"Loveless clay" in "Lancelot and Elaine"

Eli M. Friedman (English 151, Brown University, 2003)

Elaine falls in love with Sir Lancelot who wore her sleeve as a token during a joust. After being injured in a fight, Elaine nurses him back to health. Lancelot never falls in love with Elaine and she ends up dying of a broken heart. She floats in a barge up the river with a letter saying why she had died:

Sweet is true love tho' given in vain, in vain;
And sweet is death who puts an end to pain:
I know not which is sweeter, no, not I.
Love, art thou sweet? then bitter death must be:
Love, thou art bitter; sweet is death to me.
O love, if death be sweeter, let me die.
Sweet love, that seems not made to fade away,
Sweet death, that seems to make us loveless clay,
I know not which is sweeter, no, not I.
I fain would follow love, if that could be;
I needs must follow death, who calls for me;
Call and I follow, I follow! let me die.


1. Are the feelings behind this letter comperable to the feelings which Jane Eyre feels when Rochester cannot return her love?

2. What does "Sweet death, that seem to make us loveless clay" mean? Wouldn't it be love that makes someone clay and not death? How does death relate to loveless clay?

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Last modified: 9 April 2003