“To weave the mirror’s magic sights”

Today’s word at is “weave”.  A word with many definitions and many possibilities.  I love that it’s a verb – a word of action.  To weave is to do something, it is not stagnant.  When I think of “weaving” I think of something in constant motion.

  • A car weaving in and out of traffic.
  • A person weaving a basket (underwater, perhaps).
  • An author weaving a tale to share with the world.

The word “weave” appears in one of my all-time favorite poems:  “The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

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

John William Waterhouse created an absolutely lovely oil painting in 1888.
The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse. 1888 Oil on Canvas

If I remember correctly, I first viewed this painting in the 90s.  To be honest, I can’t remember where I saw it, but I did buy a print of it almost immediately.  For me, this painting beautifully evokes Tennyson’s poem.  Here is the Lady of Shalott, floating down the river, it what will be her deathbed.  The tapestry that she has woven from the reflections in her mirror is with her – as it was in life, it is her companion as she approaches her death.  For me, it represents her shroud.

In this image, Waterhouse shows the Lady letting go of the chains that hold her to the shore.  I love the how she holds herself.  She’s upright, proud.  Her expression shows of her sadness – but I feel that the sadness is more for the life that she lived only in reflections and less for the life that is about to end because she dared to “look down to Camelot.”

So, Waterhouse weaves the elements of Tennyson’s poem beautifully into his painting: the woven tapestry, the autumn leaves “upon her falling light”, the Lady “robed in snowy white, That loosely flew to left and right.”  So beautiful.

And Tennyson’s poem has been woven into so much of contemporary art.  “The Lady of Shalott” appears quite often, really.  Agatha Christie uses a line as the title of a novel.  In the televised version of “Anne of Green Gables” (which I love, love, love), Anne (with an ‘e’ though she would prefer to be called Cordelia) often reads from “The Lady of Shalott” – and, in fact, acts out the dying scene with her friend – sinking Mr. Barry’s boat and, quite unfortunately, having to be rescued by that dreadful Gilbert Blythe.

Have you seen the video for “If I Die Young” for The Band Perry?  Check out the book she’s holding.

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