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The Lady Of Shallot by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Lord Tennyson's most famous poem and a work that reflected a revival of Romanticism in British culture "The Lady Of Shallot", voted Britain's favourite poem in a poll organised by the BBC a few years ago tells the story of a woman who lives in a tower on the island of Shalott, situated between channels of a river that runs, along with the road beside it, to 'many towered Camelot, the legendary headquarters of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Read the poem and notes below ...

The Lady Of Shallot by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
added by Ian R Thorpe
February 2004
CREATIVE COMMONS: Attribute, non commercial, no derivs.
KEYWORDS: tennyson, english, Arthur, King, legend, round teble, knight, Lancelot, Camelot, Celtic, magic, enchantment, romantic, myth, poem, poetry, poet, verse, rhyme

The Lady of Shallot

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot?

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 Shallot."

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer 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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot."

Notes: Tennyson's "The Lady Of Shallot", voted Britain's favourite poem in a poll organised by the BBC a few years ago tells the story of a woman who lives in a tower on the island of Shalott, situated between channels of a river that runs, along with the road beside it, to 'many towered Camelot, the legendary headquarters of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Every day, the woman weaves into a tapestry images of the land on either side of that river and the life that goes on in their fields and villages visible to her only as images in a mirror. There is a curse on the Lady; she does not know what she has done to deserve such a fate but she knows that she cannot look directly out of the window or very bad things will happen. For many years it sems the woman is happy to weave, but is tired of looking at life only as a reflection. One day, Sir Lancelot rides by, looking bold and handsome in his armour and mounted on a fine destrier (war horse). The woman falls in love instantly and goes to the window to look directly out of it and see her loved on in the flesh., The moment she does so her tapestry starts to unravel and the mirror cracks. Knowing she has activated the curse she leaves the tower, finds a boat at the side of the river, writes "The Lady of Shalott" on the side of the boat, and floats off down the river toward Camelot. As she drifts along, singing and observing all of the sights that were forbidden to her before, she dies. The boat floats past Camelot, and all of the knights make the sign of the cross upon seeing a corpse go by, but Lancelot, seeing her for the first time, notes, "She has a lovely face." Apart from the narrative what is noteworthy about this poem is the gently tapping rhythm and insistent rhyming scheme. Most teacher of English literature teach poulpils to alalyse rhyme using a,b,a,b notation. The inadequacy of that method is revealed just as soon as a master like Tennyson lets his creativity loose on a subject like this. Each nine line stanza has three rhymes, using the line numbering system I learned at school to analyse it they go; 1,2,3,4; 5,9; 6,7,8. The result is quite stunning, having a hypnotic effect on many readers, and contributes greatly to the poem's ability to evoke emotions and prompt sensual reaction. The fist version of The Lady of Shallot was published in 1832, when Tennyson was 23 years old, in a volume called Poems . Up to that point, Tennyson had received great critical acclaim, and had won national awards, but the critics savagely attacked the 1832 book, mostly because of poems such as "The Lady of Shalott" that dealt with fantasy situations instead of realistic ones. The next year, 1833, Tennyson's best friend died, which affected the poet greatly. For a long time nothing of Tennyson's was published. Eventually in 1842, a new volume, also called Poems , was published, to great critical acclaim. The new book had a slightly revised version of "The Lady of Shalott," and this is the version reproduced above.

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