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a v a l o n (XI)


The Lady of Shalott - Lorena McKennitt


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My book "Discover GUIMERÀ" (preview)


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"The Lady of Shalott" is a Victorian poem or ballad by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892). Like his other early poems— "Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere," and "Galahad"— the poem recasts Arthurian subject matter loosely based on medieval sources.

Tennyson wrote two versions of the poem, one published in 1833, of twenty stanzas, the other in 1842 of nineteen stanzas. It was loosely based on the Arthurian legend of Elaine of Astolat, as recounted in a thirteenth-century Italian novella entitled Donna di Scalotta (No. lxxxi in the collection Cento Novelle Antiche), with the earlier version being closer to the source material than the later. Tennyson focused on the Lady's "isolation in the tower and her decision to participate in the living world, two subjects not even mentioned in Donna di Scalotta."


For the Waterhouse painting, see The Lady of Shalott (painting).



On either side of the river lie

Long fields of barley and of rye,

That clothe the Wold and meet the sky;

And thro' the field the road run 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

Thro' the wave that runs for ever

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 embowers

The Lady of Shalott.


Only reapers, reaping early,

In among the bearded barley

Hear a song that echoes cheerly

Down to Tower'd Camelot;

And by the moon the reaper weary,

Piling sheaves in uplands airy,

Listening, whispers "Tis the Fairy

The Lady of Shalott."


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 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;

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.


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 ever kneel'd

To a lady in his shield,

That sparkled on the yellow field,

Beside remote 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 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 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.


And down the river's dim expanse

Like some bold seer 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.


Heard a carold, mournful, holy,

Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,

Till her blood was frozen slowly,

And her eyes were darkened 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,

Dead-pale between the houses high,

Silent into Camelot.

Out upon the wharfs they came,

Knight and burger, 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."


Lorena McKennitt


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Taken on October 31, 2008