The Lady of Shalott

Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson is a popular ballad that illustrates the life of a woman isolated in a tower in a tower far from what she wants to live and experience.


Alfred Lord Tennyson

Nationality: English

Alfred Lord Tennyson is an influential poet of Romanticism.

Notable works include 'Break, Break, Breakand 'Tears, Idle Tears.' 

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Noor Rehman Poetry Expert
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.

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