Analysis of 'The Lady of Shalott'

Topics: Victorian era, Victorian architecture, Poetry Pages: 11 (4443 words) Published: February 19, 2014

How does Tennyson create mood and atmosphere in ‘The Lady of Shalott’? The atmosphere created in ‘The Lady of Shalott’ is quite consistently serene whilst the poem varies in sorrowful or grieving sentiment throughout. Tennyson uses many different techniques, including a wide variety of imagery, in shaping the reader’s mood in order to manipulate the reader’s view of the poem. During part one the writer sets the scene for the story by describing the island and its environment; he uses imagery and personification in particular to characterise the various natural aspects of the lady’s surroundings. In part two Tennyson deepens the reader’s understanding of the lady and her situation, using morbid imagery and oxymoronic devices. Tennyson focuses the reader on Lancelot in part three by using light-based imagery and pathetic fallacy to make clear the purpose of Lancelot’s character in the poem. Finally, part four displays usage of sinister imagery to conclude the story and leave the reader with a sense of unease.

The first part of the poem displays a lot of metaphors involving encasement, beginning with the lines, ‘Long fields of barley and of rye, That clothe the wold and meet the sky’. This creates a sense of nurturing, as if fields are wrapped around the world to protect and care for it. The metaphor triggers imagery of a cloth or blanket being wrapped around an object or person for warmth and comfort, making the reader feel at ease. In this time period, villages depended almost entirely on harvest for food; however, the metaphor characterises the crops as it implies that they do not just provide food, but keep the area unperturbed and secure, giving the harvest an air of superiority. The theme of encasement suddenly stops being quite so ambient and takes a sinister turn in verse two when the island is introduced: ‘Four gray walls, and four gray towers’. Tennyson uses this description of the tower in which the lady lives to shock the reader slightly, as it follows the metaphor of enveloping the world. He builds up a sense of security in being surrounded at the beginning of the poem but then catches the reader off guard by introducing this line which sounds unnervingly like a description of a prison and suggesting that there is ‘more than meets the eye’. This is a powerful technique in setting the scene because the writer immediately separates the island, which holds an ominous, imprisoning building, from the rest of the world, which seems warm and secure. This difference in surroundings between the island and Camelot is then confirmed by the lines, ‘And the silent Isle imbowers The Lady of Shallot’, which continues the idea that the lady is trapped and isolated from the rest of the world, Camelot in particular.

This atmosphere of having barriers then links in with some further characterisation of the lady’s natural surroundings, using the metaphor, ‘By the margin, willow-veil’d’. Here, Tennyson described the riverbank as being ‘veiled’ by willow trees, which is a compelling metaphor since it implies concealment and the notion that the area has something to hide. As well as this air of mystery, the writer gives the poem a sense of sorrow, since willows are associated with grief or loss, hence the term ‘weeping willow’. However, the willow is a very symbolic plant with a lot of different interpretations linked to it; Tennyson lived in the 1800s, a time when willows were well-known as being associated with fertility and nurture, due to their natural habitat of watery areas such as riverbanks. Similarly, the island is introduced in verse one with the term, ‘where the lilies blow’. Lilies are a symbol of purity and chastity, giving the impression that the lady is innocent and pure, whilst the maternal character of the willows suggests that nature surrounding the lady cares for her and protects her as a parent would. Tennyson’s characterisation of the lady’s natural environment as hiding and guarding her from the...
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