The Layman of Shalott

I am Half-Sick of Shadows
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by John Waterhouse

The Layman of Shalott

On either side the river lie
The fields that stretch into the sky –
Whose lowlands raise the beans so high,
And grow the barley and the rye
That feeds the folk in Camelot.
And all this land beneath the hoe
Is owned by she who will not show
Her face to those who plough and mow –
The Lady of Shalott.

She lives upon the river isle
Where blow the lilies, mile on mile –
Although she hasn’t left awhile,
Not even to ride out in style
To dance with knights in Camelot.
She keeps within her ivied keep,
Unseen by those who sow and reap,
As if a hundred years asleep –
The Lady of Shalott.

So life goes on and seasons pass,
As sheep are grazed upon her grass –
And any surplus we amass
Is carted off by weight and class
To market-day in Camelot.
But any profits from the trade
Are not for those who turned the spade –
Instead, our labours all must aid
The Lady of Shalott.

I’ve heard it said by those who say,
That she is cursed in some strange way
To never see the livelong day,
To never be allowed to stray
To many-towered Camelot.
All the world, they claim, must pass
Reflected in her looking-glass,
And what she sees, so weaves that lass –
The Lady of Shalott.

But as I dig another ditch
And break my back to till her pitch,
I think about my Lady’s hitch –
And slowly I can feel an itch
That none can scratch in Camelot.
If she is cursed, then who’s the hexer ?
Why would they choose this to vex her ?
Such a fiddly yoke bedecks her,
Lady of Shalott.

And do I really set much store
In curses, blights, and ancient lore ?
They’ve tried to pull this stuff before
To keep them rich and keep me poor,
In temples all through Camelot !
My Lady, is it really charms
That keeps you warm and safe from harms,
While we must shiver on your farms,
Oh Lady of Shalott ?

So what would happen if you leave,
Or look direct at what you weave ?
Just who would care and who would grieve ?
You are, I fear, the most naive
Of any girl in Camelot !
But take a chance, and take it swift,
And you may find the world will shift –
And if you die, at least you lived !,
My Lady of Shalott.

So Mistress, step out, if you dare,
From out your crack’d and gilded lair,
And pull your weight and crop your share,
And help us haul it to the fair
That summons all of Camelot.
Or else, when comes the Winter’s freeze,
And I need fuel and have no trees –
I’ll raid, and burn, your tapestries,
Oh Lady of Shalott !

This of course is a take of the famous Tennyson epic.

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