How is the poem a ballad? There is no tragedy in it.

Expert Answers
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I find it interesting that in your question you seem to think this poem is a ballad. A ballad is a story that is told in song. Most ballads feature simple language and two classic elements of poetry: a strong meter and a repeated chorus or refrain which occurs at regular intervals throughout the poem. Folk ballads in particular, which are passed down orally through the generations, feature stories of true love or domestic violence. They feature certain cliched phrases such as "red, red lips" and "true true love" and were meant for singing.

By this definition, therefore, "The Lady of Shallot" cannot be called a ballad. It is a narrative poem, indeed, but it has not been written to be sung, and although it does have a strong meter and a repeated refrain emphasising the separation between Camelot and Shallot, it definitely does not use chliched images.

Your second assertion seems to be likewise erroneous. From one perspective there definitely appears to be tragedy in this poem. The Lady of Shallot is trapped in her tower, forced to have reality mediated to her by the mirror. When real life becomes to irresistable to be ignored, she invites the curse upon her by looking out of the window at real life (captured in the character of Sir Launcelot). It is this action that leads to her death - her action is never understood however, and her desire to live in reality is what also results in her eventual death. This tragedy therefore raises the question of whether it is better for us to truly live and truly love in the world or whether it is better to remain having half a life, or a life of shadows, even if the alternative might risk death.

lucysharpe | Student

The tragedy in The Lady of Shalott is that she has a curse upon her and cannot go outside or she will die. One day she sees the outside world through her mirror and wants to go outside, so she does. The she lies in a boat called Lady of Shalott and floats upstream and dies.

hj5418 | Student

acessteacher is correct in that there are definitely elements of tragedy in The Lady of Shallot, and that tragedy is not necessarily the defining characteristic of the Ballad form.

However, it is by no means the case that all Ballads are sung. The 'Literary Ballad' was popularised in late C18th Germany with works such as Burger's "Lenor" (1774). These Ballads were poems that imitated the traditional Ballad form, but were never intended to be sung.

Their general characteristics were:

  • The telling of a story
  • A simple, repeated rhyme scheme
  • A refrain
  • Incremental repetition
  • Common epithets
  • Regular stanza length

The Lady of Shallot has all of these features and so is often termed a Ballad.