Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Lady of Shalott and Anglo-Jewish Inheritance

The world of the old Anglo-Jews, who were a mix of the British Jewish way of being Jewish and the Anglican-style Englishness of loyalty to Queen and Empire, seems to be one of those lost worlds of the past. Reared on the poetic cadences of the Jacobean English of the King James Bible and the English literature such as Shakespeare was the inheritance of these generations of Anglo-Jews. It was a softer more dignified style of Judaism and Jewishness. Elliot's Daniel Deronda seems to embody this kind of English Jewishness. The Australian Anglo-Jews looked as much to England or Britain as their Mother Land as to Jerusalem. They looked down on the yiddish-speaking peasant Jews of Eastern Europe, yet now these two have both become part of the lost lands in the mists of history. The Apple Isle of Avalon merges with the Apple field or orchard of Jewish mysticism based on the imagery of the Song of Songs and Genesis.

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother reading me the King James Bible and English literature and especially poetry. One of the poems she read to me was Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Lady of Shalott". Recently I was introduced to the sung version of "The Lady of Shalott" by the Canadian singer Loreena McKennitt. Always the legends of the Arthurian and Grail literature have resonated with something deep in my soul.

As further studies at University on Malory's "Morte D'Arthur" and "The High History of the Holy Grail" revealed that Arthur and the Knights of Camelot all claim descent from the Jew and Davidic descendant Joseph of Arimathea. Many Jewish elements are found in these tales. Also I discovered that Camelot comes from the name Camulon or Camelon (near Falkirk) which was a Scottish city of the Gododdin who were the Scottish descendants of the Jewish Christian Exilarchs who moved to the lands of the north and became known as the Gadeni to the Romans. The Lady of Shalott is based on the story of Elaine who in other stories was the unloved wife of Lancelot and the mother of Galahad. She is also called the Donna di Scalotta which was the Italian memory of her name Scota or Scotia. She is also remembered as Elaine of Astolat or Ascolat as well as Elaine of Corbenic, Elaine the White and Elaine the Fair. She is also associated with the Lady of the Lake in some legends and in others she is called the Grail Maiden or Grail bearer. The elements of the mystical mirror and the weaving of the tapestry alludes to the mysteries of the Grail and Kabbalah.

David Nash Ford writes: "Tradition: In 1695, Gibson recorded that the old Roman Fort of Colania at Camelon, on the outskirts of Falkirk, was: "A little ancient city, where the common people believe there was formerly a road for ships. They call it Camelot. It may be gathered from history that this was the Palace of the Picts." About a hundred years previously, George Buchanan had recorded of the same place that "some of our writers falsely imagine (it) to have been Camulodunum". In 1522, Hector Boece had associated Colania with King Cruthneus Camelon of the Picts..."

The tale can have many interpretations. One sees the Lady as involved in the great mystical mysteries of the Grail and Eucharistic Adoration, however she gets distracted from her calling to an earthly love. She follows this love for Lancelot which does not satisfy and leads to heartbreak, unrequited love and death. But still love is always fruitful (even when misdirected) and the fruit of this love of the Lady brings forth Galahad who attains the heights of the mysteries of the Grail. Literature has divided Elaine into two different women-one who dies of unrequited love and the other who attains his physical lovemaking but not his heart. "The Lady of Shalott" follows the first one and Tennyson also writes of the second in his Idylls of the King. This begins:

"Elaine the fair, Elaine the loveable,
Elaine, the lily maid of Astolat,
High in her chamber up a tower to the east
Guarded the sacred shield of Lancelot;"

The Lady of Shalott
Alfred Lord Tennyson

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;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for 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.

By the margin, willow veil'd,
Slide the heavy barges trail'd
By slow horses; and unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
Down to tower'd Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers " 'Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott."

Part II

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.

And moving thro' a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there 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, went to 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 flamed 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 to 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 to Camelot.
As often thro' the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
Moves over still 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 to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash'd into the crystal mirror,
"Tirra lirra," by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro' the room,
She saw the water-lily 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;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance--
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right--
The leaves upon her falling light--
Thro' the noises of the night
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken'd wholly,
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 gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they cross'd themselves for fear,
All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."