I was walking through the Tate Gallery on a rainy January afternoon, looking at art. I rounded a corner and was at once gutshot with a feeling not unlike falling in lust. There on the wall, larger than life was the most entrancing painting I have ever seen. Granted, I was just 18 years old and had not seen many real canvasses–my knowledge of art to that point came from books and the prints hanging in the Deck The Walls across the mall from my ice cream store. Some of my awe may be attributable to the fact that at five feet by six-and-a-half feet, the picture was more vast and consuming than than the snapshots and dorm posters which had filled my art needs to that point. But there was more than size behind my instant thrumming heart. The yearning and desperation in her face spoke to me in my own confusion. The rich quilt told of a foresaken opulence and the drifting boat talked to the part of my heart that didn’t know where I myself was headed. The reedy river reminded me at once of Moses in his basket, of the constant change and flow of all man toward entropy. A hundred years after Waterhouse painted it, that painting became my single favourite piece of artwork, despite the fact that it was illustrative of a Tennyson poem for which I had no small amount of dislike.
This past weekend I was reading a book where the poem itself was discussed and all of a sudden realised that poem I’d so loathed for its sing-songy rhythm and Arthurian romanticism was actually about me. The Lady of the poem was cursed to never leave her tower room and spent her days weaving a tapestry in which were depicted various scenes from Camelot as seen in the Lady’s mirror. How is that not exactly me right now, sentenced by disease to remain in my home and weaving a tapestry of story based on the things I’ve seen reflected in others? It’s eerie. Very eerie. In a way I feel like my claim on the painting was a glimpse in a crystal ball. Or, even worse, that I’ve had inside me some small recognition of what my life would hold and that bit of stuff drew me to that picture on that day.
The part of the poem I’ve not yet lived out is where the Lady falls in love with Lancelot and leaves her tower at last, floating down the river that seperates her from him but dying before reaching his shore. Seeing as I’m already in love and have all my life loathed the character of Lancelot I suppose I may avoid the tragic fate of the poem’s heroine. I hope. Then again “Lancelot” could be symbolic of something else. At any rate, it’s something to think about. I feel even more strongly about that painting than ever before.