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Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)




The Lady of Shalott, 1888, John William Waterhouse


The Lady of Shalott


On either side the river lie

Long fields of barley and of rye,

That clothe the wold and meet the sky;

And through the field the road run 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

Through the wave that runs for ever

By the island in the river

Flowing down to Camelot.

Four grey walls, and four grey 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

The Lady of Shalott."


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 through 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 through 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 through 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.


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 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 armor 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, burning bright,

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 through 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.


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 around about the prow she wrote

The Lady of Shalott.


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 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 darkened 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 around 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 crossed 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 Sea-Fairies



Slow sail'd the weary mariners and saw,

Betwixt the green brink and the running foam,

Sweet faces, rounded arms, and bosoms prest

To little harps of gold; and while they mused,

Whispering to each other half in fear,

Shrill music reach'd them on the middle sea.


Whither away, whither away, whither away? fly no more.

Whither away, from the high green field, and the happy

        blossoming shore?

Day and night to the billow the fountain calls;

Down shower the gambolling waterfalls

From wandering over the lea;

Out of the live-green heart of the dells

They freshen the silvery-crimson shells,

And thick with white bells the clover-hill swells

High over the full-toned sea.

O, hither, come hither and furl your sails,

Come hither to me and to me;

Hither, come hither and frolic and play;

Here it is only the mew that wails;

We will sing to you all the day.

Mariner, mariner, furl your sails,

For here are the blissful downs and dales,

And merrily, merrily carol the gales,

And the spangle dances in bight and bay,

And the rainbow forms and flies on the land

Over the islands free;

And the rainbow lives in the curve of the sand;

Hither, come hither and see;

And the rainbow hangs on the poising wave,

And sweet is the color of cove and cave,

And sweet shall your welcome be.

O, hither, come hither, and be our lords,

For merry brides are we.

We will kiss sweet kisses, and speak sweet words;

O, listen, listen, your eyes shall glisten

With pleasure and love and jubilee.

O, listen, listen, your eyes shall glisten

When the sharp clear twang of the golden chords

Runs up the ridged sea.

Who can light on as happy a shore

All the world o'er, all the world o'er?

Whither away? listen and stay; mariner, mariner,

        fly no more.



Demeter and Persephone



(In Enna)



Faint as a climate-changing bird that flies

All night across the darkness, and at dawn

Falls on the threshold of her native land,

And can no more, thou camest, O my child,

Led upward by the God of ghosts and dreams,

Who laid thee at Eleusis, dazed and dumb

With passing thro' at once from state to state,

Until I brought thee hither, that the day,

When here thy hands let fall the gather'd flower,

Might break thro' clouded memories once again

On thy lost self. A sudden nightingale

Saw thee, and flash'd into a frolic of song

And welcome; and a gleam as of the moon,

When first she peers along the tremulous deep,

Fled wavering o'er thy face, and chased away

That shadow of a likeness to the king

Of shadows, thy dark mate. Persephone!

Queen of the dead no more-my child! Thine eyes

Again were human-godlike, and the Sun

Burst from a swimming fleece of winter gray,

And robed thee in his day from head to feet-

'Mother!' and I was folded in thine arms.


   Child, those imperial, disimpassion'd eyes

Awed even me at first, thy mother-eyes

That oft had seen the serpent-wanded power

Draw downward into Hades with his drift

Of flickering spectres, lighted from below

By the red race of fiery Phlegethon;

But when before have Gods or men beheld

The Life that had descended re-arise,

And lighted from above him by the Sun?

So mighty was the mother's childless cry,

A cry that rang thro' Hades, Earth, and Heaven!


   So in this pleasant vale we stand again,

The field of Enna, now once more ablaze

With flowers that brighten as thy footstep falls,

All flowers-but for one black blur of earth

Left by that closing chasm, thro' which the car

Of dark Aļdoneus rising rapt thee hence.

And here, my child, tho' folded in thine arms,

I feel the deathless heart of motherhood

Within me shudder, lest the naked glebe

Should yawn once more into the gulf, and thence

The shrilly whinnyings of the team of Hell,

Ascending, pierce the glad and songful air,

And all at once their arch'd necks, midnight-maned,

Jet upward thro' the mid-day blossom. No!

For, see, thy foot has touch'd it; all the space

Of blank earth-baldness clothes itself afresh,

And breaks into the crocus-purple hour

That saw thee vanish.


Child, when thou wert gone,

I envied human wives, and nested birds,

Yea, the cubb'd lioness; went in search of thee

Thro' many a palace, many a cot, and gave

Thy breast to ailing infants in the night,

And set the mother waking in amaze

To find her sick one whole; and forth again

Among the wail of midnight winds, and cried,

'Where is my loved one? Wherefore do ye wail?'

And out from all the night an answer shrill'd,

'We know not, and we know not why we wail.'

I climb'd on all the cliffs of all the seas,

And ask'd the waves that moan about the world

'Where? do ye make your moaning for my child?'

And round from all the world the voices came

'We know not, and we know not why we moan.'

'Where'? and I stared from every eagle-peak,

I thridded the black heart of all the woods,

I peer'd thro' tomb and cave, and in the storms

Of Autumn swept across the city, and heard

The murmur of their temples chanting me,

Me, me, the desolate Mother! 'Where'?-and turn'd,

And fled by many a waste, forlorn of man,

And grieved for man thro' all my grief for thee,-

The jungle rooted in his shatter'd hearth,

The serpent coil'd about his broken shaft,

The scorpion crawling over naked skulls;-

I saw the tiger in the ruin'd fane

Spring from his fallen God, but trace of thee

I saw not; and far on, and, following out

A league of labyrinthine darkness, came

On three gray heads beneath a gleaming rift.

'Where'? and I heard one voice from all the three

'We know not, for we spin the lives of men,

And not of Gods, and know not why we spin!

There is a Fate beyond us.' Nothing knew.


   Last as the likeness of a dying man,

Without his knowledge, from him flits to warn

A far-off friendship that he comes no more,

So he, the God of dreams, who heard my cry,

Drew from thyself the likeness of thyself

Without thy knowledge, and thy shadow past

Before me, crying 'The Bright one in the highest

Is brother of the Dark one in the lowest,

And Bright and Dark have sworn that I, the child

Of thee, the great Earth-Mother, thee, the Power

That lifts her buried life from gloom to bloom,

Should be for ever and for evermore

The Bride of Darkness.'


So the Shadow wail'd.

Then I, Earth-Goddess, cursed the Gods of Heaven.

I would not mingle with their feasts; to me

Their nectar smack'd of hemlock on the lips,

Their rich ambrosia tasted aconite.

The man, that only lives and loves an hour,

Seem'd nobler than their hard Eternities.

My quick tears kill'd the flower, my ravings hush'd

The bird, and lost in utter grief I fail'd

To send my life thro' olive-yard and vine

And golden grain, my gift to helpless man.

Rain-rotten died the wheat, the barley-spears

Were hollow-husk'd, the leaf fell, and the sun,

Pale at my grief, drew down before his time

Sickening, and Ętna kept her winter snow.

   Then He, the brother of this Darkness, He

Who still is highest, glancing from his height

On earth a fruitless fallow, when he miss'd

The wonted steam of sacrifice, the praise

And prayer of men, decreed that thou should'st dwell

For nine white moons of each whole year with me,

Three dark ones in the shadow with thy King.


   Once more the reaper in the gleam of dawn

Will see me by the landmark far away,

Blessing his field, or seated in the dusk

Of even, by the lonely threshing-floor,

Rejoicing in the harvest and the grange.

   Yet I, Earth-Goddess, am but ill-content

With them, who still are highest. Those gray heads,

What meant they by their 'Fate beyond the Fates'

But younger kindlier Gods to bear us down,

As we bore down the Gods before us? Gods,

To quench, not hurl the thunderbolt, to stay,

Not spread the plague, the famine; Gods indeed,

To send the noon into the night and break

The sunless halls of Hades into Heaven?

Till thy dark lord accept and love the Sun,

And all the Shadow die into the Light,

When thou shalt dwell the whole bright year with me,

And souls of men, who grew beyond their race,

And made themselves as Gods against the fear

Of Death and Hell; and thou that hast from men,

As Queen of Death, that worship which is Fear,

Henceforth, as having risen from out the dead,

Shalt ever send thy life along with mine

From buried grain thro' springing blade, and bless

Their garner'd Autumn also, reap with me,

Earth-mother, in the harvest hymns of Earth

The worship which is Love, and see no more

The Stone, the Wheel, the dimly-glimmering lawns

Of that Elysium, all the hateful fires

Of torment, and the shadowy warrior glide

Along the silent field of Asphodel.



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