Text of the Poem

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;                   5 
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,                  10
Little breezes dusk and shiver 
Thro' the wave that runs for ever 
By the island in the river
     Flowing down to Camelot. 
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,          15
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                  20
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?              25
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                 30 
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             35
     Lady of Shalott."

II
There she weaves by night and day 
A magic web with colors gay. 
She has heard a whisper say, 
A curse is on her if she stay                    40
     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.                        45

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:                    50
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,               55
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              60
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,              65
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;                70     
"I am half sick of shadows," said
     The Lady of Shalott.

III
A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling through the leaves,        75     
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,               80     
     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                    85
     As he rode down to Camelot: 
And from his blazoned baldric slung 
A mighty silver bugle hung, 
And as he rode his armour rung,
     Beside remote Shalott.                      90

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.                 95
As often through 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;        100
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                105     
He flashed 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,            110     
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
     She looked down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror cracked from side to side;           115
"The curse is come upon me," cried
     The Lady of Shalott.

IV
In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,      120
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              125
     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                       130
     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.                       135

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:               140
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                   145
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly, 
Till her blood was frozen slowly, 
And her eyes were darkened wholly,
     Turned to tower'd Camelot.
For ere she reach'd upon the tide               150     
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,                     155
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,              160     
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;                   165
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,                 170
     The Lady of Shalott."

Footnotes

  1. Even without knowing the source or the scope of the curse she is subject to, the Lady of Shalott obeys it unquestioningly. Her situation in this respect can be read as a commentary on unquestioning adherence to rules. In Tennyson’s Victorian context, the image of a woman adhering to social norms suggests a feminist critique of societal standards. It can also be seen as a criticism of superstition and unfounded belief, ways of understanding the world that eroded in the wake of the 18th-century Enlightenment.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. The meter of “The Lady of Shalott” varies often, but it is interesting to note that the first four lines of this stanza are in trochaic tetrameter. There are three instances of song in “The Lady of Shalott,” the first being the cheerful song the reapers hear the Lady sing, the second being Lancelot’s “tirra lirra,” and the third being the Lady’s “mournful carol.” A “carol” is a type of religious folksong, often a hymn, hence its association with holiness. All of the passages which include singing are written in trochaic tetrameter, which is a common meter in folk tunes and children’s rhymes because of its musical, sing-song quality.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. The river is personified as “complaining” while the weather becomes stormy and violent in the wake of the curse. Rather than a passive element of the Lady’s surroundings, the river is now an active presence, swollen and irritated by the rain and wind. This introduces the question of whether the Lady’s isolation was meant as punishment or protection: it led to dissatisfaction, but it also kept the harsher realities of the world away from her. Throughout the poem, the Lady’s stagnant, isolated life on her silent isle is contrasted with the movement of the river around the tower. In leaving the tower, the Lady symbolically “re-enters” the flow of life, which entails the process of dying.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. “The Lady of Shalott” is divided into four sections. The first section describes the setting, the second introduces the Lady and her curse, the third introduces Lancelot, and the fourth section depicts the ramifications of the curse. It is interesting to note that each section ends on a piece of dialogue—the only four instances of dialogue in the poem. The Lady’s dialogue at the end of the second and third sections describes the nature of her situation and her curse, but offer very little of her character or identity. By contrast, The first and last piece of dialogue represent outside views on her, with the reapers commenting on her supernatural reputation and Lancelot offering a compliment to her beauty. The Lady never truly gets to define herself, remaining subject to the interpretations of others.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. One of the possible interpretations of “The Lady of Shalott” is as an indictment of Victorian culture, which conflated women’s inherent value with their sexual purity. The Lady, in her tower on Shalott, is surrounded by lilies, a frequent symbol of chastity and purity. Incidentally, lilies are white, a color traditionally associated with purity.Now that she has left the seclusion of that tower, she is still “robed in snowy white”—clothed in a marker of her inherent purity and virtue. This line, however, explicitly links that whiteness with her death, negating the potentially positive connotations of the associated purity. While the Lady has lived what the Victorians would consider a pure and virtuous life, free from improper associations, she has also been prevented from experiencing life’s color or joy. Ultimately, her great purity can be read as inseparable from her curse and her death.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. This stanza and the one following are the first in the poem to adhere strictly to the general meter. While the preceding stanzas have trochaic lines interspersed throughout, these two stanzas both consist of iambic tetrameter and vary only at their final refrains, which are iambic trimeter, in keeping with the refrains of the rest of the poem. This metrical stability provides continuity between these stanzas. Both stanzas begin with the Lady watching people travel to Camelot and end by highlighting something she lacks. The consistency of the meter and sentiment indicate that this is a turning point for the poem. The stricter meter indicates a sense of decisiveness as opposed to the meandering musicality of the preceding stanzas, highlighting the Lady’s growing resolve.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. The loosing of the chain that ties her boat to land is a very overt symbol for the actions the Lady is taking to free herself from her island. However, she is not indulging herself at all on this journey: rather than looking around at the river and surrounding countryside, the Lady lies down in the boat, presumably denying herself the possibility of a view. This could be an act of atonement for her misdeed or perhaps a factor of the curse. No matter how it is interpreted, her action makes clear to readers that despite the Lady’s departure from Shalott and implied approach to Camelot, she has in many ways not achieved a greater degree of freedom.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Aside from positioning the poem as a part of Arthurian legend, the use of the word “Camelot” as a refrain in almost every stanza centralizes it alongside the Lady herself. Symbolically, Camelot represents the outside world and freedom. The Lady of Shalott sees the castle only in her mirror rather than directly experiencing it. Thus Camelot takes on an unattainable quality since it can be seen and sought after, but not touched or truly experienced with the other senses.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. This simile comparing the Lady of Shalott to a seer emphasizes the fact that she knows she is doomed. She has seen impending misfortune and is deciding what to do with her last moments of life. The two dots over the second “e” in “seer” is a dieresis, a mark used over a vowel to denote a syllabic break. While “seer” is often pronounced with one syllable, Tennyson splits it into two. This division fits the chosen meter of the line and subtly emphasizes the exact nature of the Lady’s misfortune: she abandoned the reflections of her mirror and looked out her window to the real world, and was cursed in the literal act of seeing.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. The Lady’s “magic web” is most likely a tapestry, a form of textile art in which colored threads are woven together to create patterns or images. The oldest known tapestry dates from the 3rd century BCE and the form continued to be popular through the 17th century CE. Tapestries were often commissioned by the aristocracy and commonly depicted religious iconography, hunting scenes, and family symbols or lineages. Noblewomen like the Lady would have been proficient at weaving, as tapestry making and cloth mending were tasks they were expected to perform. The act of weaving is also often associated with magic. A common motif in European folklore is the image of the fates, most commonly depicted as three sisters who weave a tapestry that represents the flow of life.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. In the Arthurian tradition, knights were adventuring heroes who went on quests and rescued fair maidens. “The Lady of Shalott” is a departure from this tradition in that Lancelot is more of an object to observe than an active agent in the story. His closing lines, a standard benediction, indicate his ignorance of the Lady and of his impact on her. Ultimately, the Lady made her own choices rather than wait for a knight to save her. She dies in the same mysterious obscurity in which she lived, alone and unknown besides her title and her “lovely face.”

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  12. To “cross” oneself is to trace the shape of the Christian cross across one’s head or upper body using the hand. It is often accompanied by a quick prayer or invocation to God. Making the sign of the cross is a form of blessing and is often done prior to or during prayer. In this instance, the knights of Camelot are invoking a blessing out of fear that the Lady’s corpse is a bad omen or evil presence that they need divine protection from. Rather than being received warmly by the world, the Lady is again perceived as a supernatural presence and the people of Camelot react with fear, cementing her isolation even in death.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  13. 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.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  14. In contrast to the “wave that runs forever” in the river, which represents life and vitality, the Lady’s blood is instead “frozen slowly.” By rejecting her insulated world of shadows and choosing to join reality, the Lady subjects herself to mortality and the passage of time. However, her lack of vivacity remains; the river of life flows on even as the life flowing through the veins of the Lady of Shalott freezes over.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  15. This stanza has been the inspiration for several famous paintings, including many by the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1848–1853). The Brotherhood was a group of artists, poets, writers, and thinkers who embraced an organic approach to art and rejected the careful composition of many post-renaissance painters. Tennyson was a major influence on their works and “The Lady of Shalott” was admired by the brotherhood for its medievalism and Arthurian source. Though they were essentially dissolved by 1853, the ideas of the Brotherhood went on to influence many other artists of the Victorian age. One of those artists was John William Waterhouse, who painted one of the most famous representations of the Lady of Shalott’s float down the river in 1888.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  16. In contrast to the “delight” in her art from the earlier parts of the poem, the Lady now cries out as her weaving is destroyed. One interpretation is that this is a metaphor for a loss of artistic inspiration resulting from emotional interference. For many Victorian authors, writing poetry was more of an intellectual pursuit than an emotional one. Tennyson himself wrote several ruminations on the conflict between aesthetic isolation and social involvement. Scholars often view “The Lady of Shalott” and “The Palace of Art,” which were both originally published in Tennyson’s 1832 collection Poems, as records of his conflicting views on the same topic.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  17. When the Lady looks outside, her gaze first passes over the surrounding water lilies, flowers associated with purity. She then sees Lancelot’s plumed helmet, an object associated with masculinity and sexuality. In Malory’s story, after Lancelot rejects Elaine and says he will never marry, she disgraces herself by offering to become his illicit lover. These details can combine with Lancelot’s suggestive song for an interpretation of the curse as a symbolic loss of innocence for the Lady, which would have resulted in social ruin during the Victorian era. In both Tennyson’s poem and Elaine’s story, Lancelot unwittingly becomes the downfall for a lady who begins the story as the Victorian ideal of womanhood, isolated and pure.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  18. In this stanza, Tennyson employs a technique called anaphora, by which each line begins with the same word or phrase. The presence of four successive lines beginning with “she” creates a driving rhythm and a sense of urgency, as though each event is happening in quick succession. Unlike the thorough descriptions of the landscape and Lancelot, there is no lingering on imagery in this stanza, only rapid action. This urgency gives readers the sense that time is no longer as stagnant as it has been throughout the rest of the poem, an intuition which is confirmed when the Lady realizes the curse is upon her.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  19. Similarly to the way Lancelot breaks the “Camelot” refrain in the first stanza of this section, here he breaks the “Shalott” refrain that has ended each stanza. The breaking of the “Camelot” refrain foreshadowed him as a catalyst, while implying a thematic association with Camelot. This breaking of the “Shalott” refrain suggests that he has broken through the barrier sheltering the Lady in her tower. Lancelot has intruded upon what was formerly the sole domain of “Shalott,” revealing his power to counter its influence. This line is also the poem’s only instance of trochaic trimeter. This unexpected use of a stressed syllable to open the refrain emphasizes Lancelot’s action, and, by extension, his importance in the narrative.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  20. The phrase “tirra lirra” first appears in William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (act IV, scene III) and is there described as an onomatopoeia for the sound of a lark singing. It is part of a bawdy song about the onset of spring. Lancelot’s carefree singing here echoes the Lady’s singing in the poem’s first section, though his is a direct quotation. That both characters introduce themselves musically could be an allusion to the medieval tradition of sung lays—or rhymed tales of chivalry—which codified many of the Arthurian stories. The song’s sexual undertones emphasize the Lady’s isolation.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  21. While the island of Shalott has taken pride of place in the refrain before, it has only ever been for one stanza in a section. That the Lady of Shalott has been excluded from the refrains of the last three stanzas show just how irrelevant she is to the motion of the world around her island.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  22. 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.”

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  23. The “red-cross knight” may be an allusion to Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queene (1590), which featured a character called “the Redcrosse Knight” in its first section. The Redcrosse Knight represents holiness and is later revealed to be Saint George, the patron saint of England. St. George’s symbol, a red cross on a white background, stands to this day as the English flag. His association with Saint George’s symbol imbues Lancelot with chivalrous, knightly qualities.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  24. Sir Lancelot is one of the most famous knights from Arthurian legend. His affair with King Arthur’s wife, Guinevere, became the focal point for much of the later medieval Arthurian tradition, in which the emphasis shifted from stories of adventure to stories of the court. The replacement of the “Camelot” refrain with “Sir Lancelot” in this stanza emphasizes Lancelot’s importance to the narrative and marks his intrusion into the steady, albeit distant, relationship between the Lady and the outside world.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  25. This is an important moment of agency for the Lady. Her declaration that she is tired of seeing only “shadows” of the world opens up the interpretation that she may be reconsidering her situation and waiting for something worth looking at. It also marks the turning point where her “cheer” and “delight” in her life and work begin to wane. It is notable how soon this moment arises after the statement of her “delight” just at the beginning of this stanza; it is possible that the “delight” is a false report and that the Lady has long felt dissatisfied.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  26. The thoughts and feelings of the Lady are not deeply explored within the poem, so readers must trust the narrator’s report that she is content to sit in her tower and weave. The “delight” she feels could be a thematic reference to the satisfaction of the artistic process, regardless of the imposed distance from her subject. This reading portrays the Lady as a working artist, whose artistic sensibility isolates her from the world around her but allows her a pure relationship with her weaving that provides a happiness of its own.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  27. The river is a recurring visual image in the poem that carries a symbolic meaning. Literally, the river is a physical presence surrounding the island of Shalott. It flows on all sides of her, transporting other people to Camelot. It is constantly associated with movement through the use of words like “flowing” and “whirling.” In contrast, the Lady herself remains stagnant, “imbowered” within the “grey walls” of her tower. Symbolically, the river is connected with the flow of life and the passage of time, realities from which the Lady of Shalott is sheltered.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  28. The Lady is only able to watch the world through a reflection in her mirror. Mirrors, in a literal sense, reflect images. In a symbolic sense, the mirror indicates that the Lady is not seeing “reality” but rather an inverse or diluted version of it, especially given the contrast between the “clear” mirror and the “shadows” it depicts. She is not witnessing events with her own eyes but is instead consuming images from a detached perspective before translating them into her weaving. The image of shadows are an allusion to Greek philosopher Plato’s (424–348 BCE) “Allegory of the Cave” in The Republic. Plato describes a group of people in a cave who only know the world outside by reading the shadows flickering on the cave wall. In Plato’s estimation, these people represent those who are blind to the true nature of reality. Tennyson alludes to Plato’s Cave to suggest that the Lady of Shalott is similarly blind to the outside world.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  29. Tennyson is often counted as a successor to the Romantic poets, who rejected the reason-driven, Enlightenment-inspired poetry popular in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Instead, Romantics foregrounded emotionally-driven reflections on man’s relationship with nature. This required the poet to retain a certain distance from society in order to maintain the purity of the artistic soul. Here, the curse on the Lady can be read as the call of her artistic sensibility to retain the necessary distance from Camelot, and society, in order to protect the purity of her relationship with her art.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  30. In this case, the verb “stay” means to stop or delay doing something. If the Lady stops weaving in order to look out at Camelot, the unknown curse will activate. Readers are not told what the terms of the curse are and the Lady herself does not even know where it came from. The lack of detail allows the conflict of the story to be contained within the Lady herself. She is the one who must make the choice between continuing her lonely existence or taking a risk and claiming a moment of freedom.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  31. The reapers, or field harvesters, see in the Lady a supernatural air and compare her to a fairy. Rather than a lonely woman trapped in a tower, she is an inhuman fairy unknown outside of whispered legends. Beyond her physical isolation, the Lady is also isolated from her own humanity.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  32. Tennyson’s rhetorical questions reinforce the Lady’s isolation. She is surrounded on all sides by a bustling river and the castle of Camelot, but she does not interact with the people who pass her and most of them do not even know she exists. In Tennyson’s time, Victorian women, especially those of the upper classes, were expected to remain chaste and avoid any behaviors that might result in rumors of impropriety. This meant that they were relatively isolated within their family circles and were often excluded from public life, which was seen as the domain of men.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  33. “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.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  34. A refrain is poetic device by which a word, line, or group of lines is repeated throughout a poem. “The Lady of Shalott” has two refrains: “Camelot” at the end of the 5th line of each stanza and “Shalott” at the end of the 9th line. Refrains can serve a variety of functions but are often employed as a way of emphasizing important ideas through repetition. In this case, “Camelot” and “Shalott” are contrasting symbols, with Shalott representing the Lady’s isolation and Camelot representing broader society. The refrains also add a musicality to the poem by creating repetition and a consistent structure for rhyme and meter from stanza to stanza.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  35. In Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, lilies are a frequent symbol of both physical and spiritual purity. Elaine is referred to as “Elaine le Blank,” for the French blanc, meaning “white.” The lilies growing around the tower where the Lady of Shalott lives provide a connection to the Arthurian source material and help contextualize the isolation of the character, who could be considered unsullied by external influences. This evokes the Victorian ideal of womanhood, which emphasized purity and required women to remain in the domestic sphere.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  36. In Arthurian legend, Camelot is the seat of King Arthur’s power. Tennyson based this poem on the story of Elaine of Astolat, which he claimed to have taken from a thirteenth-century Italian story of unknown authorship, “La Donna di Scalotta.” The framework of the story is older than that, and it also found its way into Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d'Arthur (1485). In that version of the story, Lancelot briefly stays with Elaine’s family before a tournament and Elaine falls in love with him. Though he agrees to wear her token in the tournament, Lancelot later rejects her. Heartbroken, Elaine wastes away. She dies ten days later after requesting that her body be sent down the river to Camelot holding a note expressing her love for Lancelot.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  37. “The Lady of Shalott” contains minimal enjambment, or the continuation of a phrase or sentence across lines of a poem without end-stop punctuation. Tennyson also typically ends lines on nouns, verbs, or adjectives rather than prepositions or other parts of speech that imply phrasal continuity. The self-contained nature of each line ensures there is a natural pause at the end of each phrase, highlighting the rhymes and increasing the musicality.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  38. “The Lady of Shalott” employs an AAAABCCCB rhyme scheme. Rhyme is a common poetic technique and is built into the structure of many poetic forms. It shapes the way a poem is read, since the rhyming words have a natural tendency to create pauses and emphasize the structure of the stanza. The rhymes in “The Lady of Shalott” are mostly perfect rhymes, where the end sounds of the rhyming words are identical. For example, “lie,” “rye,” “sky,” and “by” all share the same pronunciation. An example of an imperfect rhyme, sometimes called a slant rhyme, can be found in the second stanza, where “ever” is rhymed with “quiver,” “shiver,” and “river.” Because the vowel sounds differ, the rhyme is imperfect.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  39. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  40. Medieval romances frequently expressed the idea of courtly love, a set of idealized social rules defining acceptable interaction between men and women of the upper classes. In these stories, knights wore favors or tokens—frequently a piece of richly decorated fabric—during tournaments as symbols of their devotion to a particular lady. The tragedy of Sir Thomas Malory’s Elaine, as depicted in Le Morte d’Arthur, is catalyzed when Lancelot agrees to wear her token as a part of a disguise; she interprets his choice as romantic encouragement. By referencing this literary tradition, Tennyson shows the Lady of Shalott to be a noblewoman, someone who could reasonably expect to have a devoted knight were it not for her exclusion from the social life of the court. This combined with the symbolism of Shalott’s lilies suggest a romantic or sexual subtext to the Lady’s confinement.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  41. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  42. “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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  43. It is worth noting the specific sequence of events that occur in this section. Lancelot is shown in the Lady’s mirror. She then leaves her work, walks across her room, and looks outside. She sees the water lilies, Lancelot (as signified by his helmet), and finally Camelot itself. Her weaving is destroyed, possibly thrown from the tower, and the mirror she has used to watch the world cracks through the middle; she implicitly attributes these events to the onset of her curse. What is unknown is whether the effects of the curse are isolated to the destruction of the Lady’s web and mirror, with her subsequent reaction being completely of her own choosing or whether the destruction of the web and mirror is simply the first stage in the onset of the curse, which will continue to control or influence the Lady until her death. This ambiguity regarding the scope of the Lady’s personal agency contributes to the difficulty of supporting any one particular thematic interpretation over another.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  44. This is a literary device called synecdoche, where a part of something is used to symbolize the thing’s entirety. Here, the dashing Lancelot, whom Tennyson took four full stanzas to describe, is reduced to a symbol of his knighthood: “helmet and the plume.” When the Lady finally does look away from her mirror, she glances only briefly at Lancelot before shifting her gaze to Camelot. In fact, Lancelot is not mentioned again until the end of the poem, after the Lady is dead. Lancelot’s omission here highlights the ambiguity in the Lady’s motivation. While the content of the previous stanza would imply that Lancelot is the cause for her departure from her weaving, here he is reduced to merely an object, seen after the water-lily and before Camelot itself. The degree to which he impacts the Lady, and the nature of her relationship to or interest in him, are never made textually explicit, allowing the poem to be read on a number of thematic levels.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  45. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  46. This simile, which compares Lancelot to a “bearded meteor,” elevates the knight almost to a force of nature. Combined with the imagery of the previous stanza, which compared Lancelot’s bridle to stars in the sky, Lancelot is given an otherworldly, celestial air that nevertheless stands in contrast to the Lady’s. His otherworldliness is defined by images of space—literally, not of this world—and hers by a much more mysterious ambiguity.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  47. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  48. The first of these lines is iambic tetrameter, and the second is trochaic tetrameter. However, the first line ends on an extra unstressed syllable, so that taken together the lines could read as a single line of iambic octameter. This can be seen as a kind of metrical enjambment, where the addition of a syllable to the first line links the meters of the two and serves to offset the potentially jarring effect of the true (semantic) enjambment occurring simultaneously. Tennyson uses this sort of metrical enjambment multiple times, frequently in conjunction with true enjambment, to enhance the poem’s musicality.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  49. This section is devoted almost entirely to a physical description of Sir Lancelot. It employs extensive alliteration and parallelism, beginning with the very first line, “A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,” and seen here in the alliterations of “golden Galaxy,” “bridle bells,” and “blazoned baldric.” The continued repetition of consonants, syntactic constructions, and even entire words throughout this section gives it a deeply musical quality, surpassing that of the rest of the poem.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  50. One of the defining themes of literature that depicts the chivalric code was that of knightly devotion to idealized women. This tradition is the source of the familiar narrative wherein a heroic knight rescues a fair damsel in distress. Knights dedicated their successes to the names of their chosen lady-loves and looked to them as embodiments of virtue. That Lancelot’s shield shows him kneeling to a lady is both a nod to the mythic tradition, wherein Lancelot was the devoted lover of Arthur’s queen, and an ironic comment on male-female relations—both in the context of Arthurian legend and in Tennyson’s time. While Lancelot depicts himself as subject to the desires of a lady, in this poem he actually becomes a catalyst of her downfall. In a parallel sense, the women of Tennyson’s time were held to a strict and confining code of conduct by the imposition of a benevolent sexism that held them to be fragile and in need of protection.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  51. The Lady experiences the outside world through her mirror, and the level of emotional disassociation it causes renders all sights equal to her eyes. The funeral she watches lacks any emotional weight, appearing instead almost as a parade: “with plumes and lights / And music.” That funeral is then equated to the approach of “two young lovers,” arguably a more joyous sight. The Lady’s disassociation from the surrounding world goes beyond physical isolation, preventing her from reacting in an emotional manner to the events she witnesses, even as her tapestry replicates them visually.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  52. The noun “pad” derives from “padnag” and refers to an old, slow horse. Tennyson’s description of the road to Camelot includes people of all ages and from all walks of life, filtered through a lens of romantic idealization.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  53. This line details people leaving Shalott, not simply moving around it. Previous images specify that the trends of motion are toward Camelot and involve inanimate objects: the river, the road, the boats. This line specifically involves humans and describes them as not just moving toward Camelot but “onward from Shalott,” essentially abandoning it. This can be read as an extension of the foreshadowing regarding the world beyond Shalott, hinting to readers that those who leave the island don’t necessarily return.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  54. While the curse condemning the Lady to weave without pause is arguably the inciting incident in the poem’s narrative, its source is vague. The repetition of “whispers” plays off the whisper of the reaper in the previous stanza, expanding the theme of supernatural influences on the Lady. However, it also introduces an element of uncertainty. The reaper’s description of the Lady as a fairy is implied to be a result of her isolation, rather than any innate otherworldliness on her part. This potential for misinterpretation is carried into the curse itself, which is subject to similar misconceptions.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  55. A “shallop” is a small sailboat that can be both masted and oared. Though relatively small, shallops are associated with coastal exploration. In conjunction with the barges previously mentioned, these coastal vessels characterize the river as a large and bustling avenue for commerce, further emphasizing the divide between Lady and the rest of the world.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  56. Of the poem’s 19 stanzas, 13 extend the “Shalott” refrain from simply the word itself, in reference to the island as a place, to the Lady’s full title. This invocation sets both the island and the Lady herself in consistent opposition to Camelot and all it represents. Thus the form of the poem contains foreshadowing. While the Lady might try to leave Shalott, she is not a truly independent entity and can never be free from its influence.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  57. In the 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery illustrates Anne Shirley's imagination and romanticism in Anne's fascination with "The Lady of Shalott." Anne frequently reads, recites, and acts out scenes from the poem with her friends.

    — Sonya Cashdan