The Lady of the Lake (poem)

The Lady of the Lake (poem)

"The Lady of the Lake" is a narrative poem by Sir Walter Scott, first published in 1810. Set in the Trossachs region of Scotland, it is composed of six cantos, each of which concerns the action of a single day.cite web
url =
title = The Lady of the Lake
accessdaymonth = 30 September
accessyear = 2007
last = Oliver
first = Susan
date = 29 August 2005
publisher = The Literary Dictionary Company
] The poem has three main plots: the contest among three men, Roderick Dhu, James Fitz-James, and Malcolm Graeme, to win the love of Ellen Douglas; the feud and reconciliation of King James V of Scotland and James Douglas; and a war between the lowland Scots (led by James V) and the highland clans (led by Roderick Dhu of Clan Alpine). The poem was tremendously influential in the nineteenth century, and did much to inspire the Highland Revival. By the late twentieth century, however, the poem was virtually forgotten. Its influence is thus indirect: Schubert's "Ave Maria", Rossini's "La donna del lago" (1819), the racist custom of cross burning, the last name of U.S. abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and the song "Hail to the Chief" were all inspired by the poem.

It shares its name with the Arthurian character the Lady of the Lake, but other allusions to the legend are scant.


*James Fitz-James, the Knight of Snowdoun, actually King James V of Scotland travelling incognito
*Ellen Douglas, daughter of James Douglas
*James Douglas, once the Earl of Bothwell, the mentor of the youthful King James, now exiled as an enemy
*Allan Bane, a bard
*Roderick Dhu, the chief of Clan Alpine, outlawed after committing a cold-blooded homicide at the Scottish court
*Lady Margaret, the mother of Roderick Dhu
*Malcolm Graeme, a young highland chief and former courtier of King James, loved by Ellen
*Brian the Hermit, a pagan prophet in the Druid tradition
*Duncan, a leading member of Clan Alpine who has just died
*Angus, the son of Duncan
*Norman, a bridegroom and member of Clan Alpine
*Mary, Norman's bride
*Blanche of Devan, a lowland Scottish woman, whose bridegroom was murdered on her wedding day by the men of Clan Alpine, causing Blanche to lose her reason


First Canto (the Chase)

The poem begins with a rapid-moving hunt, chasing a stag in the forests of the Trossachs. The stag outruns the hunt, exhausting all its members until only one huntsman – who, we later learn, is James Fitz-James – follows it until his horse falls down dead of exhaustion. The huntsman blows his horn to try to contact someone, wanders to the shore of Loch Katrine, where a young woman, Ellen Douglas, rows across and picks him up in a skiff. He is then taken to a house, which he suspects is a concealed hide-out of a Highland chief. There he is given dinner by Ellen, the bard Allan Bane, and Lady Margaret, and a bed for the night. That night he dreams of Ellen, only to see her face suddenly change to that of his exiled enemy, James Douglas – leading him to suspect that Ellen and James Douglas are related.

econd Canto (the Island)

Since the poem will only work if James Douglas and James Fitz-James do not encounter each other until the sixth canto, this canto has a number of comings and goings. James Fitz-James departs the island first thing in the morning. Ellen and Allan Bane discuss Roderick Dhu, Malcolm Graeme, and James Fitz-James, agreeing that the first is bloodthirsty and homicidal, but the only person who would defend James Douglas, and that James Fitz-James is an attractive person, but may be a secret foe of their kinspeople. Roderick Dhu, James Douglas, and Malcolm Graeme return to the island. As Clan Alpine escorts Roderick Dhu to the island, they sing the boat song, "Hail to the Chief". Roderick Dhu asks for Douglas for Ellen's hand in marriage, to conclude an alliance between Douglas and Clan Alpine, which can be the basis of a Highland uprising against King James. James Douglas refuses, partly because he will not force Ellen into a loveless marriage, partly also because he remains, despite all the injuries he has suffered, loyal to King James. Roderick Dhu and Malcolm Graeme quarrel over Ellen, and are about to draw their swords against each other, but James Douglas declares that the first to draw will be his foe. James Douglas also says that it is an insult for an exile for his daughter to be the spoil of a battle between two chiefs. Roderick Dhu tells Graeme to leave his territory, which Graeme does, refusing even to borrow a boat; Graeme instead swims across Loch Katrine to the shore.

Third Canto (the Gathering)

Despite James Douglas' refusal to participate in the uprising, Roderick Dhu decides to commence the rebellion anyway. With a pagan prophet, Brian the Hermit, Roderick fashions and sets alight the fiery cross, and hands it to his henchman, Malise, to summon the members of the clan to war. The members of the clan drop everything they are doing to respond to the summons of their chief, whether it be a funeral (Angus at the funeral of his father, Duncan) or a wedding (Norman and Mary). Malise runs around the countryside, finally passing the burning cross on to Angus, the son of Duncan, a leading member of the clan who has just died; and Angus, in his turn, passes the summons on to Norman, a bridegroom, interrupting Norman's wedding. James Douglas flees the island for a hermit's cave so that he will not be associated with the Clan Alpine uprising. As Roderick Dhu is about to leave the island, he overhears Ellen praying to the Virgin, singing "Ave Maria." Roderick Dhu sadly realizes that this is the last time he will ever hear Ellen's voice, and then prepares to go to off to battle.

Fourth Canto (the Prophecy)

Malise and Norman discuss the upcoming battle. Roderick Dhu has decided that the women and old men should take shelter on the island in the middle of Loch Katrine. When Norman asks why Roderick is staying apart from the main body of the troops, Malise says it is the result of a prophecy made by Brian the Hermit.Roderick Dhu had consulted Brian as to what will be the outcome of the battle. To determine this, they sacrifice one of the finest animals that the clan had received from one of its cattle raids, a milk-white bull. Brian prophesied,

cquote|Which spills the foremost foeman's life, that party conquers in the strife (lines 2524-25).

Rhoderick Dhu asks if any of the local friendly clans will fight on Clan Alpine's side; when he hears that none will, he sheds a tear, but at once masters himself and says that Clan Alpine shall fight in Trossach's glen. Ellen, meanwhile, is worrying about the fate of her father, who stated that they would meet in Heaven next if they met nowhere else. Allan Bane seeks to distract her by singing the ballad of Alice Brand. When the ballad ends, James Fitz-James appears. He has asked a guide, Murdoch, to bring him back to Loch Katrine. There he pleads with Ellen leave the highlands and elope with him. Ellen says she cannot marry him; first, she is the daughter of an outlaw; second, her heart is promised to another. James Fitz-James is disappointed, but before he leaves he gives her a ring, saying that if she needs anything from the King of Scotland, she has but to present the ring and it will bring her to him and he will grant her wish. Murdoch guides James Fitz-James further, when they encounter Blanche of Devan. Blanche's bridegroom was slain by Clan Alpine on her wedding day, whereupon she lost her reason. Blanche sings a song of hunting, to warn James Fitz-James that Murdoch and the other Clan Alpine men plan to trap and murder him. James Fitz-James then draws his sword; Murdoch shoots off an arrow, which misses James Fitz-James, but hits Blanche, killing her. James Fitz-James then pursues Murdoch and stabs him to death. He returns to Blanche, who warns him of the ambush. Blanche has been wearing a lock of her bridegroom's hair ever since his murder. Blanche dies. James Fitz-James cuts off a lock of Blanche's hair, mingles it amidst the hair of her bridegroom, and imbrues it in her blood, promising to imbrue the lock in the blood of Roderick Dhu. He then plans to make his way out of the trap in the highlands by walking out by night. He succeeds in doing this until he turns a rock and suddenly comes upon a mountaineer sitting by a fire. The warrior challenges him, and James Fitz-James says he is not a friend to Roderick Dhu. However, the two men recognize each other as worthy warriors, the warrior shares his dinner with James Fitz-James, and the two fall down side by side

Fifth Canto (the Combat)

ixth Canto (the Guard-Room)


The poem is not based upon specific historic events, but has certain elements that recurred in Scottish history:

*King James V of Scotland liked to find out what the common people were thinking by travelling incognito among them.
*Many kings of Scotland quarrelled with the chiefs of the Douglas clan, and then were reconciled with them.
*Clan Alpine is an imaginary clan, but its name resembles that of Siol Alpin. Its history resembles the revolt of Clan Gregor against the central Scottish monarchy.


The influences of the poem, "The Lady of the Lake", are both extensive and diverse, given that both the last name of the leading African-American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, and the racist custom of cross burning derive from the influence of the poem (however the Fiery cross or "Crann Tara" was a device for rallying people in Scotland and did not carry racist connotations, unlike Cross burning).

Rossini's "La Donna del Lago"

Gioachino Rossini composed an opera based on the poem, entitled "La Donna del Lago." The opera downplays the other plots in favor of the love story. Whereas in the poem James Douglas refuses to compel Ellen to marry Roderick Dhu, stating that a Douglas woman will only marry a man of her free choice, in the opera he does tell Ellen that she must marry Roderick Dhu. Some of the characters' names are changed slightly: Roderick Dhu becomes Rodrigo, Ellen becomes Elena, and James Fitz-James becomes Uberto.

chubert's "Liederzyklus vom Fräulein vom See"

:"See main article" Ellens dritter GesangWalter Scott's poem, in the German translation by Adam Storck, was set to music by Franz Schubert in his work entitled "Liederzyklus vom Fräulein vom See" (D. 837 - D. 839). This includes the three "Ellen songs": "Ellens Gesang I", [ [ Ellens Gesang I] ] "Ellens Gesang II", [ [ Ellens Gesang II] ] and "Ellens Gesang III." [ [ Ellens Gesang III] ] However, Schubert's music to "Ellen's Third Song" has become far more famous in a later adaptation that replaced the Scott/Storck text with the Latin text of the Catholic "Ave Maria" prayer. Yet, confusingly, owing to its opening words "Ave Maria", Schubert's "Ellens dritter Gesang" is sometimes also referred to as "Schubert's Ave Maria".

Cross burning

In the third canto of the poem, a burning cross is used to summon Clan Alpine to commence the uprising against King James. This method of rallying supporters was adopted by the second Ku Klux Klan in 1915.

The last name of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass got his last name from the poem. When Douglass escaped from slavery, he changed his last name to hide from the slaveowner. A friend of his proposed a new one:

ee also

*English poetry
*Lady of the Lake


External links

* [ e-text] at Project Gutenberg

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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