Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Lady of Shallot - A Diversion

I rarely venture into the realms of poetry here but recently my favourite poem has been appearing in my life a great deal - listening to Loreena McKennitt singing The Lady of Shallot on a new CD this afternoon made me decide to share it with you. I love the wonderful imagery of this poem and the romance of the Arthurian legends of Camelot which it is connected to. For me King Arthur and his knights still sleep in a cave under Alderley Edge in Cheshire near where I grew up, awaiting their call to arms when Britain is in its greatest peril. The Edge is an ancient sacred place which is steeped in legend - my wedding reception was held at The Wizard at Alderley Edge:) There is a wonderful children's book by Alan Garner called The Weirdstone of Brisingamen - it's a perfectly good adult read too and has the Edge and its legends as its background. I've digressed rather a lot here so on to the main event:

The Lady of Shallot
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot?

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 Shallot."

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 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 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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot.

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 Shallot."

The wonderful images are by
1John William Waterhouse
2.Charles Robinson
3.William Maw Egley
4.Denise Garner
5.John William Waterhouse


Remiman said...

Thank you for sharing this wonderful, if sad, mournful poem with us. I've known all along that you have a poet's heart. ;-)
How lucky you were to grow up under the watchful eye of the kinghts of the round table and King Richard!

miss*R said...

The Lady of Shallot! love it, especially in Anne of Green gables :)

thankyou for telling me that the Cornish are a Celtic race - I didn't know that - it seems there is alot for me to learn - I did wonder though - I just need to find out more.
if only I could trace further back - I just don't know where to start. maybe oneday, it will all click for me!
thankyou also for visiting my croning blog - xo

Kate said...

I'm so enjoying your blog -- especially the Avebury & West Kennet Long Barrow entry. I got to go there & remember it as if it was yesterday. Avebury also -- even though it was 20 years ago & fairly pelting down rain! Your photos and descriptions are lovely, and make me feel as though I'm right there. Thank you again!

Julie Marie said...

I love L.M.'s version of "The Lady of Shallot." There is a 30-minute video produced by L.M.'s company Quinlan Road ( and it contains (besides other video clips) the full version of her singing it and playing the harp at the Canadian Juno awards. I have every one of L.M.'s CDs and have been meaning to write a post about her. I also love the Waterhouse painting that you used in your post. Did you share this poem on Daisy Lupin's poetry fest blog?

BooksPlease said...

I loved Alan Garner's book as a child and would love to read it again. I used to live not very far from Alderley Edge too. The stories of Camelot, Arthur and Merlin have and have always been fascinating for me. I used to recite the Lady of Shallot and imagine what it would be like never to look out of the window. No wonder that she did!

tash said...

I am very interested in Arthurian legend and reading Le Morte d'Arthur by Mallory evokes such beautiful pastoral scenes and perfectly captures the mood and scenes of the time.

Lovely post :)

Sheila said...

Aah...memories of Miss Davis' English classes..!
The words paint a beautiful picture, perhaps they inspired the artists who painted the pictures you chose..?

Jacran Cottage said...

I also think of Anne of Green Gables when I hear this poem! But I had no idea it was so long! Thanks for sharing it.

Sophie Honeysuckle said...

Lovely post!! I have always loved this poem, and I love the Waterhouse painting!!

Rowan said...

Yes, Sheila, the paintings are all inspired by the poem. The one at the top by Waterhouse illustrates "I am half sick of shadows" said The Lady of Shallot. The others I've chosen because they illustrate the section that follows them.

sheoflittlebrain said...

My favorite Tennyson poem, and I had not read it for years....
What a beautiful post..., poem and paintings. Now, my quest will be to find the music.

kerrdeLune (cate) said...

Rowan, thank you - this is one of my favourite poems ever (even if it is sad), and your choice of images was absolutely inspired (love the pre-Raphaelites).

Blue the Spa Girl said...

I know a guy who cries when he hears Lorenna McKennitt sing this Lady of Shallot. He cries. I can totally understand why now.
Beautiful imagery Rowan that you chose.

lila said...

I love it when you digress! We learn a lot then!

The poem is wonderful and the illustrations too!

I have a pieced quilt on Mom's wall here,(which I made years ago!)
"The Lady of the Lake"...maybe she is a different lady though....

PAT said...

Rowan, I'm all misty eyed! This is a beautiful post, in words and images.

Thank you!
Back Porch Musings

Rowan said...

Lila, the Lady of the Lake is certainly part of Arthurian legend - she gave the sword Exalibur to Arthur and was said to be one of the three Queens who ecorted his body across the water to Avalon after he was slain in battle. There are many different versions of the legends of course so other people may know different stories about his death. She isn't the same character as the Lady of Shallot though.

smilnsigh said...

Such a beautiful entry. And I so love those images. Mmmmmm.... Waterhouse.

And thank you so much for sharing a link to 'The Edge,' with us. And the book also. Mmmm, all delicious.


Kate said...

I love this poem -- the pictures complemented it perfectly!

Patty said...

Love Lorenna McKennitt singing that poem. Actually I love her singing THe highwayman too !