A Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Part II

Stanza 5

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 Shalott.

Summary

As we go through the poem, this stanza catches the first details of who the lady of Shalott is. She is a woman who busies herself in weaving a “magic” colorful web. She has been cursed with a curse she doesn’t know the consequences of. All she does know, however, is that she is not to look down from her towers, at Camelot (if she wants to be protected from this curse). We are also told that she focuses her life on her weaving not giving anything around her care in the world, mainly because there is nothing else to keep her busy.

Analysis

Every individual has a web of thoughts and ideas that they are busy with on a daily basis. Like the Lady of Shalott, we busy ourselves with weaving them in routine-like rituals, every single day. She was cursed with an unknown curse if she ever looked towards Camelot. As humans we let doubt be the unknown curse that threatens to ruin our normalcy and ritualistic life. The doubt that anything other than what we know to be real and true can also become a reality that is achievable if only we take the risk to try. Now, much like the lady, we like to stay in our grey comfort zones, so we don’t care to try risking the peaceful routine with all that awaits us in our “Camelot”.

 

Stanza 6

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 Shalott.

Summary

Stanza six continues in giving the readers a little insight into the character of the lady of Shalott. Here, we learn that she owns a mirror that hangs in front of her as she weaves. The interesting quality of the mirror is that it shows her “shadows” of the world around her, so the images are unclear or blurred. From this mirror she can get a glimpse of the whirlpools in the river and some people. There are various kinds of people that the lady of Shalott can make out in her mirror of “shadows. Some of these people are depicted as impolite and rude, most probably describing the peasants. Others are described to be girls from the market who are passing by Shalott, wearing red cloaks.

Analysis

This is where things get interesting. The lady of Shalott is given a mirror that allows her to glimpse outside her towers only through the shadows or blurry pictures that’s it displays. The mirror is an extremely important symbol. It represents the perceptions, views, biases, and experiences in our lives that shape what we see. We never see situations or events in life for what they are, we can only understand them through our understanding of what happened, and that will vary from person to person. While we sit still in our comfort zones (Shalott) weaving our daily routines, we look through this mirror to see if we can see what awaits us outside.

Another reason the images are blurry is that we can’t truly know what is there until we take the risk to go out and see for ourselves. Until then, we can only guess through the shadows (perceptions/bias) that we do see in our mirrors. Of the people we see through the mirror are those who are rude (those who have complete opposite comfort zones than us) and the market girls ( who can easily represent those people who pass by our “Shalott” with no interest in who we are but have eyes only for traveling, taking risks and not just building their “Camelot” but striving to live in it to).

 

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.

Summary

Here, we see that the list of people that the lady of Shalott sees through her mirror continues. We are told she sometimes sees “glad” young women and an abbot (a person of authority amongst the monks/monastery) who rides “an ambling pad” ( a slow road horse). A curly-haired shepherd, and a long-haired “page in crimson” (an attendant of a nobleman wearing crimson) on his way to the towered Camelot. The narrator mentions that the lady has sometimes even seen “knights riding two by two” and is quick to point out she has no knight of her own, who would shower her with love and loyalty. We are also finally given some description of the lady’s mirror: it is blue.

Analysis

As the character of the lady sees these various people in the mirror, we can relate easily to seeing such people in our own mirrors too. The young Shepherd symbolizes the people who try to lead the “herd” in various situations in life. The page in crimson is a person who has managed to get to a point in life where they are seen in high regard. Finally the knights are those people who seem to embody all our wishes and desires. The Lady not having a knight to dote on her emphasizes that she has not seen her most tempting hopes and desires show up in her mirror yet, like many of us.

 

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, 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 Shalott.

Summary

Stanza eight shifts the story back to the Lady of Shalott, and her occupation of weaving. The narrator exposes that the content of her weaving is based on all the sights she sees in her mirror. These sights often include a funeral or a wedding. As readers, we witness the first dialogue of the lady of Shalott, and it clearly explains that she is tired of watching these shadows in the mirror.

Analysis

Besides the people that she sees, the mirror has another purpose for the lady, it gives her something to weave. The sights she sees are a relief from the four grey walls that she’s trapped in. the two sights which she often sees are that of funerals and happy newlyweds. These sights are significant in our analysis because they embody our fears. As we sit in Shalott we watch through our experiences and bias ( our mirrors), two extremes: people who fail miserably in their attempt to reach or live in the Camelot that they had envisioned, or people who newly start their journey of creating risky hopes and dreams and are not afraid to dive in and see if they can reach their idea of a perfect future.

Only after this does the lady speaks out for the first time, saying she is sick of watching the world through the shadows. Much like the motivation, we obtain by watching people strive for better and take risks to get there.

This analysis of The Lady of Shalott contains all four parts to the poem. Click the below links to read any parts of the poem with summaries and analysis.


Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV


Feel free to also view more of Alfred Tennyson’s poems analysed.

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About
Noor has an Honours in the Bachelor of Arts with a double major in English Literature and History. She teaches elementary and high school English, and loves to help students develop a love for in depth analysis, and writing in general. Because of her interest in History, she also really enjoys reading historical fiction (but nothing beats reading and rereading Harry Potter!). Reading and writing short stories and poetry has been a passion of hers, that she proudly carries from childhood.
  • ms Angela Grunsell says:

    Noir I enjoyed this literary journey and clear analysis.Thank you very much.It was thought provoking…I didn’t agree with all of it but much of it I did.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you for your feedback. Out of interest, what points did you disagree on? I love a bit of literary debate!

      • I didn’t agree with most of this interpretation. English major here, and this was one of my favorite poems to discuss in class! However, this interpretation just doesn’t hold true at all. It’s a poem about artistry and the Victorian role of women. It isn’t advising people to take risks, as this interpretation states. It would be a little bit ridiculous if it was, considering that she dies as a direct result of doing so. There is abundant evidence that this poem is about women, purity, and the role of the artist. A great argument could be made that this poem is about either or both of those things, but this interpretation is such a stretch. It’s lazy and it’s inaccurate.

        • Lee-James Bovey says:

          Don’t blame me, I didn’t write it! haha. If you troll my comments on this poem you’ll see I agree with you (I’m also an English major!) So basically I’m with you.

  • What is the hidden meaning of the poem

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      I think it is poking fun at the traditional feminine role.

  • A nicely done poem. To me, it is quite Victorian in suggesting women ought to stay safe at home in their tower observing the world only indirectly (through a mirror). If they go out and try to join bustling society, they could end up, like the Lady, frozen dead. Stay at home, women. Be beautiful and don’t let yourself be tarnished by the world. I also see it secondarily as a allegory for the artist and what can happen to the artist if, in this case, they stop weaving and enter the busy world. The poem affords many readings, thus stimulating our minds and imaginations.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      That makes perfect sense as Tennyson was the poet Laureate during the majority of Victoria’s reign. So it would make sense that his poetry largely espoused her ideas and sensibilities.

    • Clive Halliday says:

      Did not see that interpretation “women ought to stay safe at home in their tower observing the world only indirectly”, Chuck., and I tend to agree. I had always vaguely wondered how she came to be in that room under that restriction. Was it a punishment?

      • Lee-James Bovey says:

        I don’t know enough about the context of the poem to answer. And I couldn’t see any clues in the text itself. It’s an interesting question though.

  • generalfreezexd says:

    very helpful its helping me a lot for my final exams

  • this is seriously a great analysis. loved it 🙂

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you kindly. We do our best.

      • Lee-James Bovey says:

        Howdy. There’s a snake in my boots!

  • Simon Lyon says:

    This is a wonderful analysis of my favourite poem that’s given me some new insights – thank you.
    Simon

    • Emma Baldwin says:

      We’re glad you enjoyed it, Simon!

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