Imagery in The Lady of Shalott
Imagery Examples in The Lady of Shalott:
Text of the Poem
"they read her name..." See in text (Text of the Poem)
Looking at the poem as an allegory for the conflict of the artist, the Lady’s death can be read as representing her inability to transcend her life through art and escape isolation. Tennyson makes sure to describe her vividly, from her “snowy white” robe to the “gleaming shape” she becomes in death, evoking images of white marble statues. It is also not her name that she writes on the boat, but her title, which is far less personal. In the end, despite her attempts to escape her isolation and seek out human connection, even in death the Lady is only able to interact with Camelot artificially.
"And from his blazoned baldric slung A mighty silver bugle hung, ..." See in text (Text of the Poem)
A baldric is a type of belt that is worn over the shoulder. Baldrics often carry weapons but they can also hold bugles or horns, as Lancelot’s does. A “blazoned” object is one that is marked with an emblem or crest that states whom it belongs to. This stanza associates Lancelot with sound, including the bells on his horse, his “ringing armor,” and the silver bugle, or horn, he is carrying. His approach is loud and musical, breaking the peace of the “silent isle.”
"the silent isle imbowers..." See in text (Text of the Poem)
“Imbower” is the archaic form of the word “embower,” which means to enclose or surround something. The image of a lady locked away in a castle or tower has strong ties to the tradition of medieval romances and usually portends the coming of a rescuer. Here, the Lady of Shalott is enclosed within the grey walls and towers on the silent island of Shalott, isolated from lively Camelot and human contact. Images of isolation recur throughout the poem, serving to emphasize the loneliness of the Lady and characterize her situation.
"Willows whiten, aspens quiver, 10 Little breezes dusk and shiver..." See in text (Text of the Poem)
It is notable that Tennyson here surrounds the “silent isle” of Shalott with visual imagery of the natural world that depicts rapid movement. It is also worth noting that “quiver” and “shiver” can be applied to people as well as objects, frequently in the context of a strong emotional experience. Throughout the poem, the images surrounding Shalott can continue to be interpreted as foreshadowing the events that befall its Lady—here, the outside world appears to tremble with emotion, and later, a violent storm will accompany her moment of upheaval.
"leaves upon her falling light..." See in text (Text of the Poem)
In this stanza, the natural world continues to foreshadow the Lady’s narrative. The stormy conditions of this section’s first stanza, reflecting the uncertain and tumultuous state of the Lady’s situation, have given way to a light fall of leaves, an autumnal image that conjures thoughts of passing, withering, and gentle death.
"a glassy countenance..." See in text (Text of the Poem)
“The Lady of Shalott” contains many moments that question the validity of personal agency. Because the curse is not well-defined to readers, it is difficult to tell how much control the Lady has over her actions once it has been invoked. This description of the Lady as being “in a trance” and having “a glassy countenance” seems to imply that she is still under the effect of an external power—especially as “glassy” relates back to the image of her mirror, destroyed by the curse—but she could also be reacting to the major emotional upheaval that would naturally follow the destruction of her artistic work. This could relate to multiple themes, perhaps describing a woman doomed to a single course of action following her “fall,” or an artist who does not know how to live without the isolation of her work.
"From the bank and from the river..." See in text (Text of the Poem)
It’s interesting to note that Lancelot seems to be coming into the Lady’s mirror from more than one place, and one of those places—the river—is one he and his horse are probably not literally in. Visually, the effect is that of his filling her mirror from all points, overwhelming it. Symbolically, it is as if the entire motion of life (represented by the river) is forcing him in on her.
"helmet-feather Burn'd..." See in text (Text of the Poem)
These two lines are both in iambic tetrameter, and both have an extra unstressed syllable at their ends. When read aloud, it feels natural to place a stress on the syllable of “Burn’d”; however, the necessary pronunciation of “burning” later in that same line reveals that instinct to be incorrect, as Tennyson does not vary his meter mid-line. The pause that this unexpected pattern enforces between “feather” and “burn’d” forces readers to take a moment between the lines and perhaps reread the second, revisiting the image of Lancelot as a burning flame and, by extension, a potentially destructive force.