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.

Cite

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Nationality: English

Alfred Lord Tennyson is an influential poet of Romanticism.

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

Part III

Stanza 9

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 everkneel’d
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

Summary

Here, begins part three of this poem, and the scene changes to introduce a second character: Sir Lancelot. He enters the story by riding through the barley fields, with his armor “dazzling” in the sun, quite close to where the Lady resides. He is described as “bold” and has a picture of a knight kneeling before his lady on his shield. The narrator is not shy about reminding us that he was near “remote Shalott”, emphasizing the obvious difference between him, and Shalott.

Analysis

Part three of Tennyson’s poem is mostly all about the second character, Sir Lancelot. He is a famous knight as most know, from around King Arthur’s table. Three out of four of the stanzas in this section are spent just describing Lancelot; this highlights his importance and significance in the poem. In this specific stanza, we are told he was very close to Shalott and very attractive in his appearance. What is close to our comfort zone and very attractive to us? Our most desired and most ambitious goals. That is what Lancelot embodies. You will notice that Camelot which has been the center of every stanza (literally line five in ever stanza mentions Camelot) is replaced by Lancelot here, giving him the limelight as well as emphasizing the connection between Lancelot ( a most desired and ambitious goal) and Camelot ( the dreams and aspirations we have that require risk to achieve).

 

Stanza 10

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 Shalott.

Summary

Stanza ten is purely a detailed illustration of Sir Lancelot. It starts with the comparison of his beautifully adorned bridle to the decoration of stars in the sky. The bells on his bridle ring “merrily”, as he rides “down to Camelot”. A small silver trumpet hangs from his quite obvious strap belt (baldric) as he noisily passed by “remote Shalott”.

Analysis

From this stanza, we take away that Lancelot makes noise as he passes by Shalott looking quite magnificent. Very similar to the way our most desired and ambitious goals attract our attention every time we are reminded of them as we sit in our safe towers in Shalott. There will always be something tempting enough to push you out of your comfort zones. Lancelot seems to represent that directly in the poem of the lady of Shalott as well as indirectly to the reader who has his own most desired goals waiting just outside his comfort zone.

 

Stanza 11

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 Shalott.

Summary

The importance of Lancelot is rather obvious through the number of stanzas dedicated to just his description. Here, we observe that even the leather of his saddle was shining bright and his helmet had feathers on it that looked quite fierce. Lancelot riding to Camelot is compared to a “bearded meteor” (referring to the feathers on his helmet) that is trailing light in the sky. Again, as the stanza concludes, the strong contrast between Lancelot and Shallot is emphasized by describing Shallot as “still” after eight lines of plain admiration for Lancelot.

Analysis

This stanza is important because we can easily reinforce the idea that Lancelot represents the most attractive goals and desires because of the comparison of him and meteors; since meteors are the “falling stars” that people wish upon. Still, lifeless Shalott is once again mentioned in contrast to the tempting vision of Lancelot, identical to the contrast between our still, quiet lives without risk and the temptation of taking chances to achieve our most desired goal.

 

Stanza 12

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.

Summary

This is the fourth stanza in which the reader is continuously given nothing but heightened compliments of Lancelot. Here, we are told that his “broad clear brow” glowed in the sunlight, and his horse’s hooves were polished and glossy. His black curly hair flowed beneath his helmet as he rode to Camelot. Then, finally, he makes an appearance in the Lady of Shalott’s mirror, singing “Tirra Lirra”. This is an important stanza because, after eleven stanzas, our two characters finally cross paths, obviously still unbeknownst to Lancelot.

Analysis

Not only is this stanza describing Lancelot’s greatness but also the horse that he rides and the mannerism in which he enters Camelot, – singing. This shows us that in the narrative of the poem, Lancelot is calling attention to himself carelessly as he prances into Camelot almost teasing, daring the lady to have a look and be tempted to take that risk. Very much like how our dearest goals tease us and tempt us to take chances if we want to see them become a reality.

 

Stanza 13

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 Shalott.

Summary

The tale takes a turn as the reader gets thrown into the lady’s reaction to Lancelot. Her instant response was to leave the web that she had been weaving; she stepped away from where she was sitting and walked over to the window in three steps. For the first time, she sees the world with her own eyes and not through the shadows in the mirror. She witnesses the water lily bloom, Lancelot’s helmet and Camelot. At the sight of Camelot, her web flew out and floated away and her mirror cracked. The Lady of Shalott then speaks for the second time in the entire poem. She basically cries out that she has been cursed as she realizes what she has done.

Analysis

Finally something is shaking up Shalott, both in the narrative and in our interpretation. The lady decides to take a chance with the curse and look down towards Camelot. She takes her first steps to break out of her comfort levels and safe zone so she can simply just look at the Camelot she was forbidden to look at. This act liberated her. Exactly like the liberation of a person who was trapped in his own bubble, because of the limitations set by himself, only to gather the courage and cross that line. Just as anyone would panic with the first steps towards taking big chances to make dreams reality, the lady of Shalott frets that she will now suffer the consequences: the curse ( which in our interpretation is doubt).

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
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.

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