enough to do it with my bare hands.

I watch my children as they grow and I think about how guilt influences them. I see the tell-tale signs from time to time but I think somehow, they managed to avoid the deep programming of their own evilness. Maybe because as they were growing their little brains, I was too busy trying to survive my own to press anything too sternly into them. Maybe because they watched the uncertainty that their grown mother faced life and every decision with, the overpowering fear of doing the Wrong Thing, which, inevitably, I always did somehow in spite of all my worrying. At least according to Them. The Others. The Voices who saw my monster in the cave and learned how to manipulate him. But looking back and seeing my amazing kids, it occurs to me, maybe I didn't always do the Wrong Thing, because all of those Wrongs could not have equalled four beautiful Rights. Get back in your cave, beast, you're not as strong as you think.

Shame - Max Klinger

Things About Being Heard

I met a listener. I am not sure if you know how rare that is, but you probably do. If you're lucky enough to meet a listener, it's a good idea to keep them around, because you never know if and when you'll run across another one. Somehow I got super lucky and the listener I met seems to like me, so we hang out a lot. Being listened to is one of the Best Things In the Whole World, because being listened to is the first step of Being Known and Being Known is the one thing in the whole world that matters, especially if you are, like me, a Tigger.

Being Known is basically the same thing as intimacy, which I have heard comes through discovery, which it turns out is the exact same thing as listening. See how that works? Listening = discovery, discovery = being known, being known = intimacy, intimacy = mattering to someone. So the bottom line is that having a listener means having someone that thinks you matter. This, my friends, is a big, big deal.

My listener is the best kind. The kind that takes the listening and turns it into actions. The kind of listener that actually hears, and then actually does. Some listeners are good hearers but not doers. My listener picks up on the little things that I say, sometimes without words, and believes them, and acts upon them. My listener hears things both with his heart and his ears. He's not a perfect listener, sometimes he forgets the things I say, but with the Really Important Things, which are occasionally the Really Small Things as well, he always remembers. Like if I like marinara sauce and what my favorite socks are and how I feel about turtlenecks. He might not remember if I said I was coming over on Tuesday or Wednesday, but he always remembers how I like my coffee, which is much more vitally important.

I don't think there is a way for me to say how good it feels to have a listener, because it's a feel that they haven't made a word for yet, unless maybe it's love.

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