The Lady of Shalott

The Lady of Shalott

by Alfred Tennyson

Part I

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow veil’d,
Slide the heavy barges trail’d
By slow horses; and unhail’d
The shallop flitteth silken-sail’d
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
Down to tower’d Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers “‘Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott.”

Part II

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving thro’ a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-hair’d page in crimson clad,
Goes by to tower’d Camelot;
And sometimes thro’ the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror’s magic sights,
For often thro’ the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed:
“I am half sick of shadows,” said
The Lady of Shalott.

Part III

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel’d
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter’d free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon’d baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn’d like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro’ the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;
On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow’d
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash’d into the crystal mirror,
“Tirra lirra,” by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro’ the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look’d down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott.

Part IV

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower’d Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river’s dim expanse—
Like some bold seër in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance—
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

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.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken’d wholly,
Turn’d to tower’d Camelot.
For ere she reach’d upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they cross’d themselves for fear,
All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, “She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott.”

Literary Analysis

The Lady of Shalott” is the most popular tragic love poem by Alfred Tennyson. This poem has diverse themes, ranging from love to isolation, from art to culture and from natural to supernatural.

The main idea of this poem, as Tennyson illustrates, is that the state of a person can change suddenly. The fairylike lady at the center of this poem seems to be hopeful and happy, but the state of her satisfaction is swept away when she is cursed and subsequently dies. She wants to find her ideal mate, but passes away without finding one.

The poet has used this idea to represent the life of an artist. No one beholds the beauty of the Lady of Shalott, but once her beauty is discovered, it is too late. Similarly, the talents of an artist are often not discovered during his or her lifetime until after death.

The title of the poem refers to the main character of the Lady of Shalott, who is both a character and a symbol. Most scholars interpret this poem as a conflict between life and art based on the Old Italian romances. The poem is set during the medieval times in the reign of King Arthur. The tone shifts throughout the poem from depression to optimism, and then from hope to misery.

The speaker in this poem is someone who has heard the story of the Lady of Shalott living on the island of Shalott, which he explains to the audience. In the first part, the isle of Shalott is shown to the readers with the imprisoned Lady of Shalott. She is immovable and silent among “gray walls, and four gray towers” but the outside world is cheerful, as nobody except the reapers have heard her “song that echoes cheerly.”

There is also a mysterious connection between the lady and Camelot’s inhabitants. In the second part of the poem, the lady is introduced to the reader as under the spell of an unexplained curse that prohibits her from looking at the outside world through her window. Despite this, she seems happy and continues weaving her “web” that is symbolic of artistic richness but also enslavement. The outer world is only reflected in her mirror: “sometimes thro’ the mirror blue / The knights come riding two and two.”

However, in the third part, the courageous and handsome Sir Lancelot appears from “the bank and from the river / He flash’d into the crystal mirror.” Tennyson uses heroic and sensual language at this stage to demonstrate the love growing between the knight and the lady. Though she knows the curse will come to pass, the lady cannot help looking down from her window on the elegant knight. The result is that the mirror immediately cracks. In the final part of the poem, the Lady of Shalott dies, while the “the sound of royal cheer” also dies.

The poem expresses a deep conflict between life and art, asking whether artistic seclusion is indispensable for achievement in an artist’s life or not. “The Lady of Shalott” is the symbol of the life of an artist, and Sir Lancelot is a symbol of transient nature of this artistic achievement.

Structural Analysis

This lyrical poem contains nineteen stanzas, which are divided into smaller groups of lines. There are four parts in the poem, where the first two parts have four stanzas each while the fifth has three and sixth has six. The rhyme scheme in each stanza is AAAABCCCB. It is regular and rhythmic, where “Camelot” is the “B” rhyme in the fifth line and “Shalott” is the “B” rhyme in the ninth line. Each fifth line of the stanza uses a trimeter, such as in “To many-tower’d Camelot.” However, the lines ending in the rhymes “A” and “C” consistently follow tetrameter.

The poet has used two basic rhythms: iambic and trochaic meter. An example in the first stanza of iambic tetrameter pattern is, “On either side the river lie / Long fields of barley and of rye,” while in the second stanza trochaic tetrameter is used: “Willows whiten, aspens quiver, / Little breezes dusk and shiver.” The poet has repeatedly used the phrase “The Lady of Shalott” to emphasize her character. In addition, enjambment is employed in various lines such as “That clothe the wold and meet the sky; / And thro’ the field the road runs by.” The diction used in the poem is connotative due to the use of symbolic language and imagery such as “Hear a song that echoes cheerly.”

Guidance for Usage of Quotes

The Lady of Shalott” is a tragic romantic poem, with a multitude of themes. Two major themes are love and isolation. The lady is missing some companion – a knight who could appreciate her beauty like an artist. For this reason, people who feel lonely and want true love in their lives can dedicate quotes from this poem to their beloveds such as:

A red-cross knight for ever kneel’d
To a lady in his shield,

Also, a quote on isolation can be used:

She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

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