One Poem at a Time -7-

 

Maybe it’s the blooming flowers or the days getting brighter and longer one after another, but this poem has been on my mind lately. It speaks of venturing forth; the need to follow one’s heart becoming so great, so passionately pressing, that caution is thrown to the wind. Because to do nothing, to continue to sit safely ensconced within the garden walls is too insufferable to bear no matter what consequences lie beyond the brick and mortar.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   -BJ

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 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 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.

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,
  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 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”.

 

 

“The new-born love for something, for some one in the wide world from which she has been so long excluded, takes her out of the region of shadows into that of realities,” is what Tennyson had to say about this. Is this explanation of the allegory satisfactory to you or would you put forth an entirely different one? It isn’t always the case that the poet knows his poem best and it isn’t always the case that the poet speaks honestly in explanation of his own poem.  What do you think?

3 Comments

Filed under Poetry Month 2010

3 responses to “One Poem at a Time -7-

  1. Julie von Zerneck

    Oh yea!

  2. donna

    No dude,
    I disagree with that. She knows that by leaving the safety of her world she will suffer. she is very aware of its confines and the realities of its perimeters, but she does not care any longer. Whatever the consequences, even death, she wants out, she’s done with that drafty tower and that never ending weaving.
    So, for me, it’s about reaching the end of one’s rope and preferring to free fall to the rocks below rather than to cling to what amounts to mere existance.
    Better late than never…..

  3. bj

    ummmmmm, sorry Donna,
    the comment on weaving and rocks and stuff was from me and so send the counter comments my way.
    xoxo

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