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Patrick McEvoy-Halston

English 386
31 May 2005

Maintaining the Peacein Alfred Tennyson's"The Lady of Shalott"

Alfred Tennyson's"The Lady of Shalott" is the sort of work Victorians might have

for the
to for reassurance.It providesthe readerwith a soothing,predictablespace/world,wherein,
most part,sftreis well preparedto encounterand processthe New. There is disequitiUriu#
poem: Lancelot is describedas suchan unusual,affecting "sight" that his appearanceshocks

Lady of Shalott (hereafter,"Lady'') into activatingthe curse. However, the Lady's subsequent
activity respondsto and quiets/quitshis emblazonedentrance,and shebecomesthe means
which Lancelotcanserveasthe realm'spacifier ratherthan asits agitator. +,'fu,-Ah/^'
'\ryorld" it evokes'
The first stanzareassuresus that throughoutthe poem,throughoutthe
we will find owselveswell groundedin the familiar, the known' We know that both "side[s]"
of the river havethe sameexpansive"fields of barley antl of rye" (2). Visual andauditory
'tiver" is enclosedby "el'ther"on one
of this pronouncementarefound in the stanza'sfirst line:' on the other. Throughoutthe poemrwefind words within the sameline which
seernvisually and/oraudibly relatedto one anotherl Sometimesthe sameword is
repeated-"four," in line fifteen, for example. Sometimeswe get oveft, obviousassonance
..surlyvillage churls- (52). And sometimeswe getvisual rhymes,e.g.,'veaveth

steadily',(43). The result is that we do not simply progressforward aswe readand,in effect,
in the line. Rather,thereis a sensein which we are
jettison the words alreadyencormtered "-*

to readforward aswe progressacrossa line, andbackwardaswe nearits completion'
'tnedieval" presentwhile we move
That is, we areprovidedwith somesenseof the stable,etemal

ourway throughthepoem'splot. /
- I^rhal ) '7tlt4\: 7
6 b"
The samesenseof"brotherly comfort" evokedby seeing/hearing

by re-encounteringthe samewords throughoutthe poem.
wordson singlelines is alsoencouraged

Nouns are frequentlyrepeated,but so too are many adjectives,including "little," "broad" and

"bearded." The repetitionof thesewords againworksto reinforceour senseof the poem's stability

and regularity, maintainedperhapsmost obviously by the repetition of the refrain which /

terminatesvirtually all of the poem's stanzas,"The Lady of Shalott." There maybe something

very soothing,too, in discoveringas we read antonymsof many previously encounteredwords.

Without having seenthe word "under" (102) before having encounteredthe word "Over" (16),

without having encountered"In" (29) beforewe encountered"Out (114), we might have lost some

of the easethe poem providesby seemingto offer us a comprehensivespatial survey of its t/


Sincewe are told both what is "up and down" and what is "left and right" (137),we might

at somelevel be unsettledto discoverthat we are never told what is to be found west after being
told of the "stormy eastwind" (l I 8) which emergedafter the Lady initiated the curse. But we

would be looking in the wrong direction, so/tofOeak, if we looksdto the stanzaswhich detail the

transformationfor thepoem'sdiscordantelement.Instead,we mustlook to Sir
Lady's subsequent

Lancelot. And how canwe not? Unlike the poern's"two" "knights" (61) and Camelot's"four

[. . .] towers"(15),thatis, unlikeother'bbjects"in thepoernassociated
with medi'eval
evennumbers,Sir Lancelotis "One" (9a) singular,irregularknight. odd number,"one," is(
P4w', !a;t
especiallydiscordantin this poem,sinceit is the onenumberof the four we encounter-"one,'J .rr<

"two," "three," "fout''--not echoedin its rhyme scherne(which consistsofcouplets,triplets anci


Sir Lancelotis describedin a mannerwhich properlyshouldbe appliedto a monarch(Heis

associatedwith the "sun" ( I 63): he and/orhis equipmentis describedas"flamed" (76) and

"blazoned"(87). His equipmentis alsolikenedto "stars" (84), that is, to equallyendowed

individual objectsin the night-sky. But he himself is imaginedasa "meteor" (98), that is, to a
singular object whose appearancein the night-sky cannot but command attention awa y from all

else. The packedstressesof "broad clearbrow" (100),"war-horsetrode" (101), and "coal-black

curls" (104) complementthe meteor simile by making him seem energized,deliberate: the

oppositeof easeful. Unlike all other "objects" the Lady espiesin her mirror, he aloneis given

sustainedattention--therest are given but one or two accompanytngadjectives. Sustained,too, are

the words usedto describehim which begin with consonant"b"-- words such as "bow-shot" (73),

"brazen" (76),"blazoned" (87)--which again emphasizeour understandingof him aspronounced,

The extensive("r"npt ion of Lancelot's passageis followed up by an equally extensive

descriptionof the Lady's entranceinto Camelot. And we notejust how much the imagery

involved in the Lady's passage that
the river seemsdesignedto repudiate/challenge/cancel
associatedwith Lancelot. He 16', urrociatedwith a sun which "At*"i' (76),she with "pale

yellow woods" (119). He is likenedby meansof a simile to a "meteor,trailing light" (98); she

floats "down the river's dim expanse"(127). His helmet is likened to a "flame" (94), her white

clothing to "snow" (136). In a sense,the Lady's passagecan be thought of as providing us with a
"down" to his "up," or with a"left" to his "right"--that is, with his natural complement. Lancelot

and the Lady aremade to seemsimilar opposites,and the conjoining of the passageswhich
describestheir passagethrough the realm provide us with the harmony generatedwhen opposites /a,9"?4


The Lady's entranceinto Camelotspooks"All the knightsat Camelot"(167),but Lancelot I 1
-'' w+1
calmsthem. No longera man constitutedof tightly packed he
energy, insteadseemseaseful.This
'\rar horsetrode" (/ / /)
transformationis effectedrhythmically, ashe is no longerthe manwhose

but onewho'lnuseda little space"(168)(/ u / v /). We alsonotethat"God" and"grace"(170)'

both stressedwords,areusedto bookendthepoern'ssecondto last line: The poemterminatesasit
began,with peacethroughoutthe land. v

Work Cited
Tennyson'Alfred' 'oTheLadyof shalott-"
TheBroadviewAnthologt of yictorianpoetry and
PoeticTheory' Eds' Thomascollins and
vivienne Rundle. peterborough,
Press,1999. 162_65.

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