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Short poem

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

The Lady of Shalott (1842)

Part I
              1On either side the river lie
              2Long fields of barley and of rye,
              3That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
              4And thro' the field the road runs by
              5     To many-tower'd Camelot;
              6And up and down the people go,
              7Gazing where the lilies blow
              8Round an island there below,
              9     The island of Shalott.

            10Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
            11Little breezes dusk and shiver
            12Thro' the wave that runs for ever
            13By the island in the river
            14     Flowing down to Camelot.
            15Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
            16Overlook a space of flowers,
            17And the silent isle imbowers
            18     The Lady of Shalott.

            19By the margin, willow veil'd,
            20Slide the heavy barges trail'd
            21By slow horses; and unhail'd
            22The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd
            23     Skimming down to Camelot:
            24But who hath seen her wave her hand?
            25Or at the casement seen her stand?
            26Or is she known in all the land,
            27     The Lady of Shalott?

            28Only reapers, reaping early
            29In among the bearded barley,
            30Hear a song that echoes cheerly
            31From the river winding clearly,
            32     Down to tower'd Camelot:
            33And by the moon the reaper weary,
            34Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
            35Listening, whispers " 'Tis the fairy
            36     Lady of Shalott."

Part II
            37There she weaves by night and day
            38A magic web with colours gay.
            39She has heard a whisper say,
            40A curse is on her if she stay
            41     To look down to Camelot.
            42She knows not what the curse may be,
            43And so she weaveth steadily,
            44And little other care hath she,
            45     The Lady of Shalott.

            46And moving thro' a mirror clear
            47That hangs before her all the year,
            48Shadows of the world appear.
            49There she sees the highway near
            50     Winding down to Camelot:
            51There the river eddy whirls,
            52And there the surly village-churls,
            53And the red cloaks of market girls,
            54     Pass onward from Shalott.

            55Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
            56An abbot on an ambling pad,
            57Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
            58Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad,
            59     Goes by to tower'd Camelot;
            60And sometimes thro' the mirror blue
            61The knights come riding two and two:
            62She hath no loyal knight and true,
            63     The Lady of Shalott.

            64But in her web she still delights
            65To weave the mirror's magic sights,
            66For often thro' the silent nights
            67A funeral, with plumes and lights
            68     And music, went to Camelot:
            69Or when the moon was overhead,
            70Came two young lovers lately wed:
            71"I am half sick of shadows," said
            72     The Lady of Shalott.

Part III
            73A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
            74He rode between the barley-sheaves,
            75The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
            76And flamed upon the brazen greaves
            77     Of bold Sir Lancelot.
            78A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
            79To a lady in his shield,
            80That sparkled on the yellow field,
            81     Beside remote Shalott.

            82The gemmy bridle glitter'd free,
            83Like to some branch of stars we see
            84Hung in the golden Galaxy.
            85The bridle bells rang merrily
            86     As he rode down to Camelot:
            87And from his blazon'd baldric slung
            88A mighty silver bugle hung,
            89And as he rode his armour rung,
            90     Beside remote Shalott.

            91All in the blue unclouded weather
            92Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather,
            93The helmet and the helmet-feather
            94Burn'd like one burning flame together,
            95     As he rode down to Camelot.
            96As often thro' the purple night,
            97Below the starry clusters bright,
            98Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
            99     Moves over still Shalott.

          100His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;
          101On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
          102From underneath his helmet flow'd
          103His coal-black curls as on he rode,
          104     As he rode down to Camelot.
          105From the bank and from the river
          106He flash'd into the crystal mirror,
          107"Tirra lirra," by the river
          108     Sang Sir Lancelot.

          109She left the web, she left the loom,
          110She made three paces thro' the room,
          111She saw the water-lily bloom,
          112She saw the helmet and the plume,
          113     She look'd down to Camelot.
          114Out flew the web and floated wide;
          115The mirror crack'd from side to side;
          116"The curse is come upon me," cried
          117     The Lady of Shalott.

Part IV
          118In the stormy east-wind straining,
          119The pale yellow woods were waning,
          120The broad stream in his banks complaining,
          121Heavily the low sky raining
          122     Over tower'd Camelot;
          123Down she came and found a boat
          124Beneath a willow left afloat,
          125And round about the prow she wrote
          126     The Lady of Shalott.

          127And down the river's dim expanse
          128Like some bold seër in a trance,
          129Seeing all his own mischance--
          130With a glassy countenance
          131     Did she look to Camelot.
          132And at the closing of the day
          133She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
          134The broad stream bore her far away,
          135     The Lady of Shalott.

          136Lying, robed in snowy white
          137That loosely flew to left and right--
          138The leaves upon her falling light--
          139Thro' the noises of the night
          140     She floated down to Camelot:
          141And as the boat-head wound along
          142The willowy hills and fields among,
          143They heard her singing her last song,
          144     The Lady of Shalott.

          145Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
          146Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
          147Till her blood was frozen slowly,
          148And her eyes were darken'd wholly,
          149     Turn'd to tower'd Camelot.
          150For ere she reach'd upon the tide
          151The first house by the water-side,
          152Singing in her song she died,
          153     The Lady of Shalott.

          154Under tower and balcony,
          155By garden-wall and gallery,
          156A gleaming shape she floated by,
          157Dead-pale between the houses high,
          158     Silent into Camelot.
          159Out upon the wharfs they came,
          160Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
          161And round the prow they read her name,
          162     The Lady of Shalott.

          163Who is this? and what is here?
          164And in the lighted palace near
          165Died the sound of royal cheer;
          166And they cross'd themselves for fear,
          167     All the knights at Camelot:
          168But Lancelot mused a little space;
          169He said, "She has a lovely face;
          170God in his mercy lend her grace,
          171     The Lady of Shalott."


1] First published in Poems, 1833, but much altered in 1842, as a comparison of the two versions given will show. This poem is Tennyson's earliest published use of the Arthurian theory and legend. In 1859 his "Lancelot and Elaine" retells the story. The name Shalott is the Astolat of the old romances. Tennyson is said to have got the name he uses in this poem from an Italian tale, La Donna di Scalotta, in which Camelot is located near the sea, contrary to the Celtic tradition. (The following notes refer to the 1842 version.)

5] Camelot: the capital of Arthur's kingdom. Caxton puts it in Wales.

56] pad: an easy-paced horse.

69-72] Tennyson noted later: "The new-born love for something, for someone in the wide world from which she has been so long secluded, takes her out of the region of shadows into that of realities" (Memoir, I, 116-17).

84] Galaxy: the Milky Way.

107] Tirra lirra: Shakespeare speaks of "The lark that tirra-lirra chants" (Winter's Tale, IV, ii, 9). Here it indicates Lancelot's light-heartedness.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Alfred lord Tennyson, Poems (Boston: W. D. Ticknor, 1842). PR 5562 A1 1850 Victoria College Library (Toronto). Alfred lord Tennyson, Works (London: Macmillan, 1891). tenn T366 A1 1891a Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
First publication date: 1842
RPO poem editor: H. M. McLuhan
RP edition: 3RP 3.30.
Recent editing: 2:2002/3/28

Rhyme: aabbcdddc

Other poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson