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The Lady Of Shalott

Alfred Lord Tennyson

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The Lady of Shalott
Added by: Crystylline
On first reading, this poem appears to be a medieval romance with elements of Arthurian legend. However deeper textual analysis can yield many conflicts, or binary opposites, which cover many themes. First consideration must be the views the narrator is highlighting in the text. One example of this is the relation of life to art. In The Lady of Shalott the central focus is on her tower with the river linking the village and Camelot either side. The tower is a centre for art, which is shown through the web imagery - she is weaving art. She is a figure disjointed from society by this art and it only when she falls in love (a human emotion) that she leaves her art for life. The consequence of this is envoking the curse which inevitably leads to her death. One could ask is this a representation of artists' work versus social interaction with life.

Another key theme is that of gender, again looking at binary opposites, one could consider the status of both Lancelot and The Lady of Shalott. The Lady is stuck essentially in the tower and Lancelot has mobility. What are the ramifications of this and what importance does it have on the text?

A structuralist approach to this poem finds these opposites and utlises them to derive the meanings I have found above.

However, my more emotional response to this poem is one of beauty and magic, which is created by the rising and falling cadence of the rhyme scheme. For though the repetition is there to ensure rememberance of the verses and structure, it also adds the dimension of being a lamenting refrain.

One of my favourites!

An Interpretation of the Lady of Shalott
Added by: Gavin Finley MD
The classic poem, 'The Lady of Shalott' by Alfred Lord Tennyson is renowned in English literature. It is a legend retold from ancient Celtic and other European legends. Do we have an interpretation of the Lady of Shalott? Just what is this haunting poem all about?

Much music, art, and literature are dreamscapes. They are passed down through the generations. These stories and legends are the carriers of spiritual messages. Some of them, of course, are spurious messages and twisted prophecies. They come into the arts from the realms of darkness. Others are eternal truths from holy sources which had meaning in past times and will again in times future. The artists who deal in these themes are often completely unaware of the nature of these dream fragments. Nor are they aware of their origin. In this present evil age we find that beauty and truth are twisted and in a broken state of disconnection.

So is there an interpretation of the Lady of Shalott? What is the message of the poem? And is it a prophetic story for western civilization?

The messages are there for those who have eyes to see. The hidden packets of information pass on down the generations with the people, even in their oral traditions. The dreams and their underlying messages track along with the peoples in their migrations across the world and down through time. These spiritual stories are carried along within the cultural matrix. They can be seen in many of the artistic expressions. These stories become especially relevant as the western branches of the human family come to the climax of their history.

The classic themes in this famous poem, the Lady of Shalott, extend back a long way into the mists of time. How far back? Might they even go back to the ancient apostasy and wanderings of the northern ten tribes of Israel? Are Europeans related to the lost ten tribes?
If they are they don't know about it. They are lost.
And they have amnesia. Not unlike the Lady of Shalott.

This poem has been taught for over a hundred years in school literature classes throughout the English speaking world. As we see her in the poem this lady is lost and alone. She is vulnerable. Like Penelope, the wife of Oddysseus, she weaves her tapestry as she muses about the one who has gone from her. Will he return? Can she wait for him?

As we pursue this interpretation of the Lady of Shalott we see that she resides in a place of rigid confinement. She is alone in a castle enclosed by a river flowing on both sides. In the poem we see her longings. She seems to be estranged, even doubtful. And out of this state of disconnection comes her loneliness. She wants someone she can reach out and touch. She longs for an earthy worldly protector and champion. She wants a man of substance. Someone who will be her defender. And so she responds to Sir Lancelot as he passes by.

Is this piece of literature a condensation of medieval dreams (and nightmares) carried with the European peoples through their histories? What has happened to this girl? Can she remember?

Someone, whom she once cared deeply for, is out there somewhere. He is the big story in her past. But where is he? Where is the one who is supposed to be her friend and protector?

Just who is the Lady of Shalott and how did she get this way? How did this young lady end up in a swoon, and drifting down the river towards Camelot, (or is this a cover for Babylon)? Could we be looking at Gomer, the lost wife of the prophet Hosea?

The Lady of Shalott has lost here covering. Her veil has either been discarded or it has been taken from her as happened to the Shulamite in the Song of Solomon. Her life is in danger and so she is in a castle enclosed by cold masonic walls. She longs for a champion of flesh and blood. This desire and her impatient response is about to get her into trouble.

Why has she lost contact with her family? And where is her betrothed?

As we seek the interpretation of the Lady of Shalott we soon come to realize that we have seen her before. We have seen her in holy scripture. Is this a picture of the worldly western church, the Congregation of Thyratira that John saw? (Rev. 3)

The vision and the dreamings of the compromised church are often not of the Christ they once knew and loved. They have become estranged from their truelove and betrothed. Now hey long for an earthy man of flesh and blood in their here and now. Their heart desire is for a politico-religious strongman; someone like the kings and princes they are beholden to. They want a champion of flesh and blood that they can see!

Our lady muses and slumbers in her place of stone. And she dreams of an ultimate worldly saviour. Is this the dreaming of that section of the endtime western church who posed the question "Is God dead"?

The Lady of Shalott is a lady in waiting. But where is her heart. And what of the One to whom she is betrothed. Is she preparing herself and her garments for His return? Or is she growing tired of waiting for Him?

Where is her first Love?
Will she keep the faith?
Or will she seek after another?
In a future world crisis, a worldly global covenant maker is prophesied to come onto the scene. (Dan.9:27) He will present himself as a peacemaker, a megadealer, and saviour of the world. He will come "in his own name"? (John 5:43) And yes, Christ Himself prophesied that his people would forsake Him and follow after this other man, even a false messiah. This is the basis of the end-time drama. The Bible prophesies a general apostasy or 'great falling away' from the faith as this age comes to its climax. And God will be calling His people out once again.

A usurper and a false messiah is destined to arise on the world scene. He will try to imitate, outstage, and pre-empt the coming true Messiah. As a global megadealer and peacemaker this other prince is out to waylay the woman who has been promised to the true Prince. The true Messiah will return at the end of the story. And what will He find?

Our heroine is locked up in a castle. Who built the castle for her? Apparently it has been provided for her by her worldly lovers. She is locked away in a castle of earthly princes, even a castle between two rivers. Might this be a veiled reference to the city of Babylon, a city of which it was said "a river runs through it". Babylon was that ancient city of Mesopotamia. The word "Mesopotamia" means "between the rivers". Is Camelot a literary allusion to that Babylon and that captivity of long ago and also the future?

The Lady of Shalott is a woman enclosed. Why have they locked her up? Israel was born of Sarah, the free woman, not of Hagar the bondwoman. Why is she trapped? Is she a prisoner? Is she like Andromeda, the chained woman of the starry legend? And who made her a prisoner in this place. Why is the Lady of Shalott enclosed in all this imposing and constricting masonry and structure? Is this where her trust really lies? Where is the Spirit and Life that once coursed within her breast?

Her tapestries are woven from holy sources into which she weaves her human reveries. Will this, and cold earthly masonry and architectual form be sufficient to inspire her? Is this her choice for an eternal dwelling place? Or has she been promised something better, even a place of her own in mansions in glory? (John 14:2)

As we search out the interpretation of the Lady of Shalott we sense that here is a person and a heart who was born free. Her subsequent actions demonstrate this. What will she do? Will she leave her place of earthly security? And if she does, where will she go? Will she take the high road and pass up along a Highway towards the Holy City, a city of living stones not made with hands? (1Pet.2:5) Or will she go down to Camelot/Babylon?

The lady of Shalott is in a bind and in a quandary involving "choice". What will she do? Which of the two princes will she choose? Will her "choice" be the "Prince of Peace". Or will she choose the ultimate prince of this world?

If she chooses the latter then what will become of her? Does the poem tell us?

In the poem we see the Lady of Shalott at the threshold. She is waiting for Someone it seems. Is she waiting expectantly for the return of her Betrothed? Or is she fixing her eye on someone else? Is this why she has she become bored and impatient?

"Im half sick of shadows." she says. And then we see her casting her eye on another prince, even her Sir Lancelot.

What is happening here? And why has she lost interest with the One to whom she was betrothed in former times?
These sorts of stories are woven all through our culture. The themes and legends in medieval Arthurian romances vary from the love triangles to the spirit of narcissism. Then too we see the tortured romances and the hedonism in all its forms. Is the Lady of Shalott another vignette in the archtypical story of Beauty and the Beast?

Like Gomer, the wife of Hosea, the Lady of Shalott has wandered off. She is away from home in a far off land with her lovers. Has she lost contact with, even forgotten, her true Husband? Will her desires for perverse carnal thrills turn out to be her ultimate nightmare and her undoing?

The Holy Scriptures give us the 'rest of the story'. The "woman" of Holy Scripture, which is Israel and the Church, is indeed approaching an epic crisis. It will be crisis of choice. She must choose her prince. The wrong choice will be her undoing. Because if she allows herself to be seduced by this worldly prince then the story will turn out to be tragic for her. He will not be lauding her beauty forever. The earthy prince she has chiosen will turn out to be a beast. And that beast will destroy her.

If this is the drama, the adventure and the romance ahead for the church then the dream with its spiritual story all revolves around one critical question. Just who will this woman end up loving? Who will be her "prince" as the endtime drama comes to its climax?

The poem has a sad and tragic ending. Like the wayward heroine in the recent movie "Titanic" she has her fling with her prince. Then at the end she is seen singing her last mournful song as she is surrounded by the waters of death.

Is this poem a warning? Is there a lesson for us here? This is the literature of our culture is it not? It is the dreaming, the secret fears and desires, if you will, of our people. These themes are endemic in our culture and must reflect the subconscious yearnings of European Christendom.

The literature of Christendom is driven by some holy prophetic themes. But there are some unholy themes as well woven into it. A quick scan through the local video store will reveal that it is also driven by a host of profane and perverse Gnostic fantasies. Do these literary dreams have something to tell us about ourselves? Do they reveal our heart responses to some of the pathways and destinies which are laid out for us up ahead in the future?

From Bible prophecy we know that there is big fork in the road up ahead. Two roads lie before us. Which of these two roads shall we choose?
And which prince?

Here in this poem we are seeing a love triangle. It is a story of a woman as she is enticed by a prince who is tall, dark, and handsome.
The other Prince, the One to whom she is betrothed, is lost to her view. She sees Him dimly as though a glass mirror. But He is but a memory she weaves into her tapestries. And in that wicked woven gnostic work the original and genuine One is twisted and lost.

There is a true and genuine Prince. But just who is He? And where is He? What has happened to her such that she is separated from Him? And why is she locked up in a knight's castle between the rivers? Who put her there by the Rivers of Babylon/Camelot?
We are not told.

Her true Prince is forgotten. But look! Here comes a knight in shining armour. He is solid flesh, fully armed, with shield and sword. As Sir Lancelot rides by her window she is intrigued. Then she is captivated and entranced by him. Her moment of "choice" has come. She knows that to go to this prince is the death of her soul. -John 5:43 What will she do? This the adventure and the drama, the triumph and the tragedy of the end-time. This is the choice presented to all, as holy history comes to its appointed climax.

The Bible, with the interlinking story of the Woman of Revelation Chapter 12, tells us the "rest of the story". This story from a holy source has an instructive and wonderful ending.

And who shall wear the starry crown?

English Lit
Added by: Pixie
I never post these comments, but i just thought you managed to encapsulte the poem and the critical background to it so perfectly - it was just what i needed!
Added by: unicorngirl
I love this poem because of the rich metaphor through medieval legend. Tennyson uses the poignent style of the fairy tale to deal with very serious emotions and issues.

To me, the poem is about a girl grown to womanhood who has been sheilded from the world, both its horrors and pleasures. Her mirror is her only manifestation of her wish to be part of the real world, which shows her beautious sights that spark her imagination and artistic skill. But she sees only the good, and from faraway, giving her a dreamlike view of reality. It is shattered when she sees Lancelot - for all intents and purposes, the sheltered debutante's first lover. She is suddenly exposed and vulnerable to not only the pleasure, but the pain of life and love, and it destroys her. Her curse is her innocence - her dream world was full of beauty, but beauty is fragile, easily shattered.

I always felt that Tennyson is lamenting the "death" of dreamers, artists, and romantics - using the language and style that they love - whose mirrors have cracked from side to side, throwing the horror of reality in their faces.

I especially love Lancelot's "little space" - a reflection of anyone who wonders at the beauty of an artist's work.

Let us not forget the wonderful lyrical rhyme scheme - in my opinion one of the most unusual and profoundly lovely. The rhythm and refrain bring to mind a song - not only a song but a lament - of a medieval harper. It is perfect for the poem's sorrow, magic, and deceptively innocent themes.

The poem is in every way brilliant, one of my favorites, and in my opinion, Tennyson's greatest work.

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