Lord Alfred Tennyson’s "The Lady of Shalott": Symbolism and Pictorial Quality

Lord Alfred Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott is a symbolic tale of a lady condemned by a mysterious curse to weave ceaselessly a magic tapestry. The poem itself has something of the tapestry , notably in the description of the passersby ,but it is far from being a piece of sentimental medievalising. Part I shows us the island castle of Shalott inhabited by the mysterious lady , and the road to Camelot , image of the external world of action . In part ii we move to the lady herself weaving compulsively under the strange curse, seeing external reality only through the mirror she uses for her weaving, and seeing it as pageant in which she has no part. In the third section, which takes place in harvest times, the magnificent Sir Lancelot, lover of Queen Guinevere, appears, riding to Camelot, and singing as he goes. The Lady leaves her tapestry and looks down to Camelot, and the curse is fulfilled. In part (iv), the dying lady floats down the river to Camelot singing her last song.

The stanzas continually contrast the active and external Camelot with the contemplative and with drawn shallot, except in part (iii), where Lancelot replaces Camelot in stanza (ix), and shallot in (xii). The four parts alternate between the external world and the world of the lady. There is also a division between the contemplative present tenses of part-1 and part ii and the active past tenses of parts ii and iv, prefigured by the first preterits in the poem in the last stanza of ii : ' want ' , ' came ' , ' said ' ,

This poem shows clearly the influence of Keats in its colour , its nature pictures , its use of contrast and its hyphen - words . Like Keats, Tennyson had a keen appreciation of natural beauty and he used his eyes, and the result is the unerring description which comes from the poet's command of language joined with first hand observation. In part 1 we notice the exact description at the beginning of stanza and such a choice of adjectives as ' bearded barley ‘. The pictures are given at length, elaborated with detail, colour and richness ----

The poem combines two different aspects of Keats, the weird, magical suggestion of La Belle Dame Sans Merci and the definiteness and colour of a poem like The Eve of st . Agnes. The lady is fairy lady; the land is a romantic, visionary land: the exact nature of the spell undefined. The curse seems more to be dreaded because it is mysterious curse which can not be met. The haunting refrain adds to the magic. Yet the landscape is given in some detail, and the colouring of part - (iii) is rich and glittering.

The contrast between the colour of part (iii) and what immediately precedes and follows: the warmness of the last stanza of part (ii) and the brilliant, rich colouring of part - (iii), and the dazzling sunlight of part (iii) and the heavy stay and rain of the first stanza of part (IV) are striking. The weather harmonizes with each scene, helping to give the appropriate atmosphere of sympathetic background.

The Lady of Shallot is not an allegory though as in Marina the images sometimes have the power of symbols says Steane . The mirror, for instance, suggests much beyond its role as an item in a fairy story. For as the Lady weaves the mirror's magic sights in her tapestry she is herself partly taking the role of the artist , and her existence in the island castle has something in common with the artist's apartness . Moreover, as she sees reality only through her mirror so the artist may tend to experience vicariously drawing his knowledge not from direct contact but from other words of art. He has his own special nature, like the lady; partly an affection to him this sense of difference, partly a blessing and possibly the very condition of his being an artist at all .For life in the ordinary day to day life he may be all unfit, as was the Lady, and, for him as for her, only disaster may follow the attempt to break the bounds. This is not ' the message ' of The Lady of Shallot but it is , definitely , a part of the ground out of which the poem grew . 
Ardhendu De

Ref:  http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lady_of_Shalott       


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