figures of the arthurian legends :  The Lady of Shallot

Elaine of Astolat (æstlæt) is a figure in Arthurian legend who dies of her unrequited love for Sir Lancelot. Her story begins when her father, Bernard of Astolat, organizes a jousting tournament, attended by King Arthur and his knights. While Sir Lancelot was not originally planning to attend, he is convinced otherwise and visits Bernard and his two sons before the tournament. While Lancelot is in her family’s household, Elaine becomes enamoured by him and begs him to wear her token at the coming tournament. Explaining that Guinevere would be at the tournament, he consents to wear her token but says that to do so he will have to fight in disguise so as not to be recognized. He asks Bernard if he can leave his recognizable shield with him and borrow another, and thus is lent the plain-white shield of Sir Torre, Elaine’s brother.

Lancelot goes on to win the jousting tournament, still in disguise, fighting against King Arthur’s party and beating forty of them in the tournament. However he is injured in his side during the fighting and taken from the field by Elaine’s other brother, Sir Lavaine. Elaine convinces her father to let them bring the wounded Lancelot to her chambers, where she nurses him back to health. When Lancelot is well, he makes ready to leave, and offers to pay Elaine for her services; insulted, she brings him his shield - which she had been guarding -and a wary Lancelot leaves the castle, never to return but now aware of her feelings for him.

Ten days later, Elaine dies of heartbreak. Per her instructions, her body is placed in a small boat, clutching a lily in one hand, and her final letter in the other. She then floats down the Thames to Camelot, where she is discovered by King Arthur’s court, being called a little lily maiden. Lancelot is summoned and hears the contents of the letter, after which he explains what happened. Lancelot proceeds to pay for a rich funeral.

literature women // elaine of astolat

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.