I am extremely interested in Arthurian literature and legend, and the Lady Elaine of Astolat, or the Lady of Shalott, is my favourite figure. Across the different versions of her legend, some things stay the same – Elaine falls in unrequited love with the knight Sir Lancelot, and dies of a broken heart or commits suicide when he does not return her affections. Having decided to write my final year dissertation on the character, I thought I would start with writing some poetry about her – this one is more based off of Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur and Tennyson’s Lancelot and Elaine. Often dismissed by readers as a silly, foolish girl who died in a ridiculously melodramatic fashion, she never gets a chance to explain herself, so I thought I would give her the opportunity.
I had never met such a man before.
I have had the world handed to me on a silver platter
and then had it cruelly whisked away.
I am bound to grieve.
I mourn the love I believed I had but indeed never had
and I cry because if I cry hard enough,
the hope that he will come back and take me into his arms
will wash away.
He is all I have ever wanted in my life
and I cannot have him.
He would rather lie with a married queen
than be with me.
I would have left my morals in the dirt.
I would have taken him to bed,
slept with him unwed,
but this means little to him.
I wish he would understand
how much it took to say that.
I’m not looking for the rest of his life
I want an infinity in one night with him
But he will not give me that
because he believes it is less honest
than sleeping with the king’s wife.
I remember the way his lips felt when he kissed me in a fevered haze
and I know it is a drug that I will never take again
because it has left Astolat on that white horse.
I tell Gawain to leave me when he speaks of him
The man who let me taste eternity before he stole it away
and my brothers wonder why I won’t eat.
When you are mourning, hunger leaves you.
I feel myself shake when I rise in the morning
but the thought of bread sickens me.
Every time I pass a window I look out
and hope I see the white steed.
I know it’s not going to happen.
I am never going to see this man again
This man who told me stories of a world I’d never seen
and made me blush in a way that no other man could
and had tied my velvet sleeve to his shining armour.
I write him letters instead
Each one a product of my thoughts at midnight
when I can’t sleep because I am still thinking about his kiss
and my stomach hurts from hunger pains.
My handmaiden brings me food but I won’t touch it.
What’s the point.
I have tasted something better than any bland bread or meat
and I am never going to taste it again.
My heart will give out and my skin will pale.
I will die like the lilies wilt,
And my tears will finally cease.
My brothers, they will lay me down on a boat in water,
Put my final letter in my hand.
They will send me on to him
Down the river to Camelot.
I will be a vision in white
and he will see what he has done to me.