The Lady of Shalott

Lord Alfred Tennyson

Lord Tennyson

At the time, he was a very popular spokesperson for the Victorian middle class. Many of his stories and poetry reflected their opinions upon things, like their concerns and fear of many of the new scientific theories and values. They themselves felt threatened by such things and their opinions were voiced through the writings of Lord Tennyson.

For Lord Tennyson, 1850 was really the year that kicked off his career. He was published his story, In Memoriam, and was married. His story, In Memoriam, was written over a 17 year period and early death of a talented man. He also was recognized by Queen Victoria, having the title of Baron and eventually Lord bestowed upon him.

Before this time, though, he went through many rough times. He had many financial problems along with scorn for his work. He couldn't easily marry the woman that he wanted since her father disproved of him. Then the worst thing of all happened to him. Hallam, who was recently engaged to Lord Tennyson's sister, died. This was what inspired him to write In Memoriam and a few of his other works.

As a child, he was raised rather strangely. He was the fourth son in a family of twelve children. His father was a clergyman and took out any of his frustrations on his wife and children. He drank a lot to relieve any of the melancholy he was feeling. Tennyson's siblings were plagued by addiction and mental illness. Before he died, Tennyson's father stated that, "[My children] are all strangely brought up."

Despite all of the problems he faced in his childhood, he still was able to become a promising poet. He was published by the age of 18. In his first year at Cambridge university, he won a poetry contest. He also met Hallam and they became good friends. Hallam eventually became engaged to Tennyson's sister, before tragically dying.

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The Lady of Shalott

This poem was first written in 1832, but then revised and published in 1842, ten years later. Tennyson said that he based it off of an old Italian Romance, but really it seems very similar to the story of the Maid of Astolat in Malory’s Morte d’Arthur. It does include references to the Authurian Legend, with Sir Lancelot and Camelot.

Many people think that the poem is about the difference between art and life. It is about a woman who is in a tower and if she turned from her work at the loom to the real world, she would be cursed. It is a dilemma many artists feel, where they believe if they are devoted to their art, then they can't take part in the social world. They need to spend their time working on their craft.

The poem started out describing the area around the island of Shalott. It was near Camelot, but surrounded by water and separated from the rest of the world. The Lady of Shalott lived in a castle on this island, all alone. The only ones who knew of her and heard her songs were the reapers in the field.

One day a voice warned her that if she looked upon Camelot a curse would descend upon her. She worked all of her days facing away from the window, but there was a mirror that dully reflected the outside world. She'd see people walking along the road and become saddened when she saw a funeral or when she saw a marriage procession.

Then one day Lancelot came riding by in shining armor upon a jewel encrusted horse. It caught the attention of the Lady and she looked out upon him. She abandoned her loom and the net of magic was cast. She was cursed. That evening, she got a boat and carved her name upon the bow. The laid in the boat as it flowed down the river. She sang her last song until that night she froze to death and died.

When she appeared at the banks of Camelot, people crowded around her and said she was cursed and evil. The only one with the courage enough to approach her was Lancelot, and upon looking at her face, he said, "She has a lovely face; God in his mercy lend her grace; The Lady of Shalott."

The Lady of Shallot -- Loreena McKennitt