When in the poem "The Lady of Shalott" is figurative language used?

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appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This classic poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, which found renewed popularity when it was set to music by the contemporary Canadian musician Loreena McKennnitt, is indeed full of figurative language corresponding to the definitions offered in the previous answers. The entire poem is an evocative portrayal of one of myriad legends within the Arthurian myth cycle and portrays the famed knight Lancelot.

Lancelot is portrayed with Christian imagery (a red cross on his shield) but is also known to have committed adultery with King Arthur's wife, Queen Guinevere. In the poem, "a red cross knight forever kneeled/to a lady in his shield" has two possible meanings. One, that the red cross is the symbol on the shield associated with Christianity, and the "lady" is the Virgin Mary (the Grail knights were also portrayed as having red crosses on their shields); or two, it means his shield was inscribed with an image representing the Queen. Artistic representations have shown both to be possible. In kneeling "to a lady in his shield" Lancelot is kneeling to his faith, to his lover, and also to the notion of purity he challenges himself to uphold.

This information underscores the helpless love the Lady of Shallot feels for the knight, as his heart belongs to the queen but also to an unattainable idea of purity. This is a subtle way to criticize Christianity's expectation that people can remain chaste and still serve God. After they commit adultery, Lancelot hides in the forest and Guinevere enters a convent to do penance. Lancelot is also portrayed in another story within the Arthurian myth cycle with the Lady Elaine, whom he trusts to keep his shield in safe keeping, and it is possible the "lady" in his shield may refer to her also.

rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Beautiful figurative language graces Alfred, Lord Tennyson's lyrical poem "The Lady of Shalott," with multiple examples of metaphors, similes, understatement, pathetic fallacies, and symbols. 

The metaphors include "willow-veiled," which compares the leafy branches of a weeping willow tree to a veil; "silken-sailed," which compares the sails of a ship to smooth and shiny silk fabric; "bearded barley," which compares the ripe barley heads to a man's beard; "magic web," which compares the lady's tapestry to a spider's web; and "shadows," which compares reflections in a mirror to shadows.

The similes include a comparison of Sir Lancelot's jeweled bridle to "some branch of stars we see hung in the golden Galaxy"; his helmet and feather to "one burning flame" and a metor; and the lady in her boat to "some bold seer in a trance." 

One powerful understatement occurs when the lady states, "I'm half sick of shadows." 

Pathetic fallacies occur when Tennyson attributes emotions to the bridle bells ("merry") and the stream ("complaining"). 

Finally, two powerful symbols in the poem are the red-cross knight on Sir Lancelot's shield, which represents his chivalry, and the cracking of the mirror, which portrays the curse coming upon the Lady of Shalott.

Tennyson skillfully uses many different figures of speech to enhance the beauty and meaning of "The Lady of Shalott." 


pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "the Lady of Shalott," the poet uses figurative language, which includes, metaphors, and personification.

Metaphor: Suggests that the fields clothe the world. Not literally, but it creates a wonderful image. The lady is compared to a spider sitting in her web, with the ability to create images in a mirror.

"Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;' 

"But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights"

Personification: Attributing human qualities to a thing or idea.  Breezes can't shiver, people can.  But you get the idea.

"Little breezes dusk and shiver 

In among the bearded barley,

The broad stream in his banks complaining,"

Excerpts from "The Lady of Shalott" by Tennyson