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A well-known ballad by Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Lady of Shalott, describes the loneliness of a woman in a tower who is cut off from the life and experiences she longs for. She struggles to live her life as she would have wanted since she is bound by a curse for which she knows no repercussions.
If we look closely, we can see that her predicament is similar to many others who find it difficult to push themselves outside their comfort zones and live life to the fullest. They miss out on realizing their aspirations because they take chances without allowing fear and uncertainty to hold them back.
About the poet
During Queen Victoria’s reign, English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson served as Poet Laureate. For his debut composition, “Timbuktu,” he received the Chancellor’s Gold Medal at Cambridge in 1829. Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, his first solo collection of poetry, was released in 1830.
He also composed some remarkable blank verses. His poetry was based on traditional mythical themes, such as those seen in “Ulysses.” In The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, he ranks as the seventh most often cited author.
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.
The two most significant places in the story are introduced in the first stanza of Analysis Tennyson’s poem: Shalott and Camelot. Shalott is a location that people only pass through on their way to and from Camelot, whereas Camelot is a world full of opportunity and life.
Analysis Tennyson introduces two starkly opposed locations—Camelot and Shalott—in the first verse to establish the mood for the remainder of the poem. Shalott is the cocoon we construct for ourselves that no one else truly notices, whereas Camelot represents the hope of everyone. These two locations stand in for the safety zones and guidelines we establish for ourselves but which no one else considers.
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.
With icy white willows and aspen trees that “quiver” in the cold, this verse moves the imagery toward winter. Additionally mentioned are the “little breezes” that the river near the island of Shalott experiences as it travels in the direction of Camelot.
On a lifeless island, The Lady of Shalott is hidden in a building or construction with four towers and drab walls. This portrayal stands in sharp contrast to the blooming flowers and captivating Camelot scenery that are all around her.
The winter represents the frigid character of the events that will unfold in the remainder of the poem and the biting cold that awaits us outside of our comfort zones, setting the tone for the tale that Tennyson is about to tell.
The figure of the Lady of Shalott serves as a vehicle for the average man or woman because, like the lady, we frequently spend our lives cautiously and safely, but our goals and aspirations for the future are found in the alluring realm of Camelot.
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?
The opening line of stanza three depicts the willows that line the riverbank, drawing our attention back to the bustling scene outside the little, castle-like structure where the Lady of Shalott is housed. The emphasis is returned to “Camelot” in this stanza, where there is so much promise for achieving whatever we have ever desired, and away from our own bubbles.
The route that leads there is lined with living trees, “heavy barges,” horses, and other tiny vessels, which may easily stand in for our own views about our lives that are too perilous to continue living in Shalott. The questions posed at the conclusion of this stanza illustrate how ensnared we are in the safe spaces we have built for ourselves, making the things and people outside of those spaces seem like a fantasy rather than a reality.
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.”
The only people who are aware of the Lady of Shalott’s presence are the reapers who are picking barley because they can hear the echoes of her singing day and night. The first section of the poem comes to an end with this verse, since only the reapers can hear the Lady’s singing echoes throughout the day and night.
According to Tennyson, our hopes for the future are only echoes that reach others, and that we are nothing more than ideas to those who we haven’t been outside of our comfort zones to meet. We have to take the chance of deviating from our comfort zone if we want to be noticed.
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.
This verse provides the first information on the lady of Shalott as we read the poem. She is a woman who spends her time creating a colorful, “magic” web. She has been subjected to a curse, the effects of which she is unaware of.
She only knows, however, that if she wants to be spared from this curse, she is not to gaze down upon Camelot from her towers. We are also informed that she devotes her time to weaving and does not care about anything else, mostly since there is nothing else for her to do.
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.
The poet provides a little glimpse of the lady of Shalott’s personality for the audience. She possesses a mirror, which is revealed to be hanging in front of her while she weaves. The odd thing about the mirror is how it only gives her “shadows” of the surroundings; as a result, the pictures are hazy or hazy.
She can see some individuals and the whirlpools in the river in this mirror. The lady of Shalott can distinguish a variety of persons in her mirror of “shadows.” Some of these individuals are portrayed as being unfriendly and rude, which most likely refers to the peasantry. Others are said to be market girls wearing scarlet cloaks who are walking near 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.
The people who the lady of Shalott can see via her mirror are seen to be continuing in this scene. She reportedly occasionally sees “glad” young women and an abbot—a member of the monastery’s ruling clergy—riding “an ambling pad” (a leisurely-moving horse). A long-haired “page in crimson” (an attendant of a lord wearing crimson) and a shepherd with curly hair approach the towering Camelot.
The narrator notes that the woman has occasionally even seen “knights riding two by two” but is quick to stress that she has no personal knight to express her love and allegiance. Finally, a description of the lady’s mirror is offered to us: it is blue.
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.
The narrative then returns to the Lady of Shalott and her line of work as a weaver in this stanza. The narrator reveals that the inspiration for her weaving came from what she saw in her mirror. These views frequently incorporate a wedding or a funeral. The lady of Shalott’s initial exchange with the reader makes it quite evident that she is sick of staring at these shadows in the mirror.
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.
Part three of this poem starts here, and the setting is altered to introduce Sir Lancelot as a second character. He joins the narrative by riding over the barley fields not far from the Lady’s home, his armor “dazzling” in the sunlight. On his shield is a depiction of a knight bowing before his lady, and he is referred to as “bold”. The narrator does not hold back in underscoring the clear distinction between himself and “remote Shalott” by reminding us that he was close by.
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.
Stanza ten is solely a description of Sir Lancelot in great detail. It begins with a contrast between his exquisitely decorated bridle and the starry sky’s ornamentation. As he rides “down to Camelot,” the bells on his bridle “ring merrily.” A small silver trumpet hangs from his quite obvious strap belt (baldric) as he noisily passes by “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.
The number of stanzas devoted to just Lancelot’s description suggests the importance of the character. Here, we see that even his saddle’s leather was sparkling brightly, and his helmet had feathers on it that gave off a powerful appearance.
When Lancelot is riding to Camelot, he is compared to a “bearded meteor” (alluding to the feathers on his helmet), which is leaving a trail of light in the sky. Again, as the stanza finishes, the striking contrast between Lancelot and Shallot is highlighted by characterizing Shallot as “still” following eight lines of straightforward praise for Lancelot.
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.
This is the fourth stanza to exclusively provide the reader with heightened compliments of Lancelot. Here, we are told that his “broad clear brow” gleamed in the sunlight, and his horse’s hooves were polished and shiny.
As he rode to Camelot, his black, wavy hair streamed beneath his helmet. Finally, he appears and begins singing “Tirra Lirra” in the Lady of Shalott’s mirror. This stanza is significant because, after eleven stanzas, our two characters finally meet, though Lancelot is still obviously unaware of it.
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.
The narrative changes when the reader is thrust into the lady’s response to Lancelot. Her immediate reaction was to stop weaving the web; she got up from where she was seated and took three steps toward the window. She no longer views the world through the reflection’s shadows but rather with her own eyes for the first time.
She sees Camelot, Lancelot’s helmet, and the water lily blossom. At the sight of Camelot, her web flew out and drifted away and her mirror broke. The Lady of Shalott then makes her second appearance in the poem overall. When she realizes what she has done, she essentially yells out that she has been cursed.
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.
The poem’s last section is now about to begin. Stormy weather is used in stanza fourteen to give the reader a sense of the situation. The river is whining, there is a “stormy” wind, the golden woodland leaves seem to be vanishing, and heavy rain start to pour. Finally leaving her home, the lady of Shalott discovers a boat drifting beneath a willow tree. She climbs aboard the vessel and inscribes “The Lady of Shalott” across the bow.
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.
The Lady of Shalott’s journey outside her usual area is continued in stanza fifteen. She glances down the river at Camelot before getting in the boat like a fortuneteller who goes into a “trance” when he realizes his own woes are coming. She ultimately lets go of the chain holding the boat to the ground and lies down inside. She is then taken “far away” by the boat.
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.
This stanza uses a picture that is the most well-known among the art that is readily available for the poem. As the boat cruises across the river at night towards Camelot, the Lady of Shalott, clad in white, lies at the bottom with her clothes billowing in the breeze and leaves softly falling on her. The willows and meadows that encircled the boat served as eyewitnesses to the last song that the lady of Shalott sang as she passed.
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.
The powerful imagery of grief, chanting, sanctity, and carols in stanza seventeen emphasizes the terrible occurrence that the lady of Shalott is experiencing. The lady of Shalott keeps singing as she floats down the river towards Camelot and her blood begins to “darken” and slowly freeze. Either the weather is to blame for this, or the curse she has lived in fear of is to blame. The woman and her song perish before the boat can get to the first home in Camelot.
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.
This short verse explains how her body eventually makes it to Camelot and moves around inside. The boat carrying her body travels by the mansions, gardens, and galleries in the exact Camelot that the lady was never meant to view, as well as underneath the towers and balconies.
Everyone, especially those of noble birth and high social standing, flocked to the waterfront to view the boat and read her name, The Lady of Shalott, which was prominently displayed on the front of the vessel.
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.”
The voices of the people of Camelot who were asking the many questions they had in response to seeing a woman frozen to death in a boat floating down the river are heard in stanza nineteen, which brings this poem to a close. They were alarmed by the sight and “crossed themselves” in response.
Lancelot then moves forward and acknowledges her beauty while pleading for God’s mercy and grace to be extended to her. This stanza is significant not only because it brings the poem to a close but also because it introduces our two protagonists to one another, though this time without the lady of Shalott’s knowledge.