Text of the Poem: The Lady of Shallot

The Lady of Shallot is a long poem, and a lot of things happen. However, Tennyson breaks the action into four parts, which makes it easier to understand.

The Lady of Shallot
Painting of the same name inspired by “The Lady of Shalott”

Let’s look at the breakdown of four parts of “The Lady of Shallot” before looking at the actual text of the poem.

The Lady of Shallot Part 1 Summary

Opening by describing a field by a river, a road that runs through the field which leads to castle Camelot of King Arthur. You can see an “Island of Shallot” from the road.

The Lady of Shallot

Island has a little castle, home of the mysterious Lady of Shalott. People passing by the island on boats and barges never see the Lady. Sometimes people working in the fields around the island will hear her singing an eerie song.

Part 2

We move to the island inside the castle and Tennyson describes the Lady herself. We start to know more about her; she spends time weaving a magic web, and that she has been cursed. So she watches in a magic mirror as the world goes by.

Shadows of the men and women passing are seen by her, and she weaves what she sees into her web. We also learn that life of watching and weaving has made her “half sick”.

Part 3

The big event: One day Sir Lancelot in jewels and armor rides by. Most of this part of the poem is describes Lancelot. After watching him in the mirror, the Lady is so completely captivated that she looks out her window, breaking the rule.

She gets a glimpse of Lancelot and Camelot causing the magic mirror to crack, and she knows she’s in trouble.

Part 4

Knowing that the game is over, she finds a boat and writes her name on it. She looks at Camelot for a while and lies down in the boat drifting down the river, and sings her final song, dying before getting to Camelot.

Residents of Camelot come out to see her body and the boat and are afraid. Lancelot also trots out, decides that she’s pretty, and says a little prayer for her.

The Lady of Shallot Part I

On either side, the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And through the field, the road runs by
To many-towered 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
Through the wave that runs forever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow-veiled,
Slide the heavy barges trailed
By slow horses; and unhailed
The shallop Flitteth silken-sailed
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 towered Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers “‘Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott.”

The Lady of Shallot Part II

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colors gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stays
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 through 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-haired page in crimson clad,
Goes by to towered Camelot;
And sometimes through 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 through 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.

The Lady of Shallot Part III

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley sheaves,
The sun came dazzling through the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight forever kneeled
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glittered 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 blazoned baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armor rung,
Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewelled shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burned like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often through the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glowed;
On burnished hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flowed
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flashed into the crystal mirror,
“Tirra lirra,” by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She looked down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror cracked from side to side;
“The curse comes upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott.

The Lady of Shallot 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 towered 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–
Through 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 darkened wholly,
Turned to towered Camelot.
For ere, she reached 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 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 crossed 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.”

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