In the nineteenth century, pomes such as 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci, written by Keats, and 'The Lady of Shalott' written by Lord Tennyson, were created in a golden age of manners and formality. Camelot attracted many authors, poets, and painters to a place of great romance and mystique. The theme of Camelot was to show women as either a seductress, or a wronged maiden, waiting for their lovers evermore. Both poems, which I am to compare and discuss, respond to this popular theme In Camelot, and it therefore also became popular amongst artists.
The Lady of Shalott, written by Lord Tennyson of that time, is a narrative poem, which tells a story of a woman (the lady of Shalott) who a spell was cast upon. Now, in the poem, because of this 'curse' the lady cannot look at Camelot, but only through a mirror. If she breaks this rule, she will die. The poem begins in the first stanza, describing Camelot as a perfect place. The imagery, which Lord Tennyson creates in order to give a good sense of visual detail in this stanza, is amazing. 'That clothe the wold and meet the sky'.
You can really tell that the 'fields of barley and rye' really are 'long', through this description. Also, by bringing the name 'Camelot' into the description, immediately tells the reader that this is a poem linked with a mystical and magic theme attached. With the Camelot theme, there is also a somewhat religious aspect drawn to it as well. 'Gazing where the lilies blow', is considered to be religious because of the lilies, as this conforms to a Camelot dream that people around this time truly wanted to believe. We are then introduced to 'The lady of Shalott' herself.
It appears that Lord Tennyson wants to bring across the fact that she is totally alone by describing in the first stanza a busy town with 'roads that run by', and then in this stanza, describing almost a bleak surrounding where the lady of shallot is situated. 'And the silent isle embowers the lady of shallot'. Also, 'Flowing down to Camelot', and 'Four grey walls, and four grey towers', all illustrate her to be high up, and always looking down beyond, following the one place she can never look at straight on, only through a mirror.
In the fourth stanza, Lord Tennyson again brings into disrepute this feeling of loneliness for the lady of shallot, depicting her as so solitary that 'only reapers, reaping early' 'hear a song that echoes cheerly'. Lord Tennyson has inflicted another wonderful sense of imagery amongst the reader, as one can imagine the situation, which the lady of shallot is in almost like a painting. This impact also makes the reader feel sorry for her also, because she is thought of to be unnatural or fairy-like amongst her people.
She is also thought to be a myth, because many would assume that these 'echoes' were simply the wind 'winding clearly'. In the fifth stanza, the story begins to unfold, as Lord Tennyson finally tells the reader who this woman is, and why she does not go down to civilization. This stanza expresses the actual curse upon the Lady of Shallot stating that 'she knows what the curse may be, and so she weaveth steadily'. This tells the reader that because she cannot look at Camelot directly, she weaves a picture of it in 'a magic web with colors gay'.
In the sixth stanza, Lord Tennyson tells the reader that 'she sees the highway near winding down to Camelot', through 'a mirror clear'. This then illustrates to us how she manages to see Camelot without directly looking at it, and also how she manages to weave a picture of Camelot. This stanza composes a strong feeling of pity on her because she can actually see all the life of this wonderful town Camelot, but knows that she can never be a part of that life, and must stay in solitude unless she wants to meet her death.
In following stanzas, Tennyson illustrates her life of solitude, as it grows worse as she too grows with age. 'She hath no loyal knight and true'. In Part three of the poem, The Lady of Shalott's life dramatically changes as she catches sight of a knight in arms. Tennyson describes the knight as colorful as he can to highlight how different the knight is to The Lady of Shalott; 'The sun came dazzling thro the leaves'. 'A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd'. Tennyson also describes the sounds of his horse colorfully, so that he can make the contrast of color, sound, and everything complete to give a total picture.
The part of the poem demonstrates how The Lady of Shalott is completely transfixed on the knight as he rides on his 'war horse' down the road to Camelot. The lady becomes so transfixed, that she is bewitched by him, and she 'look'd down to Camelot'. 'The mirror cracked from side to side', and The Lady of Shalott realized what she had done, and shouted 'The curse is come upon me'. The last part paints a picture of a desperate woman attempting to be discovered before death comes upon her. So, she left the mirror, and 'down she came and found a boat'.
She then floated down to Camelot in the boat, singing her 'last song', 'mournful, and holy'. The lady floats ashore, with her name scratched on the outside of the boat, and is found by her bewitchment, dead. Although the poem is in itself sad, the fact that her bewitcher, the knight who caused her to die, never discovers this in the poem, and so she dies for no purpose, except that she finally saw the man of her dreams and Camelot, the land of romance, except in this case becomes ironic, as she finds her love, but dies because she looked at 'the land of romance'. La belle dame sans merci by Keats is quite different.
The Lady of Shalott, is more like a story rather than a fully descriptive poem, where as this is much more dramatic. This narrative poem also tells the story of a woman, except in this poem, the woman is not the one who is pitied. Instead, it is the knight who is pitied, as 'The merciless woman' seduces him to his death, amongst many others who have fallen to the same fate. The first stanza mirrors the second answering questions, as if a courtly love tradition. This 'story' begins at the end of the knight's life, where the environment around him is gloomy and lifeless, likewise to his mental state. The sedge has withered', and 'no birds sing'.
The second stanza is then like the original image of the mirror of the first, and similarly, asks the questions that are asked in the first stanza. They both begin with the same line; 'O what can ail thee knight at arms'. The third stanza talks about the oncoming death of this lone ranger; 'And on they cheeks a fading rose'. This is a metaphor; because there is not literally a fading rose on his cheek, but it symbolizes his death. The rose means that when it was bright and healthy, so was the knight, and likewise happens when the rose is fading.
The knight begins to tell his story of woe, describing the 'merciless woman' in old-fashioned English saying 'Full beautiful', 'her foot was light'. This tells the reader that the knight is obviously still in love with this mysterious woman who has sucked his love and left him to die. He continues his story, at first describing it as a wonderful love, which he thought they both equally shared. 'I made a Garland for her head'. 'Made sweet moan', tells the reader how manipulative the 'merciless woman' is. His description continues, as though he is trying to convince the reader that this woman does love him, and that she will come back.
For sidelong would she bend, and sing'. However, the final transition is when this 'faery child' feeds the knight 'relish sweet', 'honey wild and manna dew'. This is again bringing the religious aspect of things into the poem, because manna is what God fed the disciples when they were starving in the dessert, which makes the reader feel as though the food that the knight was eating, really was magical. But, because the knight has now eaten this 'magical food', he can no longer eat the normal food of man, because he will die.
By stating 'and there she wept and sigh'd full sore', he is stating using a metaphor how much he though she loved him. In the ninth stanza, he is lulled to sleep, content with his love, and life. 'And there she lulled me to sleep'. But, instead of dreaming sweet fruits and manna, all he dreams of are death, and 'pale kings, and princes too, pale warriors'. In his dream of death and toil, the lost royals cry out, warning him that he has been caught by her, and can no longer eat normal food. 'I saw their starv'd lips in the gloam'. In the final stanza, the knight is wearisome.
He describes one last time his 'cold hill side', and knows that now he has experienced the magical love of La belle dame sans merci, he must die. These two poems although the same, because they are written at the same point in time, and have similar 'fairy tale ideas', they are quite different. The narrator, in the third person, tells the Lady of Shallott where as in La belle dame sans merci, the knight is telling of his own death (because he is not yet dead and wants to warn others), therefore the story is being told in the first person.
This puts a completely different perspective on the stories, because I found that after reading both of the poems, that I felt more sorry for the knight from La belle dame sans merci, rather than The Lady of Shalott. This is because 'the merciless woman' intentionally lured the death of the knight in La belle dame sans merci, where as in The Lady of Shalott, the knight unintentionally killed the lady. Also, I felt that because the story was told by the knight, that I 'knew' him more personally.
My personal favorite was La belle dame sans merci. This is because like I described in my comparison, I felt that the poem was more dramatic, and more meaningful than The Lady of Shalott. I felt that Keats was more able to describe the feelings of the knight, and his betrayal in twelve stanzas, than Lord Tennyson was able to in two pages. Also, I like the fact that instead of the male luring the female to doom, and woman (especially in that time) is leading the male to his death instead.