Lessons from “The Lady”

This is a centuries old cautionary tale on “Love and other disasters”. May all be illuminated.

    The Lady

Poor, silly Elaine;

So fair, and blue, that ice would shiver;

She shed her tears alone by the river,

Where the elder weeps.


She died of grief, her heart got broken,

Her love for him, as yet, unspoken,

Hanging from her lips.


Poor, little Elaine;

A fool she was to fall in love,

At sight that too, even in heavens above

Has no one heard such thing.


A look ain’t love; it’s just a glance,

It makes no promise of romance,

Hell, it even ain’t a fling!


But Elaine, silly Elaine,

One look of him, and she was gone;

Her mind a flyer, her heart a fawn,

Prancing in the rain.


No reason, no logic, no wisdom could hold her,

Her prudence just vanished, her yearning grew bolder;

Sweet pleasures became her pain.


Bu then oh poor Elaine,

What happened to all the love you had?

All your dreams that made you glad

And kept brightening up your day?


Wasted, squandered, lost; in a flash.

He loves another, your illusions crash,

Your dying laments float away.


Dear, dear Elaine;

Love is the trickiest business of all,

If you wager all you have, you are doomed to fall,

So give it a very careful thought.


If you love someone, make sure of returns,

As one might, by now, as well have learnt

From this tale of The Lady of Shallot.


Note: For general information, The Lady of Shallot is a Victorian Ballad by English poet Alfred Tennyson, based on the Arthurian legend of Lady Elaine of Astolat as recounted in a thirteenth-century Italian novella titled Donna di Scalotta. Legend has it that Lady Elaine, having nursed an injured Sir Lancelot, King Arthur’s Knight and confidante, back to health, fell madly in love with him , but her love remained unrequited since Sir Lancelot had a passionate love affair with Queen Guinevere, King Arthur’s wife. Lady Elaine, unable to bear the sorrow, dies of a broken heart and her body is set adrift on a boat that floats down the Thames into Camelot.

Lord Tennyson’s version of the ballad is a bit different from the sources from which he draws his inspiration. In it, Lady Elaine is cursed to never look out of her window, so she spends her time shut up in a tower, weaving and looking into a mirror that shows her the shadows of the world. One day she sees the image of Sir Lancelot riding down the river on horseback and mesmerised, she looks out of her window, forgetting the curse. As destined, the curse falls on her and she, alighting from her tower at last, unties a boat, lays down in it, and drifts away, slowly embracing death.

It is a beautiful, sweet and sad tale of unrequited love. It delights and illuminates. In the hope of the later, I write it here.

John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shallot, 1888.



  1. tannistha · · Reply

    I remember how beautiful the poetry of “Lady of Shallot ” was and this painting too …

    1. Yes, this painting has always haunted me and inspired this poetry as well.

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