Anne and her friends have studied Tennyson’s poem Idylls of the King (not named in the novel, but the reference is obvious). Now they want to act out the famous incident of Lancelot and Elaine, particularly the part where Elaine’s body is put on a barge and sent down the river to Camelot. Her friends insist that Anne, despite her red hair, play fair-haired Elaine. Reluctantly, she agrees. None of the other girls can handle the boat by herself.
(Lesson learned: artistic sensibilities are wonderful, but sometimes, we must be practical instead.)
So they place a flat on the large pond, intending to push it off, allow it to catch the current leading down to the bridge, and let it drift down to another landing spot where the other three girls will be waiting.
That never happens. The dramatization of Tennyson’s poem soon takes a turn that the poet himself never imagined.
(Lesson learned: Expect the unexpected, especially in live theater and fiction writing.)
I’d never read this particular poem of his. Curious, I read a summary and skimmed the poem.
It’s a tale about Elaine, the king of Astalot’s daughter, who dies from her unrequited love for Sir Lancelot. Her body is placed in a barge and sent down the river to Camelot, where a letter explaining the matter is read. Guinevere has unjustly believed that Lancelot has been unfaithful to her with Elaine; she has rejected his gift of nine diamonds, gained by winning nine tournaments. Now she begs her lover’s forgiveness. It was the “jealousy of love,” she claims.
The diamonds come from armor found on the skeletons of two warring brothers. Obviously unforgiveness and violence taint the diamonds, though that doesn’t seem to deter many knights from wanting them.
Lancelot reluctantly forgives the queen. Privately, he muses that Elaine loved him better than Guinevere.
Now the poor knight is miserable, consumed by doubts of his queen’s love; his shameful, adulterous love for her; and his remorse for being disloyal to his noble king. He refuses to forgive himself. Does he even forgive the queen? I rather doubt it.
(Lesson learned: Jealousy, doubt, and shame poison love; unselfishness, purity, and sacrifice are signs of true love.)
This is the poem that Anne & Co. are acting out. I can see why these young teens enjoy this poem. Unrequited love, jousting tournaments, noble knights, fair maidens, dramatic situation after dramatic situation, all expressed in flowery language: this poem has everything the romantically-inclined girls swoon over. That is true love, they imagine, not realizing that love involves far fewer suits of shining armor and far more normally-clothed humans.
(Lesson learned: beware what you read. It affects your mind!)
Anne, playing lily maid Elaine, floats along the creek, thrilled by the romance of the situation. Then a decidedly unromantic thing happens; the flat leaks. Anne is forced to cling to a bridge pile.
Who should come along but Gilbert Blythe, her sworn enemy. Desperate times call for desperate actions, even if that does mean climbing in a boat with a boy like the horrible Gilbert Blythe! He rescues her.
Then he begs her forgiveness for his tactless teasing remark two years earlier; he’d called her “carrots” and Anne has never forgiven him for the teasing over her red hair. (Anne is a little . . . sensitive, shall we say, over her hair color.)
Yet Gilbert is the one person in the village who is her equal in academics, who could challenge her and help her in her intellectual ambitions; he might, if she allowed him, become a good friend. (And more!) She eventually does forgive him, but there are five lost years of friendship.
When we refuse to forgive, we’re hurting ourselves.
Not every person is like Gilbert. Not every offense is as trivial as his teasing remark. Not every apology and forgiveness granted leads to a deep friendship and mutual love as it does for Anne and Gilbert.
Forgiveness is hard. The offender doesn’t deserve it; the offense isn’t forgettable; the relationship (if there ever was one) won’t be the same. Reconciliation isn’t always possible or necessary or advisable.
But, speaking as someone who has lived with unforgiveness, bitterness is much harder. Even when it wounded the offender, it still hurt me far more. Forgiving those people was worth the difficulty because it released me from the chains of bitterness.
Something to think about.
Photo credit: Marcel32, morguefile.com