Soooo, I am very pleased to present my second favorite poem, Alfred Tennyson's "The Lady Of Shalott." To me, Tennyson, along with Longfellow, is the master of making words sound marvelous to the ear. Even if one did not speak a word of English, hearing "The Lady of Shalott" read aloud would be a very pleasing experience indeed. Add to that Tennyson's affinity for Arthurian subjects and the absorbing, haunting tale of the Lady herself, and you can't do much better.
There are actually two versions of this poem, one written in 1833 and the other in 1842. This is the later version, which I think has a much better, more pleasing ending.
I have a replica of the J.W. Waterhouse painting of The Lady of Shalott on my living room wall, and it is the same one I have placed at the beginning of this post. To top the whole thing off, I give you Loreena McKennitt's memorable musical rendition, at the end of this post. I hope you will enjoy Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott" as much as I always have.
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. Willows whiten, aspens quiver, 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? 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." 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 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. 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. 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: Or when the moon was overhead, Came two young lovers lately wed; "I am half-sick of shadows," said The Lady of Shalott. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. And down the river's dim expanse-- Like some bold seër 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. Heard a carol, mournful, holy, Chanted loudly, chanted lowly, Till her blood was frozen slowly, And her eyes were darken'd wholly, 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, A corse 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. 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 mused a little space; He said, "She has a lovely face; God in his mercy lend her grace, The Lady of Shalott."
Wonderful, Shay! I completely agree about Tennyson and Longfellow writing poems pleasing to the ear.
"Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver"
Sounds like this, to my mind, should make everyone want to be a poet. A perfect choice for a second-most-favorite poem!
There are some poems which so capture the imagination at an informative age that they become forever etched on the consciousness, and this is certainly one of those poems. There are some lines which stand out as some of the best in literature.
This whole stanza is superb:
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.
For next Monday, I'm thinking of choosing one line as the first line of a new poem.
Thank you Shay! How can anyone not love that!?!
One of my favorites (and the Waterhouse also)--so glad you chose it, Shay--it was very soothing and lovely to re-read it this morning after the turmoil here yesterday..there is a timeless quality to the Arthurian legends--they seem to reach across centuries and cultures and hit something at the very heart of human experience. I really noticed the careful drawing of Lancelot in his blinding splendor this time--'the gemmy bridle..' what a phrase. Thanks for sharing.
A lovely and impressive share Shay ~ I now appreciate the choice of rhyming words and the flow of the story line, until her mournful passing ~ Thank you ~
I spent a delightful hour with this posting, Shay, thank you for reminding me and for giving me this singer who was new to me.
I have always loved this -I hear it as the end of Paganism and the victory of the Christian world. The most powerful moment for me is when the mirror cracks. Tennyson, what a storyteller.
How gorgeous is that?
gosh this is tweaking old, well-buried memories of reading this aloud from, hmmm, what ever happened to that book anyway? and loving these rhymes. then and now. thank you, Shay! (rummaging through my attic tonight to see if i can find those volumes)
I am getting such a good education with these fav poems. I was not familiar with this one and enjoyed reading it and learning about it. Thanks.
Same with me, thank you for sharing it with us!
A perfect combination. I love Waterhouse's paintings, the poem is melodic and beautiful and Loreena McKennitt is superb!
Interesting background on this piece. Wonderful the way you included a bit of history with art and music too.
Thank you Shay! I had not heard of this one and the music was perfect~
I loved your pick :D
The paintings that went along with McKennitt's singing were incredible! So dramatic. My son LOVES anything Arthurian - he and I went to a deli a few weeks back that has a book shelf with free books. I picked up (actually took out of my son's hands) a book "The Child Queen" by Nancy McKenzie. It seems to be a novel written in Guinevere (first person). I'm only on page 30, but interesting so far.
Here is a link you can copy and paste if you haven't read the book or seen this delightful movie yet (Anne of Green Gables) I think you will get a kick out of it.
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