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The Lady of Shalott

First published in 1833.

This poem was composed in its first form as early as May, 1832 or 1833, as we learn from Fitzgerald's note--of the exact year he was not certain ('Life of Tennyson', i., 147). The evolution of the poem is an interesting study. How greatly it was altered in the second edition of 1842 will be evident from the collation which follows. The text of 1842 became the permanent text, and in this no subsequent material alterations were made. The poem is more purely fanciful than Tennyson perhaps was willing to own; certainly his explanation of the allegory, as he gave it to Canon Ainger, is not very intelligible: "The new-born love for something, for some one in the wide world from which she has been so long excluded, takes her out of the region of shadows into that of realities". Poe's commentary is most to the point: "Why do some persons fatigue themselves in endeavours to unravel such phantasy pieces as the 'Lady of Shallot'? As well unweave the ventum textilem".--'Democratic Review', Dec., 1844, quoted by Mr. Herne Shepherd. Mr. Palgrave says (selection from the 'Lyric Poems of Tennyson', p. 257) the poem was suggested by an Italian romance upon the Donna di Scalotta. On what authority this is said I do not know, nor can I identify the novel. In Novella, lxxxi., a collection of novels printed at Milan in 1804, there is one which tells but very briefly the story of Elaine's love and death, "Qui conta come la Damigella di scalot mori per amore di Lancealotto di Lac," and as in this novel Camelot is placed near the sea, this may be the novel referred to. In any case the poem is a fanciful and possibly an allegorical variant of the story of Elaine, Shalott being a form, through the French, of Astolat.

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 Shalott. [1] Willows whiten, aspens quiver, [2] 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 Shalott. 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 Shalott? [3] 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 Shalott". [4]
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 [5] To look down to Camelot. She knows not what the 'curse' may be, And so [6] she weaveth steadily, And little other care hath she, The Lady of Shalott. 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, [7] And the red cloaks of market girls, Pass onward from Shalott. 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. 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: [8] Or when the moon was overhead, Came two young lovers lately wed; "I am half-sick of shadows," said The Lady of Shalott. [9]
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 redcross knight for ever kneel'd To a lady in his shield, That sparkled on the yellow field, Beside remote Shalott. The gemmy bridle glitter'd free, Like to some branch of stars we see Hung in the golden Galaxy. [10] The bridle bells rang merrily As he rode down to [11] Camelot: And from his blazon'd baldric slung A mighty silver bugle hung, And as he rode his armour rung, Beside remote Shalott. 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. [12] As often thro' the purple night, Below the starry clusters bright, Some bearded meteor, trailing light, Moves over still Shalott. [13] 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. [14] From the bank and from the river He flashed into the crystal mirror, "Tirra lirra," by the river [15] Sang Sir Lancelot. She left the web, she left the loom; She made three paces thro' the room, She saw the water-lily [16] 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.
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 Shalott.' [17] And down the river's dim expanse-- Like some bold se�r 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 Shalott. 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 Shalott. [18] Heard a carol, mournful, holy, Chanted loudly, chanted lowly, Till her blood was frozen slowly, And her eyes were darken'd wholly, [19] 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 Shalott. Under tower and balcony, By garden-wall and gallery, A gleaming shape she floated by, Dead-pale [20] 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 Shalott' [21] 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 [22] mused a little space; He said, "She has a lovely face; God in his mercy lend her grace, The Lady of Shalott". [23]

[Footnote 1: 1833. To many towered Camelot The yellow leaved water lily, The green sheathed daffodilly, Tremble in the water chilly, Round about Shalott.] [Footnote 2: 1833. shiver, The sunbeam-showers break and quiver In the stream that runneth ever By the island, etc.] [Footnote 3: 1833. Underneath the bearded barley, The reaper, reaping late and early, Hears her ever chanting cheerly, Like an angel, singing clearly, O'er the stream of Camelot. Piling the sheaves in furrows airy, Beneath the moon, the reaper weary Listening whispers, "'tis the fairy Lady of Shalott".] [Footnote 4: 1833. The little isle is all inrailed With a rose-fence, and overtrailed With roses: by the marge unhailed The shallop flitteth silkensailed, Skimming down to Camelot. A pearl garland winds her head: She leaneth on a velvet bed, Full royally apparelled, The Lady of Shalott.] [Footnote 5: 1833. No time hath she to sport and play: A charmed web she weaves alway. A curse is on her, if she stay Her weaving, either night or day] [Footnote 6: 1833. Therefore ... Therefore ... The Lady of Shalott.] [Footnote 7: 1833. She lives with little joy or fear Over the water running near, The sheep bell tinkles in her ear, Before her hangs a mirror clear, Reflecting towered Camelot. And, as the mazy web she whirls, She sees the surly village-churls.]

[Footnote 8: 1833. Came from Camelot.]

[Footnote 9: In these lines are to be found, says the present Lord Tennyson, the key to the mystic symbolism of the poem. But it is not easy to see how death could be an advantageous exchange for fancy-haunted solitude. The allegory is clearer in lines 114-115, for love will so break up mere phantasy.]

[Footnote 10: 1833. Hung in the golden galaxy.]

[Footnote 11: 1833. From.]

[Footnote 12: 1833. From Camelot.]

[Footnote 13: 1833. Green Shalott.]

[Footnote 14: 1833. From Camelot.]

[Footnote 15: 1833. "Tirra lirra, tirra lirra."]

[Footnote 16: 1833. Water flower.]

[Footnote 17: 1833.

  Outside the isle a shallow boat
  Beneath a willow lay afloat,
  Below the carven stern she wrote,

[Footnote 18: 1833.

  A cloud-white crown of pearl she dight,
  All raimented in snowy white
  That loosely flew (her zone in sight,
  Clasped with one blinding diamond bright),
  Her wide eyes fixed on Camelot,
  Though the squally eastwind keenly
  Blew, with folded arms serenely
  By the water stood the queenly
  Lady of Shalott.

  With a steady, stony glance--
  Like some bold seer in a trance,
  Beholding all his own mischance,
  Mute, with a glassy countenance--
  She looked down to Camelot.
  It was the closing of the day,
  She loosed the chain, and down she lay,
  The broad stream bore her far away,
  The Lady of Shalott.

  As when to sailors while they roam,
  By creeks and outfalls far from home,
  Rising and dropping with the foam,
  From dying swans wild warblings come,
  Blown shoreward; so to Camelot
  Still as the boat-head wound along
  The willowy hills and fields among,
  They heard her chanting her death song,
  The Lady of Shalott.]

[Footnote 19: 1833.

  A long drawn carol, mournful, holy,
  She chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
  Till her eyes were darkened wholly,
  And her smooth face sharpened slowly.]

[Footnote 20: "A corse" (1853) is a variant for the "Dead-pale" of 1857.]

[Footnote 21: 1833.

  A pale, pale corpse she floated by,
  Dead cold, between the houses high,
  Dead into towered Camelot.
  Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
  To the plank�d wharfage came:
  Below the stern they read her name,
  "The Lady of Shalott".]

[Footnote 22: 1833. Spells it "Launcelot" all through.]

[Footnote 23: 1833.

  They crossed themselves, their stars they blest,
  Knight, minstrel, abbot, squire and guest,
  There lay a parchment on her breast,
  That puzzled more than all the rest,
  The well-fed wits at Camelot.
  "'The web was woven curiously,
  The charm is broken utterly,
  Draw near and fear not--this is I,
  The Lady of Shalott.'"]

Lord Alfred Tennyson