The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson Poem Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


In this poem, the poet looks at a blackbird in thirteen different ways. Each method evokes particular feelings in the reader, showing us the importance of different perspectives.

About the Poet

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892) was an English poet who wrote during the Victorian age. He was the Poet Laureate of Britain from 1850 to 1892. His famous works include In Memoriam, Ulysses, and The Charge of the Light Brigade.


The main theme of this poetry is isolation and detachment. The Lady of Shalott is isolated in her isle and can see the outside world only through a mirror. However, when she tries to get out and go to Camelot, which represents freedom, she faces her death. This shows us not only the condition of the artist detached from society but also the Victorian woman who was prevented from fully participating in society the same way as men were. The poem also centres around many supernatural and mystical elements.

Part I

Stanza 1

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;
The yellow-leaved waterlily
The green-sheathed daffodilly
Tremble in the water chilly
       Round about Shalott.

The poet says that long fields of barley and rye lie on both sides of the river. These fields clothe the world and meet the sky, and through this field the road runs by to Camelot which has many towers. The waterlily with yellow leaves and the daffodilly covered in green tremble in the chilly water around Shalott.

Stanza 2

Willows whiten, aspens shiver.
The sunbeam showers break and quiver
In the stream that runneth 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.

Willows turn white and aspens shiver, the rays of sunlight break apart and tremble in the stream that always runs by the island in the river that flows down to Camelot. Camelot has four gray walls and four gray towers which overlook a space filled with flowers. This silent island contains in it the Lady of Shalott.

Stanza 3

Underneath the bearded barley,
The reaper, reaping late and early,
Hears her ever chanting cheerly,
Like an angel, singing clearly,
       O'er the stream of Camelot.
Piling the sheaves in furrows airy,
Beneath the moon, the reaper weary
Listening whispers, ' 'Tis the fairy,
       Lady of Shalott.'

Underneath the bearded barley, the reaper whenever he is reaping, whether it is late or early, hears the Lady of Shalott chanting cheerfully like an angel and singing clearly over the stream of Camelot. While he piles the sheaves of barley in airy furrows beneath the moon, the tired reaper listening to this chanting and singing whispers that it is the fairy, the Lady of Shalott.

Stanza 4

The little isle is all inrail'd
With a rose-fence, and overtrail'd
With roses: by the marge unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken sail'd,
       Skimming down to Camelot.
A pearl garland winds her head:
She leaneth on a velvet bed,
Full royally apparelled,
       The Lady of Shalott.

The little isle is surrounded with a fence that has roses growing on it, and the isle itself is full of roses. By the margin, a small boat flits by sailing silkenly along the water to Camelot, unhailed by the lady. The Lady of Shalott has a pearl garland on her head, and she leans on a velvet bed, fully dressed like royalty.

Part II

Stanza 5

No time hath she to sport and play:
A charmed web she weaves alway.
A curse is on her, if she stay
Her weaving, either night or day,
       To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be;
Therefore she weaveth steadily,
Therefore no other care hath she,
       The Lady of Shalott.

The Lady of Shalott does not have any time to sport and play because she must always weave a magic web. She is cursed, if she pauses her weaving either night or day to look down at Camelot, something might happen to her, although she does not know what exactly the curse is. So, she weaves steadily and has no other care.

Stanza 6

She lives with little joy or fear.
Over the water, running near,
The sheepbell tinkles in her ear.
Before her hangs a mirror clear,
       Reflecting tower'd Camelot.
And as the mazy web she whirls,
She sees the surly village churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls
       Pass onward from Shalott.

The Lady of Shalott lives with little joy or fear. Over the water that runs near her she can hear the sheepbell tinkling. In front of her hangs a clear mirror which reflects towered Camelot. As she weaves her maze-like web she sees the ill-tempered village folk and the red cloaks of market girls who pass by Shalott and on to Camelot.

Stanza 7

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.

Sometimes a bunch of happy girls, an abbott on a lazy horse, a curly haired shepherd boy or a long-haired page wearing crimson clothes goes by to Camelot. And sometimes in the clear blue mirror the Lady of Shalott sees knights who come riding in groups of two. The Lady of Shalott has no loyal and true night for herself.

Stanza 8

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, came from Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead
Came two young lovers lately wed;
'I am half sick of shadows,' said
       The Lady of Shalott.

But the Lady of Shalott still delights to weave the magical sights the mirror shows her in her web because often through the silent nights a funeral with plumes and lights and music came from Camelot. Or, when the moon was overhead, two young newlywed lovers would come. The Lady of Shalott would then said that she was half sick of the shadows that she saw in her mirror.

Part III

Stanza 9

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
And flam'd 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.

A bow shot from the eaves of her bower. He rode between the barley crops as the sun was dazzling through the leaves, and he carried himself boldly. This was Sir Lancelot, and there was a knight with a red cross kneeling before a lady in his shield. This sparkled on the yellow field beside remote Shalott.

Stanza 10

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 from Camelot:
And from his blazon'd baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
       Beside remote Shalott.

Sir Lancelot’s bridle glittered like stars in the night sky as they hung in the golden galaxy, its bells rang merrily as he rode down from Camelot. And from his strap belt hung a mighty silver trumpet as he rode with his armour beside remote Shalott.

Stanza 11

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 from Camelot.
As often thro' the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
       Moves over green Shalott.

In the clear blue weather the saddle leather shone because it was inlaid with jewels. The helmet and the helmet-feather burned like one burning flame together as Lancelot rode down from Camelot. Often during a purple night below the bright clusters of stars, some meteor would move over green Shalott and trail its light.

Stanza 12

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 from Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash'd into the crystal mirror,
'Tirra lirra, tirra lirra:'
       Sang Sir Lancelot.

Lancelot’s broad clear brow glowed in the sunlight, and his war horse treaded on burnished hooves. His coal black curls flowed from under his helmet as he rode down from Camelot. His reflection flashed into the crystal mirror as he passed by the bank of the river, singing “Tirra lirra, tirra lirra.”

Stanza 13

She left the web, she left the loom
She made three paces thro' the room
She saw the water-flower 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 Lady of Shalott left the web and the loom and walked three paces through the room. She saw the water-flower bloom and saw the helmet and plume. She looked down to Camelot. The wed flew out and floated wide while the mirror cracked from one side to the other. The Lady of Shalott cried that the curse had come upon her.

Part IV

Stanza 14

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;
Outside the isle a shallow boat
Beneath a willow lay afloat,
Below the carven stern she wrote,
       The Lady of Shalott.

In the stormy side where the east-wind blew the pale yellow woods were waning and the broad stream on its bank was thrashing against it. It rained heavily over the towers of Camelot. Outside the isle a shallow boat was floating under a willow and below the carved sternn was the Lady of Shalott.

Stanza 15

A cloudwhite crown of pearl she dight,
All raimented in snowy white
That loosely flew (her zone in sight
Clasp'd with one blinding diamond bright)
       Her wide eyes fix'd on Camelot,
Though the squally east-wind keenly
Blew, with folded arms serenely
By the water stood the queenly
       Lady of Shalott.

She was wearing a crown of cloudy white pearls and was dressed in snowy white garments that loosely flew about her and were clasped with a blindingly bright diamond. Her wide eyes were fixed on Camelot. And though the east wind blew strongly, the Lady of Shalott stood as gracefully as a queen by the water with arms folded peacefully.

Stanza 16

With a steady stony glance—
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Beholding all his own mischance,
Mute, with a glassy countenance—
       She look'd down to Camelot.
It was the closing of the day:
She loos'd the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
       The Lady of Shalott.

With a steady but stony glance like a seer who was in a trance and seeing all his own misfortune, the Lady of Shalott stood silent with a glassy face and looked down to Camelot. It was the end of the day. She loosened the chain and laid down, so the broad stream took her far away.

Stanza 17

As when to sailors while they roam,
By creeks and outfalls far from home,
Rising and dropping with the foam,
From dying swans wild warblings come,
       Blown shoreward; so to Camelot
Still as the boathead wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her chanting her deathsong,
       The Lady of Shalott.

While sailors are roaming by creeks or outfalls far from home that rise and drop with foam, wild songs from dying swans are blown shoreward towards Camelot. As the boathead quietly sailed by the willowy hills and fields they heard the Lady of Shalott chanting her deathsong.

Stanza 18

A longdrawn carol, mournful, holy,
She chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her eyes were darken'd wholly,
And her smooth face sharpen'd slowly,
       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.

It was a long drawn out carol that was both mournful and holy. She chanted loudly and lowly till her eyes darkened totally and her smooth face sharpened slowly as death came upon her. Her face was turned towards the towers of Camelot because this is where she reached with the tide, the first house by the water’s side. Singing her death song, the Lady of Shalott died.

Stanza 19

Under tower and balcony,
By garden wall and gallery,
A pale, pale corpse she floated by,
Deadcold, between the houses high,
       Dead into tower'd Camelot.
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
To the planked wharfage came:
Below the stern they read her name,
       The Lady of Shalott.

Under the tower and balcony, by the garden wall and gallery, the pale corpse of the Lady of Shalott floated by, deadly cold between the high houses, the dead lady finally came to the towered Camelot. Knights, burghers, lords and dames came to the planked wharfage and read the name of the Lady of Shalott below the stern.

Stanza 20

They cross'd themselves, their stars they blest,
Knight, minstrel, abbot, squire, and guest.
There lay a parchment on her breast,
That puzzled more than all the rest,
       The wellfed wits at Camelot.
'The web was woven curiously,
The charm is broken utterly,
Draw near and fear not,—this is I,
       The Lady of Shalott.'

Knights, minstrels, abbots, squires and guests crossed themselves and blessed their stars. There was a parchment on the lady’s breast that confused everyone, even the intelligent people of Camelot. It said that the web was woven curiously and the charm was broken utterly, so people should not fear it and draw near, because it was her, the Lady of Shalott.

Central Idea

The central ideas explored in the poem are the isolation of artists and women. The poet conveys these ideas through a mystical world where the Lady of Shalott is trapped on an island which a curse prevents her from leaving, although she yearns for the freedom to leave and visit Camelot. 

Poetic Devices

  • Imagery– Imagery refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. The poet uses imagery throughout the poem to create the mythical landscape of the poem.
  • Symbolism- Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities. Here, the blackbird is a symbol of the shifting perspectives on reality.
  • Simile– A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two things. Example- “The gemmy bridle glitter’d free, Like to some branch of stars we see Hung in the golden Galaxy”, etc.
  • Alliteration- It is the occurrence of the same sound at the beginning of closely connected words. Example- “woods were waning”, “blazon’d baldric”, “golden Galaxy”, “bridle bells”, “cloudwhite crown”, etc.
  • Symbolism– Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities. Here, the isle is the symbol of the lady’s isolation whereas Camelot signifies freedom.