Writings and Witterings

A Beautiful Sadness


As you know, I adore everything pre-raphaelite, so you won’t be surprised to see me write around my favourite pre-raph painting The Lady of Shallot by John William Waterhouse (1888)—she is hauntingly beautiful and sad.  Written in response to Stuart McPherson’s marvellous prompt this weekend for Poetics at dVerse.

The Lady of Shalott ~ John William Waterhouse 1888

A Beautiful Sadness

Beware enchantment beware,
Lancelot has
charisma to share, has
women a’plenty.

Loved by a King,
who trusts him,
his victories,
his search for the grail.

Trust repaid by an
affair with
Guinevere, the King’s
most beloved wife.

The Lady spies him from her
isolated tower,
her faerie bower,
her place of power,

her room of one’s own.
turns, looks,
‘The mirror crack’d from side to side’
she cries,

never to have the prize.
She learns that sans mirror,
sans tapestry…
enchantment leaves.

She is bereft, returned
to mortality.
Her faerie bower,
her place of power,

her room of one’s own,
her isolation
brings about
her destruction.

There is tension.
the status, the role,
the conditions.
Contemporary culture—pah!

She’s a saviour of
the domestic realm.
No!  She is

She leaves her loom
for him.
The mirror cracks
for him.

She turns to look
for him.
She loses life
for him.

Dead before the
ultimate goal: Camelot.
A martyr to unworthy love.
Passionate, beautiful sadness.

Polly Stretton © 2012


33 thoughts on “A Beautiful Sadness

  1. it is a sad story…it is interesting too how we have romanticized their unfaithfulness…both of them…he to his king, being the right hand man and her to her husband…two of the most sacred, or should be ties…it is a sad story all the way around…and do you fault love?


  2. isn’t it strange in a way that esp. those sad love stories, that end in big tragedies so often find their ways into our hearts…your piece leaves me pondering why this is… great capture here of a sad story…


  3. What a twist in the affairs…the story is poignant and sad ~ To lose it all in the end is even more disheartening ~


    • I have just found your comment, Heaven, you had arrived in the trash! Goodness knows why … I’ve hauled you out of that dark place to say thank you for your thoughts and observations and thank you for visiting 🙂


  4. Wonderfully written piece, Polly. The sadness tugs, while the mind wonders about the moral questions, leaving the reader torn. Should love be our guide and goal; or law?


  5. “A martyr to unworthy love”… how beautifully sad indeed!


  6. Lovely kind of circular story, very legendary feel to the poem. k.


  7. I don’t know the story well but I really enjoyed your poem, very atmospheric and some wonderful imagery, it made me want to find out more 🙂


  8. Amazing artwork and poetry. I like the story of old. Life in the old days were hard for the poor people. Beauty could open doors to many things. Thank you for the outstanding poetry.


  9. Love this painting and this great poetic tribute to it. Low the way you give it such a clear narrative….but the tone and words you use feel traditional which is very fitting. And those last few lines just close this off perfectly. I think it’s her eyes….you can get so much from her eyes….


    • Me too Stu re the painting – thanks for your comments re tone and words.

      Couldn’t agree more about her eyes ~ the look in those eyes says it all ~ what a talented artist.

      Thanks again for visiting and for a great prompt.


  10. Hi Polly, I share your love of the pre-raphaelites and Tennyson’s poem … your poem is a beautiful and insightful response – and I like how the speaker too is unsure who The Lady is… “unworthy love” is right – Lancelot’s response on seeing her dead body is clearly pathetic.


  11. Perfect poem for the painting. She is lovely and haunting.


  12. Cool write…I like your style.


  13. How on earth did I miss this! I’m so glad you mentioned it to me last night. 🙂
    Very apt indeed for the “beautiful sadness” prompt. And also one of my favourite paintings too.
    Nicely done – I especially like that you’ve sneaked in the “room of one’s own”…


    • Thanks Holly, you probably missed it as I posted two quite close together … not always a good plan (!)

      We’ve had an ace day in Surrey and I’ve done a bit of a rewrite on He Sits and Waits ~ I hadn’t appreciated that rhyme was quite necessary (!) although Sally was very kind and said that once one learns a form one can depart from it … nope ~ I had to redo it. If you have a mo, please say what you think?

      Thanks again for comments on this post 🙂


  14. I wonder why we are drawn to tragedies in love. Is it because it promises of new beginnings…something better to come…hope….


    • It is intriguing … we definitely are drawn to them … ‘hope springs eternal’ etc ‘eh?

      Good to see you back Eric, and glad you enjoyed your birthday … fab re your daughter’s surprise visit 🙂


  15. Beautiful Sadness
    Love it! Excellent 😉
    And love this painting! 😀


  16. You give us a sad but fine rendition of longing for the original feelings associated with romance;
    not a new story , is it?…


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